>stories>Danielle and the Dragon
Danielle and the Dragon
Dream Weevil, 2000 

Danielle and the Dragon / 1 

The biting wind of a fall morning pushed Danielle's hair back from her face. Still soaking wet from her earlier struggles, she tried her best to fight the shivers, but they overcame her anyway. Not wanting to waste real clothes on her, the tattered rags they had offered made almost no difference, as the wind caught underneath, through rips and tears, depriving her of virtually any insulation whatsoever. 

She yelled the worst things she could think of -- which weren't bad enough -- into the wind. She _hoped_ it woke them. Hoped it bothered them. But nothing came back, except more of the wind itself. 

She was positive that their planned end would never come. She would freeze to death long before the sun rose, long before any "sacrifice" could be completed. With the dark, quiet of hypothermia looming just out of reach, Danielle closed her eyes, hoping to hasten at least the point where she'd pass out. Just before she did, she felt the wind die down, as though something were blocking it. She understood this to be her own senses, finally and thankfully going numb.

Danielle and the Dragon / 2 

She woke in a bed of straw, shivering. There was warmth nearby; stones, somehow warmed, worn cave walls to shield her from the wind. She was naked, and realizing this burrowed a bit under the straw as she heard movement nearby. A head, scaled and larger than her entire body, peeked around the corner; a dragon's head. Danielle clutched the straw to herself and shivered all that much more. 

"I knew you would come to me," the dragon said. "I'm only sorry that they treated you so poorly. I fire-warmed the stones near you; the straw will only keep you cold that much longer." 

Danielle ignored the dragon's advice, keeping her eyes on it and yet remaining completely silent. In the distance, she could see a hint of daylight-- yet, what would be the purpose of trying to escape? 

"Make yourself comfortable, then. I'll be back in a few minutes." The dragon turned to leave. 

Danielle, who by now had eyes filled with tears, stammered: "No... why... why are you toying with me?" 

The dragon turned. "Toying--? Oh. I get it. I'm sorry. Were you still under the impression that I was going to kill you? Eat you?" 

Danielle found herself unable to answer the question. 

"Your fellow humans think you are already dead," the dragon answered. "It is important that they continue to believe this. But I could no sooner harm you than myself. You see, not only might I be your salvation, but you will certainly be mine." 


The village lord rubbed his temples once again. "Fine. If there is no keeping him out, there is no keeping him out. But that doddering old fool has wasted more than enough of my time already." He brightened to an artificial smile as he heard the _clunk_ of a homemade wooden leg come around the corner. 

"Mordril," the lord said, warmly. "What may I do for you this fine morning?" 

The man bowed gracefully before his leader, and thanked him for the audience. "It's not what you can do for _me_, my lord. It is what you can do for the rest of the villagers." 

"This is about the _girl_ again? I told you, that problem has been solved." Jeremy, the lord and ruler of this particular part of the realm, smiled knowingly to his assistants. 

Mordril nodded. "Your 'solution', as you put it, may breed a problem that is far, far larger. In the quest to rid us of one rebellious young woman, I believe you have played right into the dragon Kendra's claws. The dragon wanted this to happen, my lord. I'm sure of it." 

Jeremy put one hand to his chin. "Tell me, O expert in dragons, how are you sure of this? The dragon has not been a threat to civilized society for nearly a decade. In fact, one might say she serves us, now. Helpless old thing she must be, really. Takes care of problems like the girl for us, gives us not a peep otherwise." 

"The ancient writings say, quite clearly, 'Beware most of the one that cannot breed.'" 

"And I will tell you, for one _last_ time since you seem incapable of hearing it, that it is most obviously an error in translation or interpretation. Kendra herself is of no concern. The dragon is feeble, and barren. She takes the sacrifices we offer to her, which serves our needs in keeping the people in line; yet we can go for months or years between such sacrifices and she makes absolutely no demands on us. You seem to yearn for the time when _they_ were in charge, and we cowered before their strength and numbers. I'm sorry, Mordril. But you must come to accept that those days are gone, and with the few dragons remaining no longer able to reproduce, they will never return. Now it is we who are strong, and numerous." 

Mordril muttered something to himself. 

"_What was that?_" stormed Jeremy. 

"You said, 'Reproduce', my lord." 


"The girl... No, I refuse to speak of her that way. _Danielle_ is the first woman-- _young_ woman, to have been sacrificed in many years." 

"I do not keep such records, Mordril, at least in my head. Why does this matter? If you know not, then get on with you. Breakfast awaits." 

"My lord... Danielle... a young virgin..." 

"She was twenty-one years of age. And certainly no _virgin_. If she had those sort of morals, she would still be with us." 

"There were only rumors, my lord!" 

"Silence! Her trial ended long ago, Mordril. Her sentence already carried out. You are not now, and never have been, her lawyer. If you must mourn her, or her beauty, or something else you find about her, than please do so. But do not bother me with it." 

"That's why she's not dead," Mordril said, defying the recent order. 

"Of _course_ she's dead!" 

"Then why was she not burned at the stake? Kendra has always roasted her victims _before_ taking them." 

Jeremy nodded at his guards, who advanced on Mordril to remove him from the room. "I'm not sure she wasn't. Besides, it doesn't matter. Perhaps Kendra has grown lazy." 

"You don't understand! The body-- of a young woman--" Mordril resisted the grip of Jeremy's guards. "--the dragoness is not fertile, but _Danielle_ is! Within her body she carries hundreds-- thousands-- of eggs--" 

"Danielle is dead. And do you think her a reptile? Humans don't come from eggs, you old fool! Perhaps if you ever had children of your own, you'd know these things--" 

"No... you don't understand!" 

The guards dragged Mordril off. 

"I knew that was a waste of time. Doddering old fool had his leg _bitten off_ by a dragon, and somehow he thinks that grants him full understanding of them. If only he was a real threat I'd be more than happy to send _him_ on over to meet Kendra, have her finish the _rest_ of him off." 

"Sir, there are some doctors, specializing in childbirth, who now believe--" 

Jeremy cut his aide short with a glance. "... In unsubstantiated rubbish," he said. "Eggs. Even if women _did_ have eggs, they'd wouldn't be _dragon_ eggs, now, would they? And, without a mate, which we've made quite sure Kendra has no opportunity to find..." Jeremy rose from his chair and headed off to breakfast.

Danielle and the Dragon / 3 

"Danielle... it can't be... you're..." 

"Dead? Nearly. But I've been granted one wish, and that was _this_." She leaned down, her gauzy, ethereal gown floating upwards as she settled down atop her lover. 

"Danielle, my God, you're heavenly..." 

"Sssh, Isaac. For once, there is nobody watching hawklike over me-- but they can still hear _you_." 

"I can't believe we're alone together." 

"Alone," Danielle said. "Together. Mmmm." 

Danielle sat up, lifting her dress, and with her other hand, stripped the covers from her lover, her boyfriend, from the man she'd been forbidden to get close to. She positioned herself over his body, gently parting her legs, kissing and caressing him as he did the same to her. 

"Enjoy this, my love," she said. "It may be the only time." 

It was as they made love -- as he clasped her body to his -- that he discovered the wings. Thin, ethereal, fading out of existence just as he discovered them. 

"What?" he questioned, out of breath. 

Danielle grabbed him and rolled over, so as to be underneath. She felt his thrusting, nearly involuntary, each push delivering him slightly deeper, and she smiled at him, at the way he couldn't help himself. As she felt his penis growing inside her, her tiny clitoris grew as well, hardening against him, sending increasing waves of pleasure throughout her. 

"We're not... protected..." 

Isaac's comment came too late for him to do anything about it. Her eyes flew open as she willed the seed from deep inside his body, as the frightening, involuntary, unstoppable contractions of ejaculation began. From deep inside his body, the semen made its way out in long spurts, depositing near Danielle's cervix. 

Danielle smiled. "I know." She grasped him tight and held him as her own climax approached. Her vagina tightened, and her cervix opened, dipping down into the pool of seed that Isaac had left. The orgasm hit so strongly that it made her shiver uncontrollably. Isaac tried to pull away, but in his sudden, unexpected fatigue she held him quite easily. They lay quietly together for nearly twenty minutes, just like that. 

"I can't stay," she finally whispered. "My wish has come true, but its time is finite." 

"I know," Isaac answered. He rolled over. "Despite all else I've been dreading this moment. What... what will become of you?" 

Danielle sat up, leaned over, put her fingers on Isaac's cheek. "Oh, Isaac... I wish I could tell you everything that was in my head, all at once. But I can't. For this wish to be granted... I had to promise..." 

Isaac's breath grew short again. "But I don't even know if you're alive, or..." 

"Neither do I. Keep me with you, always, and I promise that we shall be together again. And you cannot mention a word of this, or--" 

"I will mourn your loss," Isaac said. "I already am." 

"I'm sorry, Isaac. Please, take good care and remember what I've said. I love you." 

Isaac replied in kind, but Danielle had already escaped through the window, just as the sky was lightening. She ran from sight. Isaac, only half dressed, tumbled from the window a moment later, but Danielle was gone. He looked up into the sky, assuming that's where she must have gone. "Please," he whispered. "Take me with you."

Danielle and the Dragon / 4 

As soon as Danielle's feet touched the ground at the entrance of the cave, the magical wings vanished. Kendra, waiting near the entrance, nodded and waited for Danielle to lead the way inside. Danielle put one hand to her abdomen. "Mission accomplished," she said. "I'm a little afraid that he may have discovered the wings, however." 

"You told him you'd return to him," Kendra said. "No, I didn't. I said that we would be together again. I didn't say _when_." 

"It doesn't matter _when_. It implies that you are still alive. He left his room soon after you did. He..." 

Danielle looked up at the dragon, half-embarrassed. "He... what? Can you see through his eyes, now, as well?" 

Kendra closed her own eyes for a moment. "The spell rubbed off onto him, yes." 

"Then _what did he do_?" Kendra sighed. "He looked into the sky, after you, and wished that you would take him with you." 

Danielle looked up, away from the dragon, and when she turned about, tears were already streaming down her cheeks. 

Kendra shook her head. "I knew I shouldn't have told you. Child, what's wrong?" 

Danielle looked about, but there was nowhere to run to, no corners to hide in; just the inside of the cave and the huge dragon. "Don't you get it? Not only does he think that I'm dead, but he wishes he was _with me_!" 

Kendra knew better than to ask further questions. She came up close to Danielle, and sat down, as close as she could get. 

Danielle shook her head, sitting on the cave floor with her legs crossed. "I wasn't sure... at the trial, I told him not to implicate himself, and he didn't. I remember... the shackles around my wrists, looking up into his eyes as he lied to the tribunal, as he said what I told him to say... and I wasn't sure. I'd sacrificed everything for him, I knew I'd die for him, and even though it was pointless for him to do the same for me... that he couldn't save _my_ life... But now I know... he loves me. You saw it. How... how can this go on?" 

"It won't," answered the dragon. "Because we _will_ return for him. He will help us. But he needs to stay where he is... for now. If Isaac were to disappear, Mordril would figure out exactly what we are up to. That would make everything much more difficult... trust me." 

"Promise me you'll watch over him," Danielle said. "I can't let any harm come to him." 

"The spell only lasts for a few weeks," Kendra answered. "But I promise. Come, child. Dragons may have sperm sacs, but humans don't. If we wait much longer, the sperm you collected will disperse and die within you. Hold on." Kendra climbed up a tunnel that was almost entirely vertical, an air shaft with a tiny amount of light trickling in from cracks in the rock far above. Her claws gripped the rock with an inhuman grip, making the climb seem effortless. Danielle held on to the dragon's tail, and was more or less pulled along. Only perhaps ten feet up-- just enough to be out of sight, down and to the side, lay another passageway, well-hidden by design, and gently sloped down to another chamber, which was far darker than the rest of the cavern. 

Danielle looked at the strange, smooth floor. The surface was hard, but somehow soft; comfortably warm to the touch, where most of the rest of the place would feel cold. "Where are we?" 

"Nursery," Kendra said. She launched a momentary little burst of flame that allowed Danielle to see the entire thing. "As you can imagine, I rarely come here. With any luck, you'll spend a fair amount of time in this room. I wanted you to see it... before." 

"It's huge!" 

"It won't seem that way once you're my size. Especially once you've filled it with dozens of your own eggs." 

"Dozens?? Don't dragons have... only... a few, you know, at a time?" 

Kendra turned and nuzzled Danielle's body, gently coaxing Danielle's gauzy gown off. "You don't realize how powerful you will become, do you?" 

"I know I'm going to be a dragon, like you. I can't wait to feel that... but..." 

"Child, let me tell you one more thing before you go. Within your lifetime, yes, dragons weren't known as prolific. You knew of only four, right? Your great-grandparents would remember a time when there were dozens. Before then, your people knew of a time when we could darken the skies with our numbers. But each generation of dragons is less prolific than the previous. The humans think they caused this infertility among us. They merely accelerated the process, to the point we are at now: dragons who cannot bear young at all." Kendra curtsied as best she could. "In return for that loss I am granted one ability no 'fertile' dragon has, and that is the ability to begin the next cycle. _You_ are that beginning. You, and the first few generations of your offspring, will be prolific beyond my wildest dreams." 

Danielle, gasping in awe, looked about the room. "Dozens... hundreds of dragons. 'Beware, most of all, the one that cannot breed'." 

Kendra smiled. "And to think that nobody believes that!" She spread her wings, touching both ends of the cavern at the same time, and raised her head until it touched the ceiling. "Yes, humans, beware indeed! For here, out of your sight, lay the two ends of the circle, together at last, and we shall be your undoing!" She roared a mighty flame, across the cavern, filling the upper half of the place with fire. 

Danielle stood, arms spread proudly to her sides. "Yes, humans! Soon, we shall rule the skies above you!" 

As the fire faded to a dark smoke that began wafting out through the passageway, Kendra leaned back down toward Danielle. "Feels good, doesn't it?" 

Before Danielle could answer, the dragon's tongue reached out and touched her, right between her breasts. The tongue was hot, from the fire a moment earlier, wet, and unexpectedly smooth. Kendra licked a stretch from just below Danielle's navel, up her belly, over her bosom, all the way until the dragon's saliva trailed a path through the girl's hair. Kendra's breath was now invitingly warm, and for a moment Danielle imagined standing there, in the dragon's very fire, unafraid and willing as the flame swirled around her. Kendra's tongue grew more insistent, wrapping itself around Danielle and touching all parts of her, until finally the dragon opened her mouth and took Danielle inside, sucking her, tasting every inch of her body. 

The dragon pursed her lips, so as to keep Danielle's delicate body from her own razor-sharp teeth, and slowly spit Danielle back out, onto her feet. Warm now, Danielle glistened all over with the dragon's moisture. She could smell and feel the antiseptic saliva tingling. 

"I could taste him on you," Kendra said. "You are clean, now. You are ready, child." 

Danielle looked up into the dragon's great eyes. "I... I am yours." 

Kendra curled up into a circle and lay down. "Can you believe that, soon, you'll be long enough to circle this place and still touch your own tail?" To prove the point, Kendra tickled her own nose with the end of her tail, which for her wasn't much of a feat. 

"I can barely believe that I'll have a tail," Danielle answered. She came up to the dragon's head, reaching up to touch and caress Kendra's cheek. "You are truly the most wondrous creature. I find it hard that I was ever frightened of you." 

"It's one of those games we play," the dragon said. "Never underestimate the power of striking fear into your prey. _You_ I have no reason to frighten. Come on. Time to go." 

Danielle nodded. "Okay." 

"You're at the wrong end, child." Kendra lifted her hind quarters and part of her tail from the floor. Danielle walked across the circle, to the space the dragon had made underneath herself. 

"That's it. I won't squash you." 

Danielle looked up, glad the torch was still burning. In the shadow of the dragon's body, she saw nothing but the back of its legs, underside of its tail. There was a bulge here, where the bulk of Kendra's bluish, scaled body ended and her tail began, but no obvious opening, and at the moment the young woman thought she was looking in the wrong place. 

The scales protecting the dragon's body are like armor; able to resist fire, acid, poison, and even the blow of the sharpest sword. The only obvious opening in this armor was at the dragon's head, at her eyes and mouth, the mouth certainly knows how to defend itself. Yet everyone knew that there must be at least one, if not several other openings somewhere; for the dragon to mate, lay eggs, and dispose of her waste. No human currently alive had ever seen any of these events; the dragons had been known to kill anyone who had come that close while those activities were going on. 

This made Danielle the only living human to witness the sight she now saw; of the dragon's scales parting, at the peak of the bulge that had grown on the dragon's underside, and of her tremendous cloacal vent, which became visible and began to open. 

It seemed to take considerable energy for Kendra to maintain this state, especially when nothing -- thankfully, as far as Danielle was concerned -- was coming out. The dragon seemed, in fact, a bit out of breath. "Now, child! Go!" 

Danielle almost forgot the lessons that Kendra had taught, most importantly to breathe; she would need to hold her breath for more than a minute and a half. The air now carried all sorts of strange scents from Kendra's body, including one that told her that the dragon was, at least now, _warm_ inside. Danielle put her hands together as though about to dive into a pond, took two last breaths, and pushed her arms into the soft, greyish-pink opening. 

Before she could even finish that task on her own, Kendra began to sit. Looking down, Danielle saw its huge legs folding, causing the tons of dragon above her to come crushing upon her. Ath the same instant, the vent opening became tight, as though it were trying to close. Still following her instructions, however, Danielle stood straight and stiff, protecting her head with her arms, piercing into the dragon's body as surely as an arrow into its target, one smooth, quick action, until Kendra's tail was flat against the floor. 

As soon as that was done, Danielle folded herself into a ball, pulling her feet up, bending her knees. She felt the opening below them close, sealing tight; the part she'd dreaded when Kendra had explained it earlier. As promised there were several passages leading from here; the one directly above her head opened. Holding her breath as best she could, found this space with her hands and pushed, squirming upwards and in. The space below collapsed. It was warm here; the dragon's muscles, efficient as they were, were hard at work. They gripped Danielle's hips and contracted in sequence, sliding Danielle through a long, warm, slimy tube until she reached her destination, far up within the dragoness' body. Along the way she felt her own belly become raw, her blood coming to the surface just as she arrived at Kendra's uterus. Unable to hold her breath any longer, Danielle finally decided to succumb-- and relax-- and then understood that there was no breath to release. Kendra, as promised, was providing her life support. 

The dragon was providing something else, as well. Kendra had attempted to explain it to Danielle, but that effort was largely fruitless until Danielle actually felt it: a tingle, a powerful radiation, an inescapable magic energy flowing through Danielle's body. Surprisingly, it came from a single direction -- not all around, like Danielle expected -- and flowed through her, from the front to the back, charging her body with a power she'd only barely tasted earlier. The energy carried a single message -- "Dragon". It quickly grew strong to the point where Danielle's muscles tensed. It overwhelming; too much for a small human trapped inside a huge dragon. Even so, Danielle felt the energy begin to focus, on the lower part of her body, narrower still, toward her ovaries. A maternal instinct came to life almost instantly, an energy similar to the dragon's own, protecting her eggs from the onslaught that threatened to wash away their very humanity. She could hear the voice, somehow in her mind, the dragon asking why she was fighting. Danielle put a name to the voice... Kendra... remembered somehow what they were trying to accomplish. It took many minutes for her to finally let down her guard, for her to will herself to accept what Kendra was offering. 

Danielle felt the energy as it caressed her ovaries at last. Her eggs began to respond; her potential future children gradually relinquished their grasp on the small, weak human form they'd been initially programmed for, and taking on the awesome strength of the dragon. The ovaries themselves began to grow to accommodate their contents. 

Finally, Danielle began to feel the rest of the changes coming upon her. Most important was the first, though it was hard for Danielle to sense-- the sperm, captured deep inside her, as the sperm sac formed around them. Nearly half had already died; the sac would protect and nourish the rest, and now the dragon energy bombarded it too. Unlike the eggs, whose transformation Danielle resisted for a time, the sperm had no such chance. They grew in size, becoming more aggressive much like the dragon itself; tamed only by the protective walls that Danielle had formed around them. Danielle's tailbone began to awaken, stimulated to continue growth that was stunted long before Danielle herself was born. The rest of her body accepted similar, new programming. 

Then, before the changes were seemingly even begun, something happened. A tube into the dragon's uterus opened, and a huge yellow yolk sac was slowly delivered. About three times the size of Danielle herself, It pressed up tight against Danielle's belly and attached to her; and the near-starvation feeling the Danielle had developed over the last several days vanished. With its job nearly done, the walls of Kendra's uterus began to secrete a sticky, whitish goop that quickly began to harden, and Danielle came to realize that it was an eggshell, forming around her. 

Danielle, who for some reason was under the impression that she'd be remaining safely inside Kendra until her transformation was complete, started to panic. Whereas she'd been more or less completely connected to the dragoness' body up to now, the eggshell was blocking that connection as it thickened. It sealed out any sense Danielle might have had of the outside world, of the dragon energy itself. She wriggled a bit, almost as to fight what was happening, but before long was Danielle completely entombed, without any means whatsoever to escape.

Danielle and the Dragon / 5 

"Not now," Kendra said. "Please." The images coming in from the outside world were growing weaker, but what was happening was all too clear. Late at night, Kendra was witnessing a desperate escape, of a man running into the dense woods. "No," Kendra called out, in vain: "Turn back, Isaac. Please. You're too early. They'll discover you missing... and I can't... help..." 

Kendra settled herself to the ground for the third time... too nervous to lie down, too tired and uncomfortable to stand. Her tail twitched. She relented to its seemingly self-concious desire to lift, and as the tail raised Kendra pushed again. The egg was moving, but Kendra watched herself; no bulge at the cloaca, so she still wasn't ready to lay yet. She lowered her tail again. 

Isaac's actions were too distracting. He wasn't prepared for a trip through the woods-- a two week journey, at best, and with no trail from the human village to Kendra's lair, the trip was always treacherous. He'd already had two near-accidents: almost twisted his ankle in the dark, almost ran full-on into one of the most poisonous plant species in the realm. His judgement would only worsen as he grew more tired. Worst of all, the image was fading: the spell that allowed Kendra to have this vision was wearing off. and now it was Kendra who felt alone and helpless. 

The dragon lifted her tail a bit, again, coiled her body up more tightly. That seemed to help. Without even pushing, she saw the bulge form, and a moment later, her vent appeared. The blue scales parted; the greyish, muscular flesh just inside opened, and the shell of a beautiful, white egg became visible -- all, practically, with no effort on Kendra's part. 

"That's the secret," Kendra told herself. "I was trying too hard. At least I'll have one helpful hint on this for my daughter." She curled her tail around, protectively, and just waited as the egg began to emerge from her body. 


Danielle couldn't stand it another instant. Being inside a dragon's body -- swallowed alive, as she was -- was one thing, but this eggshell, which she hadn't expected, was another. The suffocating claustrophobia, the dark, the silence, the hunger, the fact that Kendra's egg that was far too small. Danielle tried to push against the inside of the egg, break it by stretching her own body, but it didn't work; it was far too strong. Frustrated, desperate, she tried to claw at the egg with her fingernails-- only to find that, while strong, the egg was far softer than she'd thought it was; in fact, she'd torn right through it, a small slit. Suddenly frightened that she might have hurt Kendra's delicate insides, she stopped, waited, reconsidered. Then the claustrophobia came back. She grabbed at the edges of the slit, and pulled, but again the egg was too strong; so she gently made another slice in the egg, much higher, near her head. 

She hadn't expected to see any light at all, merely the inside of Kendra's body. But there it was -- light, and air, for an instant before the egg closed up again. This time Daneille fought with all her strength, pushing at both ends of the egg, widening the tear. She saw Kendra's face, warm and smiling, and -- almost furious that the dragon was somehow pleased with her situation, ripped a hole in the egg large enough to push her head through. Which she did, only to get stuck at her shoulders. 

"Relax, child," Kendra said. "Breathe. Use your claws. Take your time." 

Danielle, confused, tore another slit in the egg, but this time looked down. Claws. A dragon's claws, at the end of her fingers. She pulled her hands -- in some fear -- back inside the shell, and this time cut a new slit from her neck down to her belly, joining the several slices in the egg into a larger, single opening. She reached out with her other hand -- claws, golden scales on her arms. Remembering Kendra's words, she finally took her first, real breath. Real air, more than she'd tasted in a long time. She put both hands on the eggshell and pushed down, squirming up, and out, up to her chest, and looked down at herself. 

"I'm... I'm... I'm a dragon," Danielle said, at last. 

"Yes, indeed you are," Kendra answered, beaming. 

"I thought... I thought I was still inside you," Danielle said, her voice weak. "How... how long has it been?" 

"You were inside my body for nineteen days," Kendra said. "I laid your egg fifty-five days ago. It's nearly springtime." 

Danielle wriggled further out of the egg, pushing on it with both hands like she'd have done to remove a skirt. Nearly ready to climb out with her rear legs, she was aware that almost half her body still lay within the egg; that she had a tail. "What? Which month is it?" 

"I'm sorry," Kendra said. "I don't follow the human calendar. But I do know the seasons, and the days are lengthening quite rapidly, so it's near the end of what they'd call winter. 

Danielle climbed out of the egg, the rest of the way, but without good balance she tipped over. Her body was wet, and the air -- though warmed substantially by the warm rock floor of the nursery -- was cold. Danielle realized, however, that she didn't mind; the cold didn't provoke shivering, or even any sort of discomfort. 

Kendra helped Danielle to her feet. "Welcome, my child. Welcome to a whole new world." 

"Thank you. You're not kidding! Look at me. Claws, more claws, tail! What do I look like?" 

"Sorry I don't have a mirror for you. Suffice it to say that you look like me, only much smaller." 

"Then... wings?" 

Kendra nodded. Danielle searched for the right muscles, and gently, partially, unfolded her wings. 

"They won't hold you, yet," Kendra said. "A few weeks and I'll take you out flying. Until then I'll bring your meals to you." 

"I'm a _dragon_!" Danielle shouted, trying her best to make it sound like a roar. 

"Beware, humans. For she is a dragon," Kendra added smiling. "You will not oppress her again. Here, child, let me dry you." 

Danielle didn't know what that meant, until she saw Kendra taking a huge, huge breath; her body swelling with air, her mouth, pointing at Danielle, opening-- 

If ever there was a sight to stop the human heart, it was this. The inside of a dragon's mouth, straight down her throat, as it opened wide in that instant between her taking her breath, and breathing fire. Fire that was known to melt iron; a single breath could kill a dozen men from thirty paces. It was the sight that Danielle had prepared herself for, the morning of her sacrifice, only to realize that no such preparation was possible. It was enough that Danielle's own breathing came to an abrupt, and immediate stop. She tried to shield her nose, her eyes, but as yet could barely stand, let alone run; but then, like before, she realized she didn't want to. 

Kendra's fire ignited, the flame surging forth, bright red, orange, and blue swirls that quickly reached Danielle, then encircled, consumed her. She could feel the energy, the chemical reaction happening; the mystical dragon fuel, touching her body, coating it, even before reacting with the air, Danielle's body becoming the flame itself. The fire grew large, filling the entire cavern, folding back and engulfing Kendra herself, yet she didn't stop, until her lungs finally emptied, and the fire quickly changed into that thin, black smoke. Even the smoke could kill a human, if there was enough of it. Many who were too close to dragon breath-- often the very heroes who had run to the aid of the dragon's target -- forgot about the smoke, choked to death themselves, as the event left hardly any oxygen whatsoever in the dragon's vicinity. Only the dragon itself could easily survive, and now Kendra and Danielle stood there, smiling, simply not breathing. 

Danielle knew that her scales must be scorching, blistering-hot on the outside. If she were to step into a pool of water she'd most certainly boil it; but it didn't bother her in the least, and she understood that this wasn't so much to "dry" her, as it was to give her a taste of dragonhood, a little demonstration. Anxious to speak but aware that she needed to hold her breath until the air cleared, she waited, smiling, making it clear to Kendra that she was alright, that she understood. Cool air poured down into the chamber from above; Danielle finally dipped her head into it, took a lungful, and looked back up at Kendra. 

"Can I do that?" she asked. 

Kendra dipped much the same way to get her own air. "Not yet." She snorted, laughing a bit. "Sorry, but I must imagine it's a bit of a predicament for you. You see, a hatchling dragon, of the sort _you_ will bear, is like a human child; it has to be taught nearly everything. If a dragon child could fly, it wouldn't know how to land, how to find its way back. If it could breathe fire, it would... well, you can imagine. You have an adult mind; I could certainly _teach_ you how to fly this very day, and you'd understand it. But your body is that of a child. You can't fly, you can't breathe fire, and though you have ovaries the size of grapefruit and a sperm sac that's already partially full, you can't yet lay eggs of your own. Patience, fortunately, is a dragon's art. 

"I'm sure you're hungry, but before I take you to eat, I have something I've been waiting to show you. I expect it will brighten your first day with me significantly." 

Kendra led Danielle from the nursery, back down to the main part of the cave, where she normally slept. Part of this cave -- a stretch of about three feet near one wall -- had a sandy floor, and here Kendra dug with her claws, carefully, uncovering a large object that was buried there. Round, white, and smooth. 

"What is it?" Danielle asked. 

"You were hidden here for a time as well," Kendra answered. "Too vulnerable by yourself in that huge nursery, should more soldiers come." 

"It's... another egg?" Danielle queried. 

"Much has happened while you slept. I thought that this part of the story would have an unfortunate ending, thanks to some rather bad timing. But..." 

"Isaac," Danielle cried out. "It's... Isaac, isn't it?" 

Kendra nodded.

Danielle and the Dragon / 6 

Danielle sat, low to the ground, practically encircling the exposed portion of the egg, touching it gently with the soft parts of her feet. "Isaac..." 

"He came here. On his own. On the very day that your egg was leaving my body." 

"What? Through the forest? On his own?" 

Kendra lay down next to her little one, curling up around her. She told the story, as best she could. Never having laid a single egg before, she had found herself unsure of what to do with it. She was desperate to fly, to find Isaac before some hungry forest creature did, perhaps talk some sense into him, turn him back. Yet her instincts, weak as they might have been, were quite clear about leaving her only egg -- with Danielle inside -- unguarded; that it better to sacrifice him than risk the future of all Dragondom. 

She decided to bury the egg in the sand within her cave -- far from perfect safety, yet warm and hidden. The spell of vision, which Danielle had planted and which allowed Kendra to witness Isaac's escape in the first place, was fading rapidly, and was completely gone before Kendra had even moved the egg from the nursery floor to the sandy area near her sleeping nest. Desperate still, late at night, she took wing, staying low over the treetops and guiding herself by the stars; but she couldn't find him; and as the sky began to lighten, she realized that to be spotted by the humans, obviously searching for him, would be a tragic mistake. 

So she was left to worry, and to protect her single egg. 

Two days after Isaac's disappearance, Lord Jeremy had dispatched four of his soldiers to track him, to head out to the dragon's lair after him. Sending only four was an insult to all involved: it was almost certainly an act meant to placate the insufferable dragon "expert", Mordril. They lost Isaac's track through the forest -- or, more accurately, never acquired it -- and thus took a different route through the depths of the forest, arriving at Kendra's cave shortly _ahead_ of Isaac. This was despite the loss of yet another day, and one member of their party. 

Kendra sensed this as soon as the first soldier peeked around the corner into her cave. She'd known they were coming, at least for the last few hours, but rather than fly down to "greet" them, decided to remain comfortable in her cave, close to the egg. They would expect to find Isaac, but would not; he was behind them, nearly a half-day away as yet. They would not find anything of interest. They would leave. 

Dragons are, perhaps understandably, not rattled by the presence of humans, even when those humans are sword-carrying warriors. Seeing only two soldiers, Kendra knew immediately that there would only be three-- Jeremy would hold one "messenger" in reserve, to return and report should she kill the others -- and she also knew that even Jeremy would not have sent that few. 

"There were four of you," she thus offered, to the two soldiers who'd set foot at the entrance of her cave. The comment would be immediately disarming, helping maintain that mystical aura that dragons depended upon. 

"Snakebite," one said, drawing a glance from the other for having unwittingly divulged critical information. 

"I'm sorry for your loss," Kendra answered. "The forest can be quite dangerous. Please, come out of the rain. Bring the third as well, if you wish. I have no reason to harm you." 

Kendra looked up. Within the first minute, these two had readily shown themselves to be entirely outclassed, and thus she was able to maintain her tone of confidence. Inside, however, her own instincts were there, strong. In some ways she wanted these foolish humans to test her -- to step across an invisible line, closer to her nest, where they ceased to be innocent visitors and instead became a threat to her offspring. Already, Kendra could see it, in her head; one toe across that line, and any human unfortunate enough to be within ten feet of the cave's entrance, much less inside it, would burn. 

"What brings you all this way, through all this adversity?" Kendra asked. 

The first soldier went to speak; remembering that his last comment got him in trouble, he elected to remain silent. "Is it because the mate of your last sacrifice is on his way here?" Kendra asked. 

This time, both men spoke at once: "How would you know that?" "You mean he isn't here already?" 

The dragon turned her head, looking away, presumably to scratch a spot on her tail. "You could have simply said 'yes'. Which raises the question: why is that of any concern to Jeremy?" 

Kendra shook her head in frustration; these two weren't even prepared with a _phony_ story, had probably never seen a dragon -- any dragon -- before. Very well. 

"I cannot tell you for certain whether he is alive or dead; he is not a strong, well-trained soldier like yourself. Without armor or the great wisdom I expect you possess, Isaac will be an even easier target than your fallen comrade. But how do I know he comes? Quite simple. His girlfriend made it quite clear that he would avenge her death. I expect, then, that both she and he are of their word. 

"I don't see why that concerns you, however. If and when he arrives, I will see that he joins his dear departed lover. It's for the best, really. I'll make it quick and painless for him; I don't see any reason for him to suffer any longer than he already has." 

"Y--Yes," the second soldier said. "You're right." 

"You still haven't explained your interest in this affair," Kendra said. She lay her head down, seemingly lowering her guard a bit. "Why Jeremy would risk four of you -- and lose one -- for the sake of one lovesick, runaway man?" 

"He had to know why Isaac fled as he did. Other than that we have no idea of his reasoning." 

"I see. Well, then, your question has been answered. I think it's a perfectly rational answer, as well." She raised her head again. "Since I wish Jeremy no additional losses, I will offer each of you a ride back to your village. Of course, you will need to leave your weapons behind; I don't take well to the thought of sword-wielding warriors atop my neck; and I'd also suggest we wait until the rain stops." 

"Umm... no, no thank you. We will wait for Isaac." 

Kendra sighed. "Here? I'm afraid that won't do." 

"Why-- why not?" 

"Isaac, should he still be alive, will most certainly spot you, or at least your third, outside my cave. I doubt he will approach, under those circumstances. And while I'd certainly offer to have you wait _inside_, I'd hate to have Jeremy's finest caught up in any... unpleasantness... when I dispose of him. She lifted one of her front legs, clasping and unclasping her razor-sharp claws. "My fire hasn't been itself lately," Kendra said. She mimicked putting something into her mouth, as though rehearsing. "If there is a struggle, I worry, in these cramped quarters, that someone else might get hurt." 

"He's unarmed," the first soldier reported. 

Kendra looked around. "That... makes it more difficult." She set her head down again. 


"I tried my best to get them to leave," Kendra explained to Danielle. "I told them that Isaac was most likely dead; even though I had the feeling that he wasn't. Their orders hadn't covered that situation; so they remained there, near the entrance to my cave, until late in the evening, when the third soldier spotted him, emerging from the forest into the foothills. 

"When I heard this, I made my way out of the cave; just poking my head out, really, to see what was happening. He didn't see us, neither I nor Jeremy's men, who decided to hide in ambush for him, rather than scare him back into the woods and lose him. Isaac, I'm sorry to say, was in bad shape; he'd scraped himself some time earlier and was suffering from infection, as well as exposure, insect bites, and dehydration. But he had come -- for you, Danielle. I knew I had to go to him; when I whispered this, preparing to leave the cave despite the risk to you -- is when Jeremy's men finally asserted themselves." 


"No," the soldier had commanded. "You wait here." 

Below, still unware of the events transpiring above him, Isaac worked to make his way up to the hill surrounding Kendra's lair. He was failing rather quickly; the bottom section was not steep, yet Isaac struggled as though it was a vertical cliff. 

"Are you telling me what to do?" Kendra answered, astonished. "He comes here for me. And that is what she shall have. _You_ shall wait here, outside, where I can see you." She spread her wings, ready to glide down. 

The soldier raised his sword. "No!" 

Kendra ignored the demand and launched from the ledge outside her dwelling. She coasted down, barely casting any shadow beneath the clouded sky. She landed just before Isaac, and turned around. "You've come a along way, Isaac. Danielle said you'd come." 

"Kendra--" Isaac stumbled, pulling a insignificant knife from inside his boot. It wasn't enough to distract Kendra from looking away -- back to her lair -- where she saw nobody. Two soldiers, disobeying her order and in a great breach of etiquette, had gone into her very own cave, invariably to search for Danielle, leaving only the third to watch over them from the mountainside. 

"Sorry, Isaac, I don't have time for this--" in one swoop, she knocked the knife from his hand, and then, in a great, lofting motion, she brought her mouth down over him, gobbling him whole. Isaac screamed -- and Kendra made a tiny, shushing sound as she lifted her head high into the air, mimicing the swallowing motion, though in reality she'd blocked her throat with her tongue, a fact that surprised Isaac most of all. Then she hunched down, spread her wings, and took off in a straight line for her cave. 

When she reached the cave's entrance, she let out the lowest, loudest growl she could manufacture, which was more than enough to stop both men as they explored the cave-- one, starting to poke around the sandy area, near her nest. 

The third soldier, in what was most likely a breach of orders and protocol, came up behind her, just inches from her tail; Kendra could feel his warmth that way. 

"What-- is up there?" one of the first two said, pointing at the mostly-vertical shaft that led to the nursery. Kendra growled again, but this time it didn't work. "Is Danielle here? She is, isn't she?" 

The soldier behind yelled: "She swallowed him! Isaac is dead!" 

Kendra sat absolutely still. Isaac, who'd gotten the hint, and by now was feeling the relief of the antibiotic saliva, lay still within Kendra's great mouth. _Just leave_. 

The first soldier walked about, sword drawn and upright. "No, she hasn't. Has she? Tell me, Kendra, if you swallowed him, certainly you can say so, can't you? Come on. 'Yes, I swallowed him.' Say it." 

Kendra remained silent, and slowly backed up, coiling her tail lest it bump the soldier behind her. 

"You'd love to kill _me_ right now, wouldn't you? Burn me to a crisp? But you can't, with your mouth full like that. Isn't that so?" 

The other soldier brushed the tip of the egg with his sword, but hadn't yet noticed. 

"Get underneath me," Kendra whispered, praying that Isaac would hear and understand. 

The next events seemed to happen all at once. Catching the soldier behind her-- at the cave's mouth -- by surprise, she coiled him in her tail, lifted him from the ground as he thrashed with the sword, and threw him, rather fiercely, from the side of the mountain, down the cliff to his death. The screams echoed into the cave, which was enough of a distraction for her to spit Isaac out, feet-first. Isaac immediately scurried back, between the dragoness' arms, under her body; Kendra sat upon him, virtually suffocating him under herself, as she took that fearsome, inward breath. 

The second soldier discovered the egg, but then looked up to see Kendra's open mouth, and to realize that his mistake would be fatal. She filled the entire inside of the cavern with blinding fire, her nest, the passageway to the nursery, even the tunnel around and behind herself-- everyplace except where Isaac lay, rather squashed and suffocating but certainly better off than he would have been otherwise. The fire was intense yet brief; not enough to heat the soldiers' armor to glowing, not enough to harm the egg, but more than enough to do what it needed to do. 

She waited for the smoke to clear before lifting herself, slightly, from Isaac. He hadn't fared very well; the trauma aggravated earlier injuries. "Don't move," she warned him. "The rock will be hot for some time." 

"Why... do you spare me?" he asked, barely able to understand the horror around him. Kendra extracted one of the two soldiers from their armor, and swallowed him down, this time for real. She began the preparations of her reproductive system. 

"You shouldn't have come," she said. "Not yet." She turned around, right above Isaac, and walked out of the cave a bit, sticking her head out to verify the demise of the man she'd thrown from the mountain, and to catch a good breath of clear air. "I would have come for you when the time was right, after the first generation had been born." 

She backed into the cave again, and Isaac watched as the dragon's huge cloaca began to open. "Your lover is already on her way to becoming a dragon. Join her. When my flesh closes about you, find the opening above your head and enter it. You will be safe there; your injuries so far wil be irrelevant; and when you hatch, she shall be waiting there for you." 

Frightened, Isaac sat up. Kendra was already blocking both directions out with her own body; trapping him between the cave floor, her chest, and her tail. As she lay down again, the area around him grew smaller, and with her vent open she simply left no place else for him to go. 

"Take a deep breath, Isaac. I'll take good care of you." 

A few minutes later, when she rose to feast on the other two soldiers, Isaac was nowhere to be seen.

Danielle and the Dragon / 7 

"Dragon Dreams." Danielle curled around the exposed part of Isaac's egg, touching it quite gently. "Is that's what's going on right now?" 

"'Dragon Dreams?'" asked Kendra. 

"Such strange visions... in that time, inside that egg. I don't remember all the details; they seemed so alien then, so normal now... and they just went on, and on, and I wondered if I'd ever be free of it... certainly you remember such things, before you were hatched?" 

"Dreams... of what?" 

"Oh, I don't know... of flying, yes, some... but then, others, so vicious... I remember one, snapping this huge body around so quickly, biting something-- no, _someone_..." 

Kendra shook her head. "I was never human, and I certainly can't remember a time so long ago. I suppose there has to be some way for you to develop _dragon_ instinct. Perhaps that's it." 

"Do you think I act like a dragon? You know, 'roar'?" 

Kendra rolled her eyes a bit. "You're in such a hurry to be grown up, if that's what you mean. I've seen precious few hatchlings in my life, but I'd say that's one characteristic that is quite dragonlike. And now I face a mother's dilemma: I need to fetch you a meal, but don't want to leave you alone -- but if I take you with me, then we leave your lover's egg unguarded." 

_Lover_. It came to Danielle that this seemed an impossible concept. She looked at the egg again, imagining the unsightly tangle of the remaining human, partially-formed dragon, yolk sac, blood vessels, and all that must be inside, and while certainly a _curiosity_, she felt little of the attachment she'd had previously. Looking back to when they were both human, yes -- warm skin on skin, the stroke of her fingers on his muscular legs -- fine. But it wasn't there now. Her hunger, rather than being for him, was now merely hunger. 

"Alright. You and your fierce 'roar' stand guard here," Kendra finally said. "I'll be back shortly." The giant dragon's claws clattered on the stone of the ledge outside the cave as the dragon deployed her tremendous wings. 

"But how would I defend...?" 

"Small as you are, you're still a dragon," Kendra said, launching herself into the air, swooping down, and then up, to the right, soon vanishing among the mist and fog outside. 

Danielle willed her own maternal instinct into place, orienting herself in the cave entrance so as to watch the world outside, defending the precious cargo behind. "I suppose I am," she answered. "I'm just not sure that I feel like one." 


Kendra returned shortly thereafter with a huge, blackened herd animal in her claws. The weight of the creature didn't seem to bother the dragoness' flight in the least, and Danielle watched the carefully orchestrated landing in awe. _No wonder the humans fear you._ Kendra set the beast down before Danielle, and then motioned for the young dragon to hold her head up, offering a drink of water that she held in her own mouth. 

Danielle tore into the meal with an abandon that surprised herself, somehow not bothered in the least that her meal had been alive minutes before. Her claws ripped through the beast and she snarled as she ate it, biting and tearing with her sharp teeth. Kendra sat quietly and watched until no edible part of the animal remained. Danielle fell backwards onto her behind with a "thump", and she looked with amazement. 

"I can't believe I just ate that... not that... you know, so fast..." 

Kendra smiled, and laughed. "You're unique. The only hatchling dragon in my memory that is capable of questioning its own appetite." 

"Do... all dragons eat like that?" 

"That's your job. We're different than humans, you understand. Humans grow at more or less a fixed rate, and like most warm-blooded creatures eat rather frequently. You or I could, at this point, last nearly a year without food. A human could barely last a month." 

"That explains... the lack of your demand for sacrifices..." 

Kendra lifted her head and laughed. "Actually, that _never_ had anything to do with appetite. I used to make those demands merely to keep the humans in line." She kicked the herd animals' bones from the ledge. "There are more than a hundred thousand head of _these_ beasts where this one came from, and they're far easier to catch." With that, she began to spread her wings again. 

"Where are you going _now_?" 

"To catch another, of course." 


Kendra folded her wings again for the moment, to explain. "Do you deny that you're still hungry? Please don't. We are now in a race against time, you and I. Jeremy will be forced to act, sooner or later, now that he knows that his soldiers are not returning. Eventually he will discover what we are up to; and if he is wise he will want to attack us while you are still small and comparatively weak; while there are merely two of us to contend with. For him it will be merely one more battle, one more chance to prove himself. For us -- for the dragons -- it is, at least in the part of the world I know -- a fight against our own extinction. You, Danielle, are not going to win that fight with teeth, or claws" -- Kendra nudged Danielle's foot -- "or wings or fire-breath. You will win it with this." Kendra slipped her snout under Danielle's body, in the vicinity of the vent that, as yet, had never opened. 

Kendra removed her nose from Danielle's underside, back into sunlight. "In this race, you have an edge. If food were scarce, you might remain a 'child' for many years. But it isn't. The beasts have been absent their sole predator for so long that they soon risk their own starvation. You have the opportunity to grow quickly -- far faster than any human would expect -- and when those humans arrive, with any luck, they shall find quite a surprise waiting for them." Kendra spread her magnificent wings again, and flew off. 

Danielle stretched her body as best she could, and still found herself nowhere near bumping the cave ceiling as Kendra often did. She walked the rest of the way into the cave, sighing, and checked on Isaac's egg once again, listening for any sound of life inside but hearing none. 

"I do need you, Isaac, after all," she whispered. "I'm all alone in a strange new world... and I'm being asked to do something that... is necessary, I know, and in my own interest, now, but... my visions frighten me. The thought that I might soon strike mortal fears into those who used to be my neighbors, my own acquaintances and adversaries... the very thought thrills me, yet I can still sense the fear itself. You are the only one who can understand me now. Please, please, hear me. I need to see you... soon... no matter what form you've taken." 

The egg was still quite silent. 


Jeremy paced the room rather furiously. His assistant, having grown tired of following, now stood near the modest throne, moving only his eyes to follow. 

"So they are not coming back," he said. 

"Yes, my lord. You need to accept this. If they were able in the least, they would have followed your orders, I'm sure of it." "Why??" Jeremy cried out, rhetorically. "There were four! They were not supposed to engage the dragon itself, so what happened? The one thing I asked for -- _information_ -- and I can't even get that?" 

"I see several possibilities, my lord. They might never have reached Kendra's lair; might have been killed or otherwise prevented from returning by Kendra herself; or they might have met their fate on the return journey, treacherous as it is, even though the dragon herself left them alone." 

"Damn him, then!" 

"Umm... damn _who_, my lord?" 

"Mordril, of course." 

Jeremy's advisor looked a bit askance. "I... um... see..." 

"I mean that quite literally. It is five nights before the full moon. Put the one-legged bastard out for the dragon on that night. Have him tried and convicted first, if you must." 

"On what grounds, my lord?" 

"He is obviously in collusion with the beast, somehow. So sure that he knows her so well, despite having only seen her in the flesh what-- once, twice, thirty years ago? What else can explain the failure of four of my best soldiers to accomplish a simple mission, while Mordril himself remains so smug of composure?" 

"But, my lord-- he hasn't forced any of his usual rants upon you since the girl Danielle was sacrificed." 

Jeremy put his hand to his chin. "I'm quite aware of that. The one time I could use the cripple's insight, though I loathe to admit it, and he's as silent as a hunting wolf. Another reason to be rid of him! Besides, I need to see what happens. Will she kill him or not? Does she say anything to him? Has she been wounded? Or... does she even appear at all? Because if she doesn't, she is either dead, unable to fly, or... too busy doing something else." 

"You mean even as Mordril suggests? That the dragon Kendra was somehow able to use the young woman to her advantage?" 

"And, coincidentally, her illicit lover as well?" 

"If you believe this, my lord, then you would be forced to admit that Mordril was correct all along. To sacrifice him under those conditions would be, I'm afraid, a grave error of ethics as well as strategy." 

Jeremy whirled around. "I don't need _you_ to question either. Just do as I say! The proof of my wisdom will be in the outcome."

Danielle and the Dragon / 8 

Standing on the ledge outside the cave, Danielle spread her wings. At first she slowly beat them up and down, then, all at once, tried with all her might to see if she might lift her own weight; she couldn't. 

"This is pointless. I'm heavier than ever, especially now." She kicked the bones of yet another carcass from the ledge, more in frustration than in utility. 

"And larger, and stronger," answered Kendra, who lay flat on the ledge nearby. "Soon, my darling, impatient child." 

Danielle kept flapping, and Kendra raised her head, enjoying the breeze on what had turned out to be an unusually warm, and otherwise windless spring night. 

"I hope you don't mind when I call you 'my' child. For I know you were someone else's child, long ago... I just... like to think that I've had one of my own, that's all." 

Danielle continued her exercise. "I don't mind. I'm glad you were able to get your wish. I'd always planned on having children of my own, someday. I can imagine what it might be like to want that yet not be capable of it. So, while I was indeed someone else's child once, in this lifetime, I'm quite pleased to be yours." 

Kendra grinned, as much as a dragon was able to. "A child with the wisdom and language far beyond her years, that's what you are. Come on, enough for tonight. Your flight muscles grow strong, but they will also do so merely by resting. Use that energy instead to digest your meal and to grow; by morning you'll feel stronger than ever, just as you did this morn." 

Danielle folded her wings, and it seemed as though Kendra's words were immediately true; her insides squirmed as they processed the beast that, not long ago, weighed nearly a quarter of what Danielle did. Soon the mass of the beast would flow from her belly to her legs, her tail, her entire body -- including the muscles that powered those wings. And to the glands and sacs that would soon enable her to breathe fire. And deep within, to ovaries that had once been the size of grapefruit but would now more closely resemble cantaloupe; that would reach the size of a watermelon before they matured. 

"It is a full moon tonight," Kendra said. "I should make my rounds tonight, even though I don't want to. Come, let me see you off to sleep first." 

"Kendra, if I'd never been human, how would you be speaking to me now? It took me years to learn this language, and while I'm glad I still remember it... to have 'language beyond my years'... it seems that I don't know your native tongue -- 'Dragon?' -- at all." 

"Is that so?" Kendra asked. "Okay, wait here a moment." Kendra went to the nest area where she and Danielle usually slept. Still standing, she turned and faced Danielle, then barked out a short, repetitive, seemingly specific series of chirps -- quieter than the normal dragon voice but still way too loud in the acoustic confines of a cave. Danielle flew into a panic, running underneath her adopted mother, and nervously looked out from that protected place. "What? What's wrong?" 

"Nothing," Kendra answered. "It seems that you understood me perfectly." She stepped out of the way over Danielle, turning her head, and made a much softer, cooing sound, at which Danielle felt much more relaxed, and a moment later she lay down. 

"But-- those were just noises--" 

"A primitive language, yes, but it works, and it does so across distance, unlike human speech. Over time it becomes a little more complex but also less instinctive. How would you interpret the last 'noise' I made?" 

Danielle looked around a bit. "Umm... to lie down? Rest? Sleep?" 

"One and the same," Kendra said. "Other 'words' might tell your children to scatter, to fly, even to attack. They might call you to come to their aid, explain basic needs to you. There is some language used between adults, though in my lifetime that's been a rare opportunity." 

"But... are there others? Adults? Would they have your unique ability?" 

"I don't know. I hope so. Sleep now, child." 

"Yes," Danielle said, as though she should be yawning but no longer knew how. Content, she curled into three quarters of a circle, lay her head down, and closed her eyes. 

Kendra whispered, "I love you, Danielle. I know... after all you've been through... that you don't think it possible for me to have these feelings... but I do." She touched her head to Danielle's, the closest a dragon would get to a kiss; Danielle was already asleep. 

Kendra flew from her lair, low and soft on this warm, moonlit night. Having made only short, utilitarian trips of late -- to feed her daughter's bottomless appetite -- she took a longer, more leisurely, circuitous route; due south until she found the river, a journey of over twenty miles, and then floating above its winding path upstream until it neared the human village. She was enjoying the trip so much by the point that she found herself wishing quite intently that there would be nobody bound to the sacrificial post outside the village. But there was. 

The post was, by design, on a hilltop less than a mile from the village center; away from human dwellings but not too far a walk from the main court from which Jeremy ruled and which criminals were tried. Sighing, Kendra began the huge, backward sweeps of her wings as she glided and turned to the hilltop, landing perhaps a hundred yards from the intended victim, as she usually did, then walking up to him with some caution, surveying the surroundings. 

"Mordril," the dragon said, once within speaking range. 

Mordril covered his eyes, shivering in fear. "Kendra." 

"What are you doing here?" 

Mordril cautiously uncovered one eye. The rumors were that the dragon liked its victims to see their own demise coming; that Kendra would usually trick them into opening their eyes first. Believing the rumor, Mordril kept his hands near his face. 

"I've been convicted of crimes against our people, and sentenced to death." 

Kendra came up close. "That seems unlikely. What crimes, indeed?" 

"Apparently, the crime of being correct when Jeremy himself was mistaken. I have been convicted of conspiring with you, dragon Kendra." 

Kendra sighed, causing Mordril to hide his eyes again as he awaited his fate. "Well," she said, "As supposed party to that conspiracy, I can clearly determine that you were falsely convicted." 

"They are watching us," Mordril whispered. "And listening as well. Burn me since you must, and do it quickly." 

Kendra continued, loud enough so that the people in the distance could still hear. "Jeremy sent you here?" 

"Yes," Mordril answered. 

"Then he has violated the agreement between myself and his predecessor. We agreed that certain rules would be followed, and I accepted the condition that the only sacrifices would be of truly convicted criminals, which you, Mordril, are not." 

"Your agreement does not say that there can be no _other_ sacrifices, Kendra." Whispering again: "If you end my life, you will end his suspicions. Please, dragoness. I have no future in this world; send me to my next." 

Kendra, her head mere inches from Mordril now, spoke quietly, to deprive the hidden onlookers of her words. "I cannot be a party to his tyranny. First the girl Danielle, then you? I cannot be the agent that strengthens the power of an unjust soul." 


Kendra reached up, and with one swipe of her claws, severed the ropes that bound Mordril to the stake. Unexpectedly weary and off-balance, he fell to the ground. Kendra, now looking to the distance, trying to meet the eyes of the ones in the shadows around her, walked in a circle around the stake itself. "One characteristic of a Dragon is good judgment of the truth. I find this sacrifice to have been falsely convicted, for reasons I do not understand. Therefore, it is within my rights to refuse this sacrifice and spare his life. Since I feel that his life would be in continued jeopardy should he remain here, I will bring him to a new home, far from here, where he may remain free of persecution in his remaining days. If anyone can hear me, please inform your leader that I will return within the month to request his audience, so that I may review the terms of our agreement. Thank you." 

She stopped circling, lowering her head before Mordril. "Please, climb aboard." 

In less than a minute they vanished into the night. 

Danielle and the Dragon / 9 

Mordril clung to the dragon Kendra's neck as they flew onwards into the night. Kendra didn't seem to notice how his grip tightened with her altitude; as she left the territory of the flying insects, she felt he'd be _more_ comfortable, not less. 

The house she'd found was some thirty miles beyond her own lair. Near a fresh, untainted stream, near the edge of the grassland where the herd animals ranged; well out of Jeremy's reach, at least for now. The landing maneuver -- the sudden backward flapping of those tremendous wings, giant swirls of air all around the beast, the stomach-lifting sensation of the drop itself -- was nearly more than Mordril could stand, though when the dragon touched to the ground it was as if she had landed on down pillows. 

The house, isolated and long abandoned, also proved rather unappetizing a sight, especially in the middle of the night. This caught Kendra off-guard: she'd forgotten just how many material things a human being needed to live with any comfort, even just temporarily. The house was overgrown with vegetation and was in need of repair, and certainly contained nothing useful in the way of bedding or supplies. It was too dark even to evaluate clearly, so no sooner had Mordril began to dismount than Kendra bade him to climb up again. 

"I'm sorry," she said. "I've only seen it from the air, and it certainly needs quite a bit of attention. Stay with myself and Danielle tonight." 

Frustrated by the forest insects, Mordril did his best to climb back on; Kendra had to lie down and roll a bit to help. She launched back into the night air. 

"Is she a dragon, then?" Mordril asked, now a little more confident in Kendra's flying skills. 

"Of course." 

"She remembers her past?" 

"As surely as she remembers her name." 

"Spectacular! What about... Isaac?" 

"That's a different story, I'm afraid." 


"Isaac has yet to hatch; even to show signs of it coming. It's already been too long, I'm afraid. Not only does my ability to transform a human wane with each attempt -- but he came to me too early and in bad shape-- injured, starved, unprepared for what lay ahead of him. I injured him further in the fight with Jeremy's soldiers. I've assumed that, in giving him life as a dragon, I might save him; but now I feel he might never rejoin us. I have yet to come up with the necessary courage to tell Danielle this." 

"Then... your plan has failed. With no mate for Danielle..." 

"That isn't a concern. She has already mated. I have seen to it." 

"What? How??" 

"When she was human. Even if Isaac does not survive, his offspring shall. Danielle holds his seed within herself even now." 

"That's ingenious!" Mordril yelled. "If you can transform a human into a dragon, and that human happens to hold human sperm within her body, then the sperm would become that of a dragon as well! I knew it!" 

Though the mountain that was her home was still difficult to see in the distance, Kendra began lining up her approach to it. The cold was getting to Mordril now, and the promised warmth wasn't returning, due to a chill southern breeze and the elevation of Kendra's lair. 

"While I welcome you to stay here with me tonight, I will apologize for the lack of human accommodation. Danielle is already asleep, and I shall curl up next to her; you might be most comfortable between the two of us." She nudged Mordril into the cave, anxious to get to sleep herself.

"Is that-- her?" 

"Yes," Kendra whispered. "I suspect she will be pleased to find you when she wakes. You are two of a kind; both convicted for crimes that you committed only afterward. Take your place next to her; it will be my pleasure to protect you both." 

And so Mordril found himself sandwiched in the most improbable of places: between two sleeping dragons. The dragons slept curled, but on their stomachs; Mordril lay on his side, the softer part of both dragon bellies up against him. It was comforting, but Mordril still found it difficult to sleep, given the unfamiliar surrounding and resounding echoes of the last few days' events. 


The next morning, Danielle was indeed pleased to discover her new visitor. Mordil was most amazed to see her physical size in the morning light -- nearly half that of Kendra, weighing certainly at least a thousand pounds, all in a far shorter time than seemed possible. For all her newfound size, Danielle was full of life, bright and bouncy, like she had been as a human girl; excitedly sharing all but the intimate details of her transformation, and finally introduced Mordril to the egg which held her lover's unborn body. 

As her inevitable hunger returned, Danielle found a new use for this new energy. Without any prompting at all, she stood at the cavern's edge, spread her wings, and leapt from the precipice; gliding away from the mountain at first, then soaring, and -- so suddenly -- actually flying! She turned in a great circle, and when she closed in on the lair again -- with no intention of landing, not yet -- Kendra and Mordril clearly heard her triumphant call. 

"I'm doing it!" Danielle shouted. "I can fly! Look!" Making a grand sweep, Danielle turned to avoid the mountain, and then began to climb higher and higher, until she was merely a speck in the distance. 

Kendra smiled. "Great going! Enjoy!" Kendra returned to the cave. 

"Where... where's she going?" asked Mordril. 

"Wherever she wants," Kendra answered quietly, though still with something of a smile. She nudged her one egg a bit, to no effect. 

"Don't you want to go with her?" 

"It isn't our way. She is tasting the true freedom of her first flight; for anyone to join her would merely diminish that experience. I'll join her later on; you can ride with me and we can all go," Kendra explained. 

"I'd like that." Mordril adjusted his stance, and tried to straighten his only clothes a bit. "It must be wonderful to see so far, to have such a range..." 

"Yes," Kendra said. "I'm sorry there wasn't better light last night; it always disappoints me when the night of the full moon is clouded." She turned about, and stuck her snout out the cave entrance for a moment. "It was cloudy for my first flight as well. Oh, how well I remember that day..." 

Caught off guard by Mordril's unusual silence, Kendra turned around to find him sitting on the floor, near the egg that Danielle had showed him. He looked up at Kendra. "It's cold." 

"I know," Kendra answered. "I suppose that I shall have to tell Danielle. Perhaps tomorrow, so as not to cloud this special day any further." 

"No," Mordril said. "That's not what I mean. Dragons may be primarily cold-blooded creatures, but their eggs require warmth in order to hatch, just like so many other creatures." He looked up, at the air shaft leading from above, and put his hand to the still-cool breeze coming into the cave's entrance. "The rock is cold, the air is cold. If you want Isaac to have any chance, this egg needs to be much warmer than it is." 

Kendra sniffed the air. "The air flows through the cave more freely in the summer, when the ventilation is needed. It's been unusually cool out... Perhaps you're right, Mordril. Here. Stand back." She started to take one of _those_ inward breaths. 

"No! No, no... Not only will you kill _me_, but that's not the kind of warmth your egg needs. Gentle, continuous. If only we had some kind of sunlight--" 

Kendra's eyes lit up. "Better than that. If I show you this, Mordril, you can never even _threaten_ to tell another human. Do you understand?" 

"Yes, fine--" 

"Then help me with this." Kendra rolled the egg to the space below the air shaft, and without waiting for any actual help from Mordril, began to lift it. Clearing the cave roof, the egg rolled away, out of sight. "Hold my tail," Kendra called, and Mordril did so; then Kendra dug her claws into the rock and climbed, pulling Mordril with her. 

"What is this place?" Mordril asked, just as Danielle had done months earlier. 

"A nursery," Kendra answered. "If you are correct, you have earned the title of honorary dragon, and thus the right to be standing here right now. This is the place from which generations of dragons have entered the world." 

Mordril knelt down, no small feat given his handicap. "The rock is warm," he said. 

"Yes. Always, here." 

"The air is warm too. Probably earth-heat, volcanic perhaps. Whoever put this here knew what they were doing." Mordril felt the egg, on top -- still cold -- and at the bottom, where the warmth was beginning to penetrate, and he nodded his head. Then he cautiously rolled the egg, putting the warmer part on top. 

By that afternoon, the clouds had cleared and the day grew warm. Mordril remained with the egg as though it were his own -- until his own bodily needs finally won out, and he begged Kendra to help him down from the nursery and to take him to get at least some fresh water, of which there was none in the cave. Kendra did so, giving him some time to himself to clean up, and then took him on a ride to the grasslands in order to catch a meal to share with him. "Now that Danielle can fly, I get to teach her how to--" 

Danielle was already there, and was having a grand time chasing her own meal. Kendra and Mordril watched from a distance, both in some awe -- attempting a firebreath like Kendra's, producing what might be considered her first actual flame but finding it still far too inadequate, she went for the beast with her claws, lifting it from the ground and then dropping it, then landing over it to begin feasting. 

"Perhaps I _don't_ need to teach her that," Kendra added, wryly. Danielle looked up and spotted the two of them; leaving her catch for the moment, she flew over and landed before them. "Did you see that? This is great!" 

"I see your firebreath is coming in as well," Kendra said. "Just be careful. The grass and the forest can grow dry, and we'd be unable to stop a large fire once it starts." 

"I don't think I could start a _candle_ yet. But I'll be careful." Danielle bounced back into the air, returning to the beast she'd killed before the scavengers could get to it. 

"Sorry. With her appetite, she's not much for sharing yet, I suppose." 

"Amazing," Mordril said, watching the scene as best he could. "She's a dragon, that's true. But she is also still the Danielle I know. Someday you must tell me how you did it, Kendra." 

"Someday, I shall," Kendra answered. 

Danielle and the Dragon / 10 

On returning to the cave, Mordril asked to be returned to the nursery right away to roll the egg a bit once again. He hadn't been in the nursery for thirty seconds before rushing back to the air shaft, and calling for Kendra. 

Kendra came up, just far enough to see what Mordril had reported; not only was the creature within the egg moving, but two clear slices had already been cut in the formerly impenetrable shell. Kendra dropped back to the cavern floor, and shouted a deafening call. Though Danielle herself was nowhere to be seen, and was at least a few miles away, the reply call was unmistakable. 

"She's on her way," Kendra explained to Mordril, as she climbed up into the nursery. Nothing was happening at the moment, but light-colored, hatchling dragon scales were visible, and the creature inside was breathing. 

"I think the expression is 'thank goodness'," Kendra sighed. "I really thought I'd lost you." 

Danielle returned a few minutes later, and was confused for a moment by the completely empty cave, until she heard noises from the nursery and headed there. The three of them sat quietly for what turned out to be a grueling, tedious, event. 

"How long does it take?" Danielle asked after about an hour, revealing her impatience. "One to two hours," Mordril answered. 

"You know more about this than I do," Kendra answered. "The only other hatching I've ever witnessed was Danielle." 

The hatching itself took almost three hours, and resulted in a soaking-wet, exhausted, sleepy-to-the-point-of-unconsciiousness little dragon. He slept for nearly another hour before opening his eyes; lying on his back, he lifted one arm, and was startled by the sight of the claws. Startling awake and yet not coordinated, he tumbled around for a moment, catching additional fright at the sight of Kendra, and then Danielle. 

"Isaac!" Danielle shouted. "You made it! You're one of us!" 

"Dragon!" yelled Isaac. 

"Yes. Like us." 

"D-- Danielle?" 

"Isaac, it's me! Kendra has done it -- turned us both into dragons! Mordril, if you can excuse us a moment... Kendra, can you show him how you can 'dry him off'?" 

Kendra turned her head, almost embarrassed. "He wasn't as prepared as you were, Danielle. Give him some time to adjust." 


That adjustment was slow in coming. Whereas Danielle had been excited and curious and energetic, Isaac was weak, and small, and was discouraged by both. Kendra fed him, as she had Danielle, but he ate slowly, often not finishing his meal at all. 

Kendra tried to explain to him, as she had Danielle, that although he was starting off small and weak, his size and strength and abilities would come as soon as he allowed it; even his appetite would certainly improve as he grew. As the days passed, Mordril spent much of his time making the old house livable once again -- Kendra helped him, not only by ferrying him to and from the place but also by fetching certain essentials for him. 

Now that Danielle could take care of herself, she took full advantage of it: taking off into the early sunrise, gliding and soaring to her heart's content, finding her own meals along the way, and returning increasingly late at night. This left Isaac alone for hours at a time: he'd wake to watch his former girlfriend spread her giant, glorious wings at the cavern's entrance, and then disappear into the sky. He climbed to the edge itself, spread his tiny wings, and found he could barely blow up the dust from the ledge. Returning with food, Kendra caught him at this, and tried to encourage him; but he only proved embarrassed, quickly folding his wings and ducking back into the safe confines of the cave. 

"Danielle is growing quickly," he finally commented, providing perhaps the first insight into his state of mind. "I believe she is nearly as large as you, Kendra." 

"It's become easy for her now," Kendra answered. "As it will be for you." She nudged her latest kill to Isaac, but again Isaac seemed less than hungry. "Soon you will soar at her side, and see things you can barely imagine now." 

"But I hardly see her," Isaac complained. "Once I was her lover, and now... I'm more like her pesky baby brother." He looked up at Kendra. "I thank you for saving her life," he said, "and of course my own. I'm sorry that I disappoint you." 

Kendra sighed. "You don't disappoint me. How could you? Danielle is doing what all dragons at her stage do: she has been given the ability to explore her world, and so she does so. She has even been taking Mordril on some of her journeys. You, my child, are doing what's expected of you at your stage. When you finally get your appetite, and understand just how quickly dragons can grow, you'll realize you're not far behind her at all." 

"But---" Isaac objected. 

"The secret is inside _you_," Kendra explained. "You have an ability to transform this beast--" Kendra pointed -- "into strong dragon-muscle, and tail and bone and wings that will enable to fly as she does. I know that Danielle seems to have lost her interest in you; I know that. But she's fighting her instincts as it is; she sees you as a child because that's what you are. Only you can change that. Grow, and once you start showing the first signs of physical maturity, I expect that you won't be able to beat her away with a tree trunk." 

"I suppose," Isaac said, starting to tear at his meal at last. 

"I'll ask her to spend a day with you," Kendra suggested. "She needs to slow down a bit, and if I ask, she'll probably do it. Then she can share the stories of her exploits with you, and perhaps you will learn a bit about what's to come; and you can tell her how you feel. Perhaps between the two of you, you can discover your _own_ appetite. 

Though still morose, Isaac did show some renewed interest in his meal. 


The next day, Danielle did as she was asked, despite some vague initial objections: "A whole day?" that Isaac, unfortunately, overheard. The particular choice of day, for different reasons, turned out to make things more difficult. 

As she spent the day with him, the friendship between them did rekindle; though Isaac would have been correct to point out that it was more like the friendship between brother and sister than anything else. She told him of flying, and her discoveries, and the power she felt as she swooped over the roaming herds in the grasslands, as they tried in vain to run from her. He listened to it with rapt attention, and finally she told him one of the darker secrets she'd been keeping: 

"I've been starting to imagine what it would be like, you know, if the creatures I was chasing were... people." 


"I know. It bothers me, even, somehow. But... come on... wouldn't you like to get your _claws_ around Jeremy, and the stinking weasels that surround him? Or the villagers who perjured themselves at the trial, leading to my conviction... and yours? To see them run from you, screaming for their lives?" 

"But would you... actually do it?" 

"I'm spared that decision: it's not my job. I'd like to say that I wouldn't; that I'm a gentle beast; but I fear that, put in the situation, I'd come to the understanding that I owe them nothing, morally or otherwise." 

"What do you mean-- not your job?" 

"My primary task... _our_ primary task... is to bear children. It's the only way for us to save the dragons, dragonkind itself. To confront the humans now -- just myself, or even all three of us -- would be to condemn this beautiful species, and all its magic, to extinction." 

Isaac turned his head away. 

"So you haven't really answered the question," he said. "You aren't quite comfortable with the thought of wiping out the humans, whose species you were a member of... what... two months ago? Yet you're willing to raise an army of dragons who will do it for you?" 

Danielle licked her lips, staring straight ahead at the cave wall. "You don't understand what it is to _be_ a dragon, yet, do you? That's what this is all about, isn't it? You don't _want_ to know what happens when you grow up! It's all that much better to sit here day after day feeling sorry for yourself: 'Look, the poor, weak little dragon! ' while Kendra works her tail off trying to feed you. So you have no responsibility -- not for yourself, not for what eventually happens to the humans who _put both of us to death_, certainly not for poor Kendra who saved your life and merely means to save her species? Look, you and I are the beginning of the circle! We were _chosen_, Isaac, entrusted with the fact that the future of all dragons springs from us-- you and me! I know I haven't around much with lately -- soon, I know, I'll be settling down to the task of bearing and raising little baby dragons." 

"Then there will be dragons in the world for another thousand years--" 

"Yes. But they'll be _our_ dragons, Isaac." 

"I just... I just can't imagine having children. Not that... well... look at me! Everything around me is happening too fast. I'm not ready!" 

"_You_ are in charge of that, Isaac." Danielle turned, facing him. "And I'm not ready to wait any longer." She started to breathe deeply. "You might as well be here for this, though I'm sure it won't mean much to you... until you grow up." The deep breaths continued, and Isaac could see muscular contractions near the base of Danielle's tail. 

"What are you doing?" 

"Finishing what I started, a long a time ago. With the _old_ Isaac." She closed her eyes. "One that loved me, and would do anything for me. The one for whom I would have done anything. The one who I made love to, in violation of the law and a direct order; the one whose seed I still carry inside me; just in case anything happened to him, so he'd always be a part of me." She opened her eyes. "I'm about to become pregnant, Isaac. It's starting; your seed, awakening inside me, my ovaries, warming; the egg... I can feel it..." 

"Danielle-- wait! No! You haven't thought this through!" 

Danielle ignored him, immersed in her own efforts. She could feel the insistent sting of Isaac's sperm, which were awake now, desperate to escape the confines of her sperm sac. First the duct between the sac and the upper part of her oviduct warmed, and moistened with its protective fluids. The egg, large and yellow, moved into place. 

Finally, she looked at him again, smiling: "I'm ready. Here goes." She tightened the muscles around her sperm sac in a kind of orgasmic bliss, and felt the explosion as its valve opened, just momentarily. Then, with a precious few sperm on their way, the sac grew cold again, forcing the unlucky sperm within back into dormancy. 


She looked at him more gently, understanding how difficult this revelation had been difficult for him. "It's too late," she said. "Isaac, I'm sorry. Perhaps I shouldn't have involved you this way. It's just that... it's our child, and... I so much want you to be a part..." 

"I know." 

"Oh, God," Danielle said. "I feel it. I do wish you could feel this, like the flame of life itself igniting inside me. I'm conceiving, Isaac." 

Isaac's head drooped. "I'm glad."

Danielle and the Dragon / 11 

After Danielle conceived, Isaac did finally show a somewhat improved appetite. Kendra was glad to hear the news, of course, and Danielle herself did "settle down", dividing her time quite evenly between eating and sleeping. They kept the secret from Mordril for the moment, who had fixed up part of the old house to an acceptable level of comfort, and who now slept there at night. Every other day, Danielle's ovary provided her with another mature follicle, and she would spend a few minutes, usually in the afternoon, fertilizing it, though not with the same ceremony as the first. The eggs slid downward into her uterus to receive their protective shell, and then downward, into the lower part of her body, where she held them safe, not willing to lay yet. 

After the eighth child had been conceived, Danielle understood that her sperm sac was empty, and she was sad as this last egg made its way into her uterus. Moreover, she was tired -- and heavy. For the first time, she found herself unable to finish a meal that she'd started, and then looking up at the long climb from the grasslands to the cave with an obvious dread, wondering if it might in fact just be easier to climb the mountainside with her claws. Isaac, who was still unable to fly and had barely ventured from the cavern, peered down at her from above. As she sat, for hours, pondering that problem, Mordril came up from the distance. With Danielle's permission, he tore a strip of cooked meat from her kill, and gradually gnawed on it. 

"A benefit of having dragons as friends is that they catch your food for you. What's wrong, dear?" 

"I'm just tired, that's all." 

Mordril ran his hand along Danielle's side, noticing the slight lumpiness low in her belly. "And pregnant, I see. When did this happen?" 

"It's _been_ happening," Danielle said, evading the question. "Congratulations, then! If I may ask: how many?" 

"Eight, if I've counted correctly." 


"They're just so _heavy_. Why do dragons build their nests so far _up_, anyway? I think we'd do equally well _underground_, where at least the place would be easier to reach--" 

"You answer your own question, Danielle. If you were a little larger-- like Kendra-- I'm sure even eight eggs would be little trouble. There are stories of dragons laying two dozen or more at one sitting. But if these are proving troublesome, why don't you... you know, lay them?" 

"I suppose when they're ready to come--" 

Mordril ran his hand along Danielle's side again, and she felt a little disappointed that she couldn't feel that sensation strongly. "Laying is voluntary in dragons," he explained. "These eggs are in your vagina--" 

"My what?" 

"I'm sorry, Danielle. It's the place where you store your eggs until you're ready to lay. This part of you, that feels so heavy now. Female dragons hold their eggs here until they've found a safe place for them. You already _have_ a safe place--" 

"If it wasn't so far away! But, um... I mean no disrespect, but I've had no urge to lay, which Kendra told me quite clearly I'd have when the time was right." 

"She talks from her own experience," Mordril said. "She is different than you are." 

"How do you know these things?" 

Mordril closed his eyes. "I used to do research. It was my passion, before they forced me to become a soldier. We have a long history with dragons, we humans do. We don't know much about Kendra; she is be quite unusual. However, it's fairly clear in our texts that dragons lay only where, and when, they want. Records from the slave-times confirm this." 

"Perhaps, then, it is time. Perhaps you are right, and it's only my own fear that stops me." She looked up at the cavern again. 

"If you are returning to the cave, would you mind if I ride with you? I wanted to check on Isaac." 

Danielle lowered her head. "Sure, I -- I can't do it. Here." 

She raised her head again before Mordril could climb on, and let out a strange, shrieking sound that forced Mordril to cover his ears. A moment later, Kendra's head peeked out from the cavern, in the distance. She spread her wings and glided down to Danielle's side. 

"Would you mind giving him a ride?" Danielle asked. "I think I can barely make it myself." 

"Certainly, my sweet." Kendra looked at the half-finished meal, and grabbed what was left to take up to Isaac. "Climb aboard." 

"I do believe that you're about to have some additions to your family," Mordril said. "I offer you my congratulations." 

"Save that sentiment until it's come true," Danielle said. 


Kendra practically hoisted Isaac -- who was almost too heavy -- up into the air shaft with her nose. "They're your children, Isaac. She needs you. She doesn't need us. Be with her." 

Isaac nodded, and crawled into the nursery. Here, Danielle paced, circling the room, cleaning the floor once again by sweeping it with her tail. 

"Mordril was right," Danielle explained, on Isaac's arrival. "It's not so much that there's a 'time', but rather a 'place'." 

Danielle's scent was strong. Isaac bent down, and could see that Danielle's vent was already starting to open and become moist, though the cloacal bulge hadn't yet formed. She made a strange, quiet, primitive kind of hissing sound; a signal that marked the beginning of laying; instinctively, Isaac drew close to her, guarding her. "That's it," Danielle whispered. "Curl up." 

Isaac lay down, in a half-circle just inside the edge of the smooth nest surface. Danielle curled up within that space, her vulnerable parts shielded by the other dragon's body. Her tail lifted, and Isaac alone was witness as the bulge formed underneath. The opening grew. Isaac didn't expect it to happen nearly as quickly as it did; she took a huge breath, almost like the beginning of a fire-breath, her abdomen swelling with it; and as her body contracted again, she produced the egg all at once, amid a discharge of birthing fluid. 

Relaxing her breath, Danielle turned her head to look. Her vent remained open; the egg, directly underneath, was still connected by the stringy, mucous lubricant that coated it. Satisfied, she turned around for the next breath; Isaac imperceptibly nudged the egg out of the way, and with that done Danielle began her breath to lay the next. The eggs began to pile up; no sooner had Isaac rearranged them than Danielle deposited the next. When all eight had been laid, Danielle's equipment slowly folded back into place; she moved out of the way and lay down, forming the other half of the protective circle around the eggs: her head to Isaac's tail. She counted them again, satisfied, then closed her eyes and rested for a few minutes. 

Danielle and the Dragon / 12 

"Do you think it's over?" Mordril asked Kendra, as the two sat together near Kendra's bed. 

"From the quiet, yes, probably." 

"I would have loved to have seen that." 

Kendra nodded. "So would I, actually. But it isn't our place. As a human, you don't want to risk bothering a dragon while she's laying. As you know, no human has ever witnessed the event... and lived." 

Mordril raised his head in agreement. "It's okay that you don't trust me, Kendra. Frankly, I neither expect or... want any trust I haven't earned." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Before you picked me up, you checked that I wasn't carrying anything. Obviously, I'm not to go near the eggs, particularly if they are unattended. Correct?" 

It was difficult to make such a large creature seem embarrassed, but Mordril had apparently done just that. "Well, I--" the dragon said. "You see--" 

"No," Mordril said. "What I'm saying is that's fine. I know what's at stake here, both to you personally and to the world in general. I want you to continue to be vigilant. I do not deserve to be an exception." 

"But certainly you do-- to a point." She pointed her nose towards Isaac's prosthetic leg. "That never should have happened, Isaac. I knew you weren't a real soldier, that you weren't really going to harm me. I wasn't going to eat you; not even harm you. You'd been injured, and I knew that you'd be important to me in the future, and I needed a spell upon you, that involves the fluid in my mouth--" 

"Dragon saliva," Mordril said. "The magic of a dragon is confined within the dragon. That's in our texts." 

"But it's hard not to bite when hit in the snout with a mace," Kendra concluded. 

"What spell was it?" 

"One that would allow me to know where you were, and what you were up to; vaguely." 

"But I did nothing after that. They carried me away and I became a cripple, rather than a soldier. Yet ever since then-- there's been something--" 

"Yes, there has been. A part of you became a part of me that day. The spell lasted far longer than I thought possible, keeping you in my mind day and night for nearly an entire year. And in return you knew more of me than any other human, a fact which did you little good with that idiot Jeremy in charge. Let me... let me place the spell upon you again, Mordril, such that I may watch over you and protect you no matter where you are." "I'd be honored, Kendra, but first there's something you must know." 


"I don't know how to say this, as you never discovered it yourself: It wasn't our encounter that led me to my entire understanding of dragonkind. Before they forced me into becoming the most inept and cowardly fighter the world has seen, I was a scientist. I studied dragons. We caught one, once-- well, scavenged it, being already dead... you can't quite 'catch' a living dragon, you see. In any case we opened that dragon's body, and I studied everything I could, while time and spoilage permitted. We were desperate then, having lost our greatest attempt to bring the dragons into order--" 

"Under your control, you mean." 

"Yes. We were desperate to find a vulnerability, but the more I looked the less I could find one; a dragon's body is well protected in most respects. At first I thought we could find a way to deny a dragon its fire-breath; we scavenged what little fluid remained in the dragon's fire-gland, but a fire, of all things, broke out when the fluid was exposed to air, leaving nothing for the experiment. I came up with the idea that though a rapid solution was unlikely, a long-term solution was possible. So I began to study the reproductive system. I spent more than a year doing so, to the exclusion of all else, frozen tissue samples and all." 

"It's that kind of advancement in understanding that threatens us the most, Mordril. We've always understood this. It's why dragons have periodically wreaked havoc on human civilization, destroying virtually everything in the process, leaving only the poorest and least knowledgeable to rebuild. It's ironic, too; humans are the one species for which we have some respect. But we understand one thing that you do not: eventually, your own advancement will destroy you. When you become numerous, as is happening now, and you have no dragons to fight, you turn against yourselves." 

Mordril looked off into the distance. "So you don't... destroy and enslave humans for more... immediate reasons? For food? No... that explains why the attacks have been so... rare, throughout history... why..." Mordril shook his head. "I understand, Kendra, I believe. But I have to tell you this; I suspect that when you cast your spell you may learn it anyway." He looked into Kendra's eyes. "As a product of my research, I became the one responsible for what happened to you," he said. "I don't know how you transformed Danielle and Isaac as you did, and I'm glad it happened--" 

"I wish I could offer you the same," Kendra said. "But I've known the ability would be short-lived. Please continue..." 

"I'm the one who took your ability to bear children in the first place. You and the other dragons. It was the one vulnerability I could find." 

"You may have accelerated the process, Mordril. But it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. In return I gained the ability to grant Danielle and Isaac admission into our family, so to speak... and as you've seen, she's quite fertile. Of course, right about now she's thinking that a mere _eight_ eggs are a lot, I suspect." 

"'Beware most the one who cannot breed'. At the time, I had no idea that those words had such meaning." 

"With your help, then, I became that 'one'. And though I regret, in part, not being able to watch my 'own' children grow, we will both share in the delight of seeing Danielle's and Isaac's. Things have a way of working out, Isaac. I suppose we are each other's victim, and have turned it to our mutual advantage. You've earned my kindness and a promise to keep you safe from harm. your knowledge of dragons, no matter how you gained it, has already proven useful beyond your expectations." 


"You must be exhausted," Isaac whispered. He surveyed the clutch of eggs once again and found it hard to believe that they had come from Danielle: the eggs were nearly a meter long and half-meter across, as best he could tell; all together they were nearly larger than Isaac himself. 

"Actually I feel quite good," Danielle answered, sitting up. "I suppose I prepared myself for childbirth the way that humans do it. What did that take -- less than two minutes each?" 

"I don't know," Isaac said. "I suppose that counting minutes is not a dragon's strength." 

"But it was easy," Danielle said. "Especially after the first." She looked about the room, at the empty space. "Imagine when I'm Kendra's size. She said I'll be able to fill this place with eggs!" 

"What does it feel like, if I may ask?" 

Danielle pondered for a moment. "Well, a lot like... umm... going to the bathroom, I suppose. Or... you know, since dragons don't have bathrooms. But different, too. Kind of... delicious. I expected that it would hurt, but... it felt good. I want to do it again." 

"Again?? I've been wondering how we'll take care of _eight_ dragons!" 

"You'll see." Danielle stood up. "And along those lines, I have something for you, as well. For finally standing up and being a real dragon." 


Danielle moved the eggs away from Isaac, rolling them in a group. 

"Stay there. You'll see." She backed up to Isaac, then stood high on her hind legs and crouched down in front, her head nearly on the floor, her rump and tail at the ceiling. Curious, Isaac looked up at Danielle's underside, only to see the bulge forming, her vent opening right above him. He let out a pathetic little squeak just as a yellowish jelly burst forth from her body, spraying and splattering across him. Unsure what this was, he tried at first to wipe it away, but it clung to his scales; he could only manage to spread it across more of himself. Danielle, with her tail still raised and her vent still visible, turned her head and smiled as Isaac, overcome, suddenly scrambled for the exit. 

Kendra and Mordril were startled by the sight and heavy _thump_ of a dragon falling to the floor of the cave. Disoriented, Isaac turned in a circle; said nothing, and stumbled towards the daylight. 

Mordril, still in shock over the speed of this event, pressed himself back into Kendra for safety. Isaac reached the cave entrance and stood on the ledge, pondering. 

"Well," Kendra said. "It appears that my 'daughter' has not only laid her eggs, but chosen her mate as well. Now we just see if he's up to her challenge." 

"What? What's happening?" 

"Be glad you're not a male dragon right about now. That scent has been known to drive the male who wears it -- and even those nearby -- to the brink of sanity. He's been marked as Danielle's own." 

Isaac spread his wings. 

"He doesn't know how-- to fly, does he?" 

Kendra continued to smile. "I suspect we're about to find out." Isaac fell, more than leapt, from the ledge, but a moment later could be seen soaring away, gliding down into the distance, then out of sight. 

He didn't return for three days. Meanwhile, Danielle, comfortable to leave the eggs in Kendra's proud care, enjoyed her renewed lightness, and apparently intended to spoil it under the power of her usual, vicious appetite; she spent the days feeding, the nights curled up with her eggs in the nursery. 

When Isaac did return, he was exhausted, nervous, "wired"; despite a perfect, dragon-like landing on the ledge, he wobbled on his feet as he tried to walk into the cave, still strongly covered with the scent-mark and still unwilling to speak. 

Kendra came up to him. "My dear! You haven't slept a wink all this time, have you? But--" she took two good steps back -- "Look at you!" 

Danielle hopped down from above to see what the commotion was about. "Isaac! You--" 

Silenced, suddenly, Danielle found herself unable to tear her eyes from him. It almost seemed as though an entirely different dragon had flown into the cave; he was huge. Not as big as Danielle herself, as she'd grown in the last three days as well -- but -- almost. To a dragon's eyes, at least, he was also, unmistakably, an adult. 

"You poor thing! You're exhausted!" Danielle's eyes lit up. "Come, sleep with me. I mean-- rest -- I mean..." she looked at Kendra, embarrassed. 

"It's the before-mating sleep, my sweet Danielle. I can't tell you much; I've never done it, of course. The human language is confusing, isn't it, how they use the same words to mean such different things. But I do know how this works: the two of you will rest tonight, and feed together tomorrow, and then... the most wonderful experience awaits you." Kendra guided Danielle up to the nursery, and then came up to Isaac. "You did well, Isaac. I knew you would. I'm proud of you and... well, so is she, obviously." She guided him gently into the air shaft, his claws still a little unsteady on the climb. "Rest well. You've earned it." 

After the two lovers were snug in the nursery with each other and their eggs, Kendra walked out to the ledge. "I have to tell Mordril," she said. She thought of him for a moment, tasted him inside her mouth, where she'd held him three days earlier in order to implant the spell deeply upon him. And she knew that he was quite sound asleep. 

"So much for that." She looked up at the moon, nearly full again. "But, in two days, there's somebody _else_ who I should tell," she said to herself. 

Danielle and the Dragon / 13 

When Isaac and Danielle climbed down into the cave the next morning, both bright and refreshed, they found Kendra already awake; in fact, it was almost noon. 

"I was wondering when you'd get up," Kendra said. "Good morning!" 

Danielle had her usual, bouncy energy, and for the first time Isaac appeared to share it. "Hi, Kendra." 

"Well, it looks like I don't have to feed you anymore, Isaac. Did you enjoy your first flight?" 

Isaac looked around, puzzled. 

"I'm sorry," Kendra said. "I'm trying to have a conversation with a scent-marked dragon. You probably barely remember it. That's alright. Welcome to dragonhood anyway. Now: Danielle-- I'll take care of your eggs for you; don't worry about them. I wish you the best, and I'll see you soon." 

Isaac turned for the door, and Danielle stopped him. 

"You know," Danielle said, "there is one dragon ritual that Isaac has never experienced. You welcomed him to dragonhood, but you didn't _welcome_ him, if you know what I mean." 

Kendra nodded. "That's true. I didn't think he was ready earlier." She looked him over. "I suspect he is now." 

"What?" burbled Isaac, who weaved a bit, leaning up against Danielle's side. 

"This won't ruin his scent-mark, will it?" Danielle asked. 

"I'm not sure," Kendra replied. "But I know he's marked... he knows he's marked. Who else needs to know?" 

Danielle smiled and stepped back. Kendra started drawing in a breath that swelled her body; Isaac could feel the air rushing towards the dragon's nostrils. Kendra opened her mouth, pointing at Isaac, and the meaning of this -- that primitive, leftover fear -- was just enough to pierce the fog of sexual drive that ruled Isaac's brain at the moment. He opened his own mouth, took the slightest little breath of surprise, and snapped it shut again, just in time. 

Isaac disappeared into a roaring, yellow-orange flame. 

Danielle smiled at the sight of this. As Kendra's flame continued to surge, heating the cave itself and producing a mighty, terrifying roar, Danielle took her own breath, aimed, and opened her mouth. Kendra's flame was already so large that it was starting to overtake Kendra herself, and soon Danielle; but Danielle shot her own fire anyway, covering Isaac's body from a different angle, producing a white-hot flame where the two intersected. As she disappeared into the glowing flame, Kendra looked upon her daughter, and when her mouth finally closed, she smiled. 

Fire consumed the entire cavern, all the way to Danielle's tail, with Isaac at the center of it. Danielle's flame, though impressive, didn't last as long as Kendra's; she ran out of air that much earlier, and with no oxygen left the fire went out almost instantly. Then all three dragons could hear a new, ominous sound -- a deep, single-pitched whistle from above. The intense heat made the air shaft above act like a chimney, which roared as the smoke and searing air were expelled through the cracks high on the side of the mountain. The warm summer air that swept in to replace it felt, as it streamed past Danielle's tail, to be ice-cold, uncomfortably so. But in less than a minute, the air was breathable. Disturbed by the noise which continued above, Danielle stood up on her hind legs, peering into the nursery to discover her eggs were fine; the heat and smoke hadn't entered that chamber to any significant extent, a demonstration of the clever design of the place. 

Isaac, whose scales just about glowed now, looked off into space in total awe. The clean air reached him and he breathed it, tentative at first and then with confidence. He looked at Kendra first and Danielle afterwards; the furious anger he'd felt towards them for doing such a thing -- _without warning!_ was gone, and Danielle smiled at him in a way that would have melted him a surely as her fire would have melted ice. 

"You are a dragon," she said. "Beware, world, of the mighty, invincible _dragon_!" 

"Yes," Isaac said, raising his head. The roar from the air shaft continued; the rock of the cave, still searing hot, was heating the air in the cave and keeping the effect alive. Isaac added his own roar to the noise, and the two female dragons joined him. "I am a _dragon!_" 

"And you're mine," Danielle added. 


Mordril heard the noise in the distance, and, correctly sensing that Kendra was on her way to collect him for what had become his daily visit, finished bathing and went outside, down the short walk to the clearing, to wait for her. Humanity had been programmed, in the last thousand years, to panic at the sight of an approaching dragon. Mordril knew this well, and thus he was doubly pleased to watch the elegant, silent glide of the creature; the sun golden around the edges of Kendra's wings, varying so slightly as the dragon corrected her course and dipped closer to the Earth. For such a large creature, he marveled still that she could land so softly; he came up to her as she was still folding her wings. 

"Good afternoon! So what was all the commotion?" Mordril asked. 

Kendra turned her head a bit and launched into a story. "I remember, when I discovered that I was unable to bear children, that I was the most despicable wreck. My mother was long gone; my father, injured in the human war and barely able to fly; I felt I served no purpose and I certainly acted that way. And my father -- probably the last great thing he ever did, a thing that I remember clearly to this day, roared in my direction and covered me with fire in the process. At first I thought that he was just angry at me, and he probably was; I'd certainly earned it -- but, afterwards, just as I was discovering that I hadn't been harmed in the least, he looked straight into my eyes and told me, in our own language: "You are a dragon." It didn't matter what I could or couldn't _do_, or what eventually became of me; it was who I was. A little bit of fire and two dragon-words and my whole world changed. 

"He made that up on the spot; I know he did. But when I saw Danielle, all small and shivering and uncertain of herself, I knew the same would help her as well. And now, merely by virtue of being _when_ I am, I suspect I've started a tradition that will endure for the _next_ thousand years, should we be so lucky. We overdid it a little with Isaac just now, I suppose: a tremendous waste of energy, that's for certain. But it is... an essence of _life_. I wish you could experience it, my friend, Mordril." 

Mordril held a hand out into the sun. "Thank you for the offer, but it's quite hot enough out here already." 

Kendra laughed at the comment. "With any luck, I still might have a few surprises left for you. If you're uncomfortably warm, I suggest we wait a bit before heading up to the cave; the rock holds the heat for some time, though there's excellent breeze as a result. I can't leave the eggs for long, but I'd be happy to stay here for a bit." She walked into the shadow of the trees, and sat down. "How is your 'house' coming along?" 

Mordril shook his head. "Well enough. My problem is lack of tools: repairing things, building things, even _cleaning_ is proving difficult, especially for me. It is the winter which I fear." 

Kendra seemed a bit surprised, and Mordril added: "Food, heat, you know." 

"I suggest we address that as it comes. The world is going to be a much different place by then, you understand. I even suspect that there is a possibility that you might be able to return to your home." 

"Why?" Mordril asked, standing up in order to get closer to Kendra's head. "How? Do you have... some kind of plan? Can you even tell me?" 

"I intend for Jeremy to no longer be the ruler of your land. If I look at him as a peer-- even as a rival-- I find him most uncomfortable. He abuses his power; he has none of the wisdom that should be required by his followers. He acts rashly and impulsively; therefore he is unpredictable. That makes him dangerous to both man and dragon." 

"Do you intend... another war in order to depose him?" 

"Hopefully not; at least not now. I have no delusion that Danielle and Isaac would support an unprovoked attack on the human villages. And if they won't, neither will their children; but that's fine with me. No: I am simply going to illustrate to Jeremy that he has already lost, and that the battle need not be fought in the first place. If all goes well, we will join forces with the humans, rather than oppose them: I just can't do that with Jeremy in charge. And if Jeremy is out, then you can return to the village, safely, before the frost comes." 

Mordril's eyes lit up. "There are stories of such-- drawings, even-- I wish I had them to show you! Civilizations comprised of humans _and_ dragons, paired, working together for their common good. You speak of a day when mankind attacks mankind -- certainly that has happened, even in the time that I know: but who would attack a civilization where the knights, rather than upon horses, rode upon the backs of mighty dragons? Nobody, that's who! The dragons, of course, well-respected and cared for, sharing the glory... Oh, Kendra, if this is your goal, I applaud it." 

"I wish it were that easy," Kendra said. "It will take quite some time to reach that point with the humans. The first step, however, will to be cast the human's self-sufficient invulnerability into doubt. And I know how to do that, if only Jeremy can rise above himself long enough to comprehend it." 

Danielle and the Dragon / 14 

Isaac and Danielle feasted through the remainder of the day's light. They hunted as a team, now, and ate as one, feeding from the same beast and then setting off for the next, never more than a wingspan apart. As the light faded, they finished their meals and hoisted their full bellies into the air, flying slowly and low, just missing the treetops as they circled the mountain to the north, where Kendra had told them to look. Before long, the dimming landscape was dotted with clearings of various sizes; breaks in the forest where the grass grew rather than the trees. Unable to bear their physical separation any longer, they picked one of these and spiraled down into it, pulling tight to each other before they could even bother to fold their wings. 

And then, in the near darkness, they held perfectly still and listened into the distance. There was nothing nearby; it was as they needed it to be. Standing on their hind legs, they held each other, standing tall, pressing tails to each other's. Their necks stretched up into the twilight. Then they collapsed, and curled up, entwining in each other like overcrowded snakes. 

The very tips of their tails found each other, and they began to coil together this way, the tails like a helix, pulling the dragons together. Then their legs gripped each other, pulling. They wrapped their necks much the same, and pressed their bellies together. As their tails and legs tightened, just as the sunset changed from dark orange to a light purple, they felt the sense of their vents -- closed, touching. At this sense they pulled tighter still. And then they began tightening and loosening their grip on each other, pressing into each other 

To an uneducated observer would appear that the dragons are already mating, but it hasn't begun yet. The crude thrusting motions, rather than growing more urgent, grow softer and less perceptible over the hour or so that this phase requires. During this time, they align their vents with absolute precision, an amazing feat considering that neither vent has even appeared yet. The wiggling settles down, replaced by increasing tonal contraction in their intertwined legs and tail, making the pair unable to separate; holding them firm and fast to each other. 

Only then, as they lay perfectly still together, can the scales protecting their vents begin to separate. At first, the vents themselves don't open; it's the layer of muscle holding the scales that retract, leaving a protective flap. Most of the time this region is lubricated and slippery, making it easier for the dragon to lay eggs or perform its bodily functions; but now the inner skin of the vent is sticky, and when the dragons touch it together it adheres. Now, where the scales on either side of the dragon's vent once interlocked, the two dragons interlock with each other, protecting the adhered vents. 

Danielle and Isaac allowed their necks to uncoil at this point, which felt more comfortable, and they took the time to look at each other with hard, dark, crystalline eyes. Those eyes never seemed to convey the same sense of the soul as a mammal's eyes did... until now. Neither knew what to say. The feeling between their legs was intense. Slowly, carefully, they could feel their vents opening; an everlasting kiss. They began to grow into each other's body; in addition to the sticky "adhesive", the edges of their vents attached to each other along little ridges intended for just that purpose. 

They looked around them, astonished to see the herald of sunrise. Danielle, finally finding the few words she could: "I can't believe it." 

That was before the mating-nerve bundle just within her vent found the corresponding connection in Isaac's. It was a small, greyish patch on the tail-side of the vent. This took more than an hour to attach; sending tingling, pins-and-needles sensations into both dragons at first and then, blossoming, into a whole new world of physical sensation. Isaac deciphered it first: 

"I can feel the inside of your body." 

Danielle looked at him with awe and surprise; when she explored that sense she understood that she, too, could sense beyond the boundaries of herself, as though her entire reproductive system had just been extended into him, a continuous, single organ. It struck her immediately that their sense was identically overlapped; unlike any two humans, the same feelings were being transmitted to each of them. Even during this, the vent openings continued to expand. 

"I feel exactly... what you do!" 

Isaac closed his eyes as the sun rose higher into the sky. He could feel-- no, even see, things he could only imagine. He could feel the eggs, ready; two sperm sacs, one painfully full, the other sorely empty, all the complicated plumbing inbetween. He could feel the ovaries in her body; already working overtime to harvest swollen eggs; he could control them, move them a bit; feel the soft ripeness of each egg, even count them-- 

"Twenty-three," he whispered. 

"Yes, I know," Danielle whispered. She could control his body in much the same way; even though his sperm sac was already full, she urged his hidden testes into full arousal, as well as other glands in their shared body. 

As the sun reached overhead, their vents were open now nearly to the diameter that Danielle required to lay a fully-developed egg. They now shared a single cloaca between them, and began yet the next of the many stages of dragon mating; both releasing a cleansing fluid into that cloaca, preparing it, and then withdrawing the spent fluid into the lower end of their digestive systems. Their bodies were attached together so strongly, after all this time, that even a sword could not have separated them. 


A sword is precisely what Jeremy wished he had at this moment. Stunned, at the far end of the clearing, he could do nothing but stand, in shock next to a confident and comfortable Kendra. 

"Danielle... and Isaac," she said. "Not good enough to be a part of your civilization, perhaps; as you see, I've been more than happy to welcome them both into mine." 

Jeremy didn't believe this for a moment, but he did immediately notice something else. "My God... are they... They're... mating?" 

"Of course they are," Kendra replied. "That's precisely what I wanted you to see." 

"It's appalling! Look-- that one-- I can't tell them apart-- he... she... is looking right at us!" 

"Of course they know you're here. It's just that neither of them care. Would you?" 

"Of course I'd care!" objected Jeremy, quietly. 

"You have such a little imagination, don't you, Jeremy? You come from a world of mammals who developed this little survival strategy of mating in secret, in seclusion, and quickly... you never know when a big bad _bear_ is going to intrude on you in your moment of vulnerability, do you? _They_" -- Kendra pointed to the couple -- "are just discovering that humans have just the palest shadow of _true_ intercourse, in comparison to what they're experiencing right this moment. What in the world do they have to be scared of right now? You? No. If you came too close they would burn you to a crisp -- otherwise you mean absolutely nothing to them. They're frightened of nothing! And so they can look at you--" 

Isaac raised his head and cast a distant stare at Jeremy as well, as though on cue-- 

"-- and keep right on doing what they were doing, without a care in the world. And let me explain what happens next, lest you forget: these dragons will soon be pregnant. Danielle will be able to lay hundreds of eggs! Soon they will fill the skies above your villages with their children. And what happens _then_ will depend entirely on what you do _now_. Oh, I can hear your little mind racing already. Marshal your forces, you will, charge through the forest, ready for the glory of battle. But then, you see, this battle won't be mine. It will be Danielle's, and Isaac's, and their children's. Having once been human themselves, I can tell you that they have some discomfort at the thought of attacking another human. But I can tell you this: if you strip them of the last little bit of respect they have for humans -- and that's _precious_ little, thanks to you -- they will destroy you, Jeremy. You and your villages and everything you've ever known. Instead of being a hero, and a savior, you will be the one known -- if any humans remain at all -- for all eternity as having traded the best _opportunity_ for the largest _disaster_ imaginable." 

Jeremy was still transfixed by the sight before him, of the two entangled, copulating dragons. He shook himself free. "Take me from here," he said. "I can't bear the sight any longer." 

"They finally got who they wanted," Kendra said, lowering her head for Jeremy. "Through tremendous courage, they got each other." Kendra spread her wings and took off. "Enjoy, my beautiful, fertile ones," she whispered to Isaac and Danielle. "Love and mate well." 


"She was right," Danielle whispered, as soon as Kendra was gone. "Nothing in the outside world matters anymore, as if a curtain falls over it. Everything we need is within _us_." 

Isaac closed his eyes, tired of listening to the human language, and Danielle was surprised to discover that she could, in a way, hear his thoughts, which came through primitive, _dragon_, fabulously sexual. 

She replied in dragon, much the same way. "Make me pregnant," she said. "Make _us_ pregnant." She called upon glands that began to fill the cloaca with a fluid similar to birthing fluid, to serve as the carrier for the sperm. She injected his body with it, squirted it into him, and then called on his testes and sperm sac to function; tightening the sac and opening the valve into the cloaca. The cloaca filled, ballooning, with a tremendous volume of the combined, living fluid. As the pressure built, they worked together to open the sperm duct and oviduct in Danielle's body, flooding her end of the reproductive systems. They could feel the semen, almost the individual sperm cells, flowing through the passages, and then, opening a final valve, flooded the ripe eggs themselves-- all twenty-three of them. 

As the sun set, they felt, one by one, each spark of life as it ignited deep within them. Soon after the eggs were fertilized, they began to feel the drain of energy; the eggs, already swelling, drawing water and nutrients. Danielle sealed the opening between her oviduct and cloaca; and finally opened the valve between the cloaca and her sperm sac. Isaac worked to squirt the last little bit of semen he could manufacture into her body; she sucked that and the leftover fluid into her sperm sac, filling it to capacity just as she emptied the cloaca itself. The sperm sac sealed shut and began its characteristic cool-down, putting the sperm within to sleep. 

Another gland in Isaac's body, which he couldn't yet identify, began contracting, squirting water and nutrients into Danielle's body just as she began to thirst for them. His body light as he gave himself to her in this way; flooding her with the very materials she could use to help the eggs grow. This continued through the night and well into the next day. 

This time, it was Mordril who stood with Kendra near the clearing's edge. He watched with rapt fascination, finally understanding that the coupled dragons might as well have been on a different world altogether. 

"In the old days, there were times when each of these clearings would be so occupied," Kendra explained. "You humans surround this act with ceremony and law; we dragons need no such reinforcement. The act itself is more than sufficient. Humans believe that we cannot feel "real" love, that we are mere animals; I think that little could be further from the truth. That's what these two are discovering right now." 

"It seems as though there is a lot of instinct to the life of a dragon," Mordril said. "There is a difference between being a slave to instinct, and following your heart." 

"I can understand why you'd believe that," Kendra said, nodding. "Although you or I have no way to know this, I suspect that dragons are no more a slave to instinct than humans. We are simply more free to follow that instinct. Neither Danielle or Isaac are children; but as dragons, they are: they've been given a tremendous new playground to explore. They will travel to every corner of it; every peak and valley; and they will do it together because they follow their _heart_ as they go." 

Kendra lowered her head, bidding Mordril to climb on. He held back, not knowing why there was any hurry; the day was cool and dry, and the clearing a beautiful, comforting place. 

"If you look closely you will see that they are uncoiling their tails from each others'. They are preparing to separate, and that _is_ a time when dragons prefer some privacy." 


Isaac started to smile, and then came to realize something that made him smile in a different way altogether. Danielle looked at him and understood it instantly as well: although their bodies were separate once again, the connection between them hadn't been broken. They picked up one foot, at exactly the same time, and even though they weren't touching, they could feel each other.

Beaming, they clasped each other one last time before spreading their wings and flying off, wingtip to wingtip.

Danielle and the Dragon / 15 

Kendra knew not to expect much when Danielle and Isaac finally returned to the cave. After they'd finished mating, they'd spent the rest of the day's light hunting and eating, helping satisfy a rather dragon-sized appetite that followed a two-day fast. They arrived at the mountainside lair understandably tired, and with few words Kendra sent them off to sleep, curled about their eight unhatched eggs. Kendra noticed that Danielle's body already showed signs of her new pregnancy: her body was just beginning the growth surge that would soon overtake Kendra herself in size. 

The two lover-dragons had dozens, if not hundreds, of questions for Kendra the next morning. It was as though they were different dragons now: with the curtain of sexual urgency lifted, both Danielle and Isaac seemed interested, once again, in the practical matters regarding their immediate and distant future. What came foremost to their minds, however, was how this connection between them persisted, even when they didn't touch. 

"It feels... magical," Danielle explained to Kendra. "Yet... I haven't learned a single dragon-magic spell yet." 

"Yes," Isaac added. 

"But you have," Kendra said. "Very well. You want to learn about dragon magic? Fine. Sit." 

The two dragons sat obediently before Kendra, who curled her tail comfortably in her usual sleeping spot. 

"You are dragons now," Kendra reminded the pair. "We, as dragons, have successfully kept certain secrets to ourselves for thousands of years. Some were kept well enough to have been forgotten, even by us. But for you to share what you are about to learn with any human -- even Mordril -- would be an irreversible mistake." 

"Of course," Danielle said. 

"I agree," Isaac said. He and Danielle sat up, perched, attentive, even as they understood that, side by side like this, they filled the diameter of the cavern; it worked better for one to lie down and one to stand. 

Kendra spoke slowly in the native dragon tongue; the words difficult to decipher: "There is only one spell." 

"...And you already know it," she concluded in the human tongue. "You carry it with you all the time. It simply has a range of intensities; humans interpret it as different spells, inexplicably powerful magic. That misunderstanding has served us quite well in the past. At one end... the slightest touch, perhaps the brush of my tongue to a human's cheek; and I can know that human's location for perhaps a day. If I'm slower, and more careful, the spell not only lasts longer but I can sense what that particular person is up to. More still: perhaps I cover the person in my saliva and I can hear through their ears, see through their eyes. I held Danielle here in my mouth as though to swallow her, imprinting the spell so deeply upon her that not only could it transfer to _you_, Isaac, but that I could... what's the word? -- 'loan' Danielle the power of flight. That's how she arrived at your village on her last day as a human; that's how she escaped it afterwards." 

"It's in... saliva?" Isaac suggested. "That's it, isn't it?" 

"It's in _you_," Kendra answered. "All of your fluids. From the 'saliva' that I shared with Danielle to the scent-mark that bound you to Danielle to the birthing fluid that connects you to your children and the mating fluids have transformed the two of you into one." 

"'The magic of a dragon is confined within the dragon'," Danielle recalled. "I've always taken that-- I suppose the humans used to teach it -- in the other sense, that a dragon's magic cannot extend beyond itself." 

"Also a useful misunderstanding, then," Kendra observed. "Then even those with spells cast upon them will not suspect it." 

Isaac thought for a moment. "I thought that dragons never lied. That they were incapable of it." 

Now Kendra had to ponder for a moment. "Any creature capable of speech, and which has privacy of its own thought, can lie," Kendra replied. "But you would be correct to say that we never lie. We may keep secrets, and we may not volunteer the truth when a human is mistaken about it... but it is a useful reputation to uphold. Jeremy never would have consented to ride upon my back had he not been able to trust my word, that I would return him safely." 

"That _was_ Jeremy," Isaac whispered. 

"I thought it was Mordril," Danielle said. 

"They were both there," said Kendra. "At different times." 

"It's... all blurred together," Danielle reported. 

"Of course it was. Of what use is the outside world to you when you are in love, and are joined with the one who loves you? I hope you don't mind my intrusion, especially as you weren't aware that dragons are fairly natural exhibitionists." 

"Why did you bring Jeremy?" Kendra asked. 

"I'll get to that," Kendra replied. "Let's complete your present lesson first. Have you understood the common thread in all dragon magic?" 

Danielle thought a moment. "Joining." 

"Very good. At the least extreme, the magic allows you to be aware that a living thing exists. Then its location. Then its activities, then its surroundings, with increasing duration and clarity. Beyond that, the sense travels in both directions, ultimately to the point where you can grant a weakened version of your own powers to the other being. That, as I did with Danielle, is the limit of the magic as it can be applied to a human. Between dragons... well, the two of you understand the intensity of _that_ power even more than I." 

"But... except when breeding, I thought that dragons were _solitary_ creatures," Isaac said. 

"During my lifetime, especially." Kendra circled, stretching her legs. She sighed. "But what we were is of little concern; it is who we _are_ that matters most. Which leads me to answer your other question. 

"Dragons have little to fear most of the time. Even during mating... when humans are at their peak of vulnerability as adults. To prove that point to Jeremy, I brought him to you." 

Isaac spoke up again. "But now he knows that we're alive... and that we're... you know, pregnant." 

"Yes. I told him so much. But, you see, what we need here is time. By giving it to him, we acquired it for ourselves. We merely exploit his lack of knowledge, you see." 

"He doesn't know about the first eight eggs," Danielle whispered. 

"Exactly. He also doesn't know that your gestation is far shorter than the dragons of his history. At the conclusion of our meeting, I asked him make some important decisions and to meet with me at the next full moon: thus setting a timeframe in which he believes _nothing_ will happen. But rather than three dragons, there will be at least eleven of us: by then, even the youngest could be nearly fully grown. Jeremy's preparations, whatever they might be, will be inadequate; he will have lost, and not a single human... nor dragon... need be harmed." 

Kendra went on to explain Mordril's vision of a civilization where humans and dragons worked together for their common good. Danielle raised the objection of Jeremy's involvement in any such arrangement, and was pleased to learn that ousting Jeremy was already part of the plan. 

"I'd like the three of you to do one thing: decide who, among the humans, we should approach to take Jeremy's place. Someone you'd trust, even now. If we offer that person our strength and offer of peace, Jeremy will fall almost immediately." 

"I don't know everybody," Danielle said. 

"Mordril does," Isaac answered. 

Kendra nodded, and went off to collect Mordril for the usual afternoon visit. Danielle looked up. "I'm starving," she said, stomach growling. "Lunch?" 

"I think I'll stay here with the eggs," Isaac said. Danielle was initially disappointed, but as she stepped out to the ledge she came to understand that he was still with her regardless of distance; as she flew out over the grassland, in search of the everpresent herds, she could feel those first eight eggs as Isaac inspected them. 

"We're a team," she told him. 

"Yes. We're really one," he answered back, without once opening his mouth. 


Kendra, Mordril, and Danielle had all returned to the cave. Isaac peeked down from above; with her latest meal, Danielle was now larger than Kendra, and she was already starting to become egg-heavy. The first completed egg had passed from her uterus to her vagina while she was eating, and now a second was in place, receiving its shell. Understanding the combination of the fairly small space of the main cavern and _three_ grown dragons would make poor Mordril rather claustrophobic, Isaac chose to lay down in the tunnel from the nursery, his tail still touching one of the eggs, and watched from overhead. 

They began to discuss possible choices for a replacement for Jeremy. Mordril favored a scheme which permitted Jeremy to retain his dignity; Danielle didn't care in the least about that. Mordril came to favor one of Jeremy's own assistants to succeed him: one that showed particular wisdom, yet who was routinely ignored by the one he was supposed to be guiding. Someone who'd been Jeremy's more-or-less slave for the past several years might carry some liabilities as far as dragon-human relations went; but the decision was clear enough: and although all knew who they were speaking of, even Mordril couldn't remember the man's name. 

Isaac spoke rather little during all of this; he found himself uninterested, preferring rather to explore his sense of Danielle's body, and the occasional turns and twists of his as-yet-unhatched children. He thought of them, mighty and strong, an invincible army of their own; bright and energetic and hungry. Those thoughts were strong enough to distract Danielle mid-sentence, at least twice. At her thought, he lifted the end of his tail as though it were an antenna, beaming energy into the waiting eggs. 

It was as if the eggs responded, though Isaac also considered that the coincidence might in fact be the other way around, for when Isaac turned three of the eggs were starting to hatch. Danielle stopped the conversation, indicating what was happening with her eyes. She lifted Mordril onto her snout, and then climbed up to the nursery herself. Danielle, wide-eyed, came up and stood next to Isaac as Mordril examined one of the eggs. 

"Are you ready to be a mommy?" Isaac asked. 

"Yeah," Danielle answered. "I am."

Danielle and the Dragon / 16 

His name was Jim, though even he barely remembered it: the lord Jeremy never called his assistants by name, never formally introduced them, never really acknowledged them, even after eight years of faithful service. 

At one wall of Jeremy's chamber stood a table, clothed in white linen, perpetually stocked with the freshest fruit and best beverages available; Jim tended to this, rearranging the platters as he went along, listening to Jeremy fume across the room, apparently to himself. 

As he snapped a grape-vine carrying several spoiled grapes and deftly removed it from a bowl, Jim found himself grimacing at this private display of his leader's self-pity. Unable to sleep since his "sightseeing" trip aboard the dragon Kendra, Jeremy walked about and took out his anger on virtually everyone. He'd cancelled the morning's appointments without further explanation, and now wasted the time by walking around in a huff. 

"Damn them all! I knew the girl was trouble." 

Jim did his best to remain silent and keep working. Jeremy turned right towards him. 

"She-- and that idiot Isaac... both weak-minded fools, somehow given a taste of a dragon's power, and now they unwittingly do Kendra's bidding, which apparently is to fill the world with dragons once again. Don't they realize what sacrilege they perform? Having virtually eliminated all those noisome beasts from this part of the world, they themselves will give birth to an entire new crop! After all we've done for them?" Still starved for a reply, Jeremy looked right at Jim and demanded it. "Well, don't they?" 

"It is not this way in their eyes, my lord," Jim said. 

"Explain yourself." 

"The girl was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence and sent to her death, perhaps unjustly --" 

"The evidence was _not_ flimsy!" 

Jim shook his head. "Regardless, she was punished for showing affection toward the man she loved. She was sentenced to death-- sacrificed to the dragon-- at your order. In her eyes, my lord, it is you who are evil, and herself righteous." 

"Then why not take it out on me? Why follow Kendra's wishes and breed a new generation of monsters? Why not just come here and attack me herself? Burn me to a crisp?" Jeremy pulled his sword. "Come on, you coward, I'm ready for you!" 

"Regardless of what you've seen, my lord, we have no evidence that she can actually breed. But if it is true, then she is the only one who can -- at the moment. Her time is better spent preserving the species, than it is risking her life for personal vengeance. Or so Kendra would have certainly advised her. There is--" 

"And just why does she listen to a _dragon_??" 

Jim sighed. "I was saying, my lord, that there is also the possibility that she shows no malice towards you whatsoever. As for why she obeys Kendra, it is obvious: the dragon spared her; she owes Kendra her life. As a dragon herself, Danielle would no longer have the fear--" 

"Do you deign to inform me of the obvious? Am I that stupid in your eyes?" 

"My lord-- of course not, my lord. You simply asked--" 

"I know what I asked! Heavens above, I asked for an assistant to guide me, not a moron." 

Jim closed his eyes to regain his own temper, and remained silent. 

Jeremy calmed a bit as well. "If you are _not_ a moron, then, pray tell me what educated opinions you have on this matter. For I see only one option: we must destroy Danielle before she can breed, and Isaac and Kendra as well; and thus rid ourselves of dragons forever." 

"My opinion?" Jim asked. 

"Yes. If you understand them so well, explain why Danielle, Isaac, even Mordril see fit to betray their own species." 

Jim thought for a moment. "They are all fulfilling the accusations already placed upon them," Jim said. "Danielle was charged with committing sins of the flesh, in violation of an arranged marriage. She now flagrantly commits the very act she was falsely accused of. Mordril was similarly charged with treason for assisting the dragon Kendra, and only now he feels free to actually commit the crime, though we don't yet know how. In short--" 

"They were not falsely accused! You shall never state so again!" 

"In short, they do what they do because _you_ sent them to do it." 

Jeremy came up to Jim, imposing himself on his assistant. "Say that again!" 

"You ignored Mordril's warnings. You--" 

"I told you never to speak that man's name!" Jeremy insisted. 

Jim continued on. "You turned a sweet and innocent girl over to a dragon who was certain to take pity on her. You wish extinction upon the dragons and have now given them the exact tools needed to reverse that situation. You may blame them, my lord, and far be it from me--" 

"Insolence! Silence at once!" 

"--to disagree with your worldly opinion, but I am quite certain that, no matter what Kendra's and Danielle's and Isaac's and Mordril's actions, history will record that it was _your_ hand upon the latch to Pandora's box." 

Jeremy stormed away, then up again. "Is that all? I invite you here, second in so many ways to the throne, to hear this? Please, don't stop. Give me reason to demand _your_ sacrifice as well. And this time, there will be no 'kind-hearted' dragon to spare you, but rather the cold blade of the sword!" 

Jim turned and walked away. "It is characteristic of you, my lord, to address the symptom rather than the problem. Here, when Kendra has given you but a month to make the most important decision you will likely face -- and rather than address this, you take out the frustration of your own failures on the ones who surround you. I know I may lose my life for this, my lord. But I have sworn to guide and assist you to the best of my ability. Perhaps it is foolish for me to have done so, but I have done it, and so this is what I do." 

Jim stood still, facing the wall, hands on the buffet table. He heard Jeremy sigh. 

"Perhaps you are correct," Jeremy said. "No, not perhaps. Certainly so. For you are wise, and I foolish; you powerful and I weak; certainly your guidance has made me a better leader, and I should come to appreciate it--" 

"No, my Lord-- I--" Jim heard the sound of Jeremy's sword, drawn softly from its sheath. He closed his eyes, and barely whispered: "You don't even remember my name, do you?" 

"It doesn't matter," Jeremy said, as he swung.

Danielle and the Dragon / 17 

Danielle stood on the ledge outside the cave and took a deep breath. For the first time in quite a while she didn't find herself exhausted, with herself and Isaac making endless trips back and forth for food and water for the young ones. She closed her eyes for a moment and allowed herself to fertilize yet another egg; a gap of five days since the hatching of her first clutch. She closed her eyes for a moment; the eggs in her belly were heavy: eight finished eggs down low by her tail, one as always in her uterus, sixteen, now, growing and awaiting that eggshell. 

The children reminded her of her own hatching: it seemed that all they did was sleep and eat. The food rushed them out of the immature, childlike, flightless state in which they were vulnerable. Four girls, four boys, none of whom understood the human language yet, but all responded to the dragon language that Danielle herself was quickly becoming adept at. 

The young dragons had no English names yet; only the simple dragon names, which incorporated the "pairing name" given to Danielle's and Isaac's bond, and a symbol reflecting the order in which the dragons' eggs were laid. This seemed far too complicated to Danielle but became more natural the first time she used those names aloud; already her children recognized those names, and already were starting to learn each other's. She was amazed at the differences between one young dragon and the next; not so much in appearance as in personality. The fourth one, for example, was the most curious of the bunch, waking at a moment's notice to inspect anything that was brought into the room. Another one, one of the boys, easily proved the hungriest. And so on. Common to them all, however, was the intense feeling they'd evoke in their parents when looking directly at them: a mutual kind of awe, unbelieving, essential. 

Isaac returned with a mouthful of water and claws grasping part of a beast carcass. Danielle, silently, spread her wings and dived from the ledge to give Isaac a place to land. The weight of the eggs didn't pull at her as much as she expected; her body, including her wings, was growing to accommodate the eggs she was carrying, and she liked that sensation of imposing size. She looked at her shadow as it flashed across the treetops below, guessing how she would appear to a helpless human being on the ground; sitting up, she estimated that she'd reach beyond the second story of as house. She imagined herself in that position, and found herself wishing to grow even larger. 

The herd didn't flee this time as Danielle coasted in for her approach. Curious, she slowed, back-flapped and landed rather than grabbing a beast from the air as she usually did. The herd parted as she walked directly into it, and Danielle found that, near the center of the group, three of the herd animals were lying down, seemingly injured. Their blood stained the ground. Coming closer, carefully, she realized it wasn't an injury at all; the prone beasts were all in the process of giving birth, and as she looked around she saw evidence that several others had done the same. Large, grey-white sacs protruded from below the tails of two of the animals; the third was only beginning its delivery, within a stone's throw of the other. Unlike dragons, the unintelligent herd animals produced offspring routinely whether or not the conditions around them could support it, leading to the present near-starvation conditions; also, their births were most obviously painful. Danielle watched, willing the tired females onward with her mind, all sense of her own appetite lost. One of the grey sacs burst open, revealing the scrawny, long-legged calf within; Danielle smiled and took a few steps away to give the new mother and her calf some quiet. She walked toward the other two, who were still deep in the throes of labor, and saw yet another drop to her knees to start her own. 

"It's that time of year, I suppose," Danielle said. She reached up, touching the back of one beast with her claws, as to tease her own hunger into awakening once again; but the threat wasn't taken seriously, and Danielle realized she hadn't meant it that way. The beasts weren't frightened of her now; they simply didn't have the will to run. 

So Danielle squatted down about the same distance from the birthing animals as they were with each other. In time with their rhythmic contractions, she began to squeeze her own muscles and prepared to lay some of her own eggs right there, in the fields. The beasts instinctively knew what was happening, and gathered around her as though she were one of their own, offering their protection as the eggs began to emerge, one by one, from between Danielle's hind legs. She laid five eggs there, just like that, then decided to keep the remaining three safely within her body. 

After laying her eggs, Danielle took a step back to check them out. The first couple were close to hatching -- perhaps only a day or two, in the warm summer sun. The beasts were uninterested, keeping their distance, particularly from the eggs: Danielle soon learned that most creatures had an instinctive aversion to touching a dragon's egg. She took a deep breath and sighed; and then looked up; Isaac was guiding two of their children down from the mountain, an early first flight that was more gliding than flying; Danielle smiled as she made eye contact with them. 


Kendra circled about just outside Mordril's house. She heard rumbling and creaking within, and Mordril cried out for her to wait "just a minute," but Kendra finally grew impatient, prying open the door to the house with her teeth and then claws, sticking her head inside. 

Mordril sat on the floor, various bits of wood around him; his prosthetic leg on the table. 

"I'm sorry," Mordril said. "I'm not doing... well." 

"What's wrong?" 

"Kendra, you've done so well to care for me... but... I'm not one who wishes to be cared for. I suppose I've seen that now; though I've always thought myself independent, there were always others who came by, just little things: my niece Sarah to mend my clothes, a neighbor who would help me carry the food and supplies; the toolsmith to help me repair--" 

Kendra lifted her head carefully, and could now see that the wooden leg was splintered. 

"I don't have a spare here, of course," Mordril said. "Nor the tools necessary to fashion a replacement." Pushing himself with his good leg, sliding on the dusty floor, Mordril slid toward the door a bit, then, frustrated, turned on all fours to crawl. 

"I wish I could help you." Kendra tried to bring one hand through the door, but decided it would be difficult to fit this, and her neck, through the house's narrow doorway at the same time. "I don't believe that dragons are too good at fine craftmanship, and I suspect anything less would be uncomfortable--" 

"Quite," Mordril said, showing of his efforts at building an unsatisfactory replacement. 

"This never should have happened to you," Kendra said. "Again, I apologize." 

"I've forgiven you many times over, my friend. But it's not just this. I suspect that humans were not meant to be self-sufficient, like dragons." 

"We are friends, aren't we?" Kendra grabbed Mordril with her teeth, by the pants leg, and dragged him out to the doorway so she could get her head back out of the house yet still continue talking. "Of course we are. I look forward to spending these afternoons with you; all the conversations we've had; yet I always want more. I feel upset when you are; I'm satisfied when you're pleased. Friends. I like that." 

"So do I, Kendra." Mordril sat in the doorway, swivelled such that he sat on the doorstep like a bench. "So... how are the hatchlings?" 

"Oh, they're fine," Kendra answered. "But... Mordril... I've got... something to give you. Something I should have offered a long time ago. She helped him to standing upon his one leg, then guided him out the door: he hopped, holding onto Kendra's claw." 


She teased open the buttons on his shirt, dropping it to the forest floor in front of the house. "Take a deep breath. Close your eyes." 

He looked up as Kendra poised her mouth above him. "Ah. Time to renew our spell?" 

"More than that," Kendra said, bringing her mouth down over him. 

The tingling on Mordril's skin was more intense than it had been before; the long dragon-tongue encircled him, the teeth closed below his one foot, and she sucked at him as though to remove every molecule of dirt, cleanse him with herself. The tingling went beyond his skin, then, and Mordril began to sense things outside Kendra's body; the forest around himself; then Kendra herself; her tail, ears, a sense of what was happening inside. Starved for air, Mordril took a breath and realized that the air was Kendra's own, from her lungs, just as he needed it. There: pulsing throughout himself, he felt energy -- dragon energy. 

She spit him out, slowly, carefully, almost sensually, his body glistening with her moisture. 

"Whoa. This is... different," Mordril observed. 

Kendra, seemingly tired, lay her head down. "There. I don't want to see you crawl," she said. "Or even walk." She looked into Mordril's eyes. 

"Because you can fly," she said. 

Mordril looked around, behind himself, losing his balance somewhat. When he thought about it, he saw them appear: the wings, translucent, magical, behind himself, attached. Flapping them with his thoughts, he felt his body grow light. 

"Everything within me is now yours," Kendra said. "As I've been able to sense and know you, you now know me. You understand those things that no other human does; including how much I trust you with that knowledge." 

"But... if I can fly," Mordril said, "then you cannot." 

"Your understanding is correct," Kendra said. "But I've flown all my life. Where do I have to go right now? Nowhere. Danielle and Isaac have things under control -- besides, it will be as you and I are together, so if I need you I will simply call you. Now go... Soar to your heart's content. Tomorrow, after you've had some practice, perhaps we can even sneak you in and out of your village, to gather whatever tools and supplies you need. If Danielle could do it, so could you." 

"Yes-- I could check on the humans--" "Don't let them see you," Kendra warned. "Just the sight of you would give away a far larger secret than we can afford at this point." 

"Yes, yes. Of course." Mordril turned into the wind, and stretched his wings; with the strength of a dragon behind them, they lifted a human far more easily than he expected. He sprang into the air almost immediately. 

"Kendra?" he asked. 


"Thank you, my friend." 

Danielle and the Dragon / 18 

And so Mordril flew, awkwardly at first, from the forest into the grassland, where he remained low in the event that he were to fall. Like a young dragon, he experimented with turning and climbing and gliding. All along he was far more aware of Kendra than he had ever been; even the rhythm of her breath; she smiled and closed her eyes, yet watched over him, a comforting feeling. 

Soon he came upon Danielle, and her small clutch of eggs. The eggs, out here in the field, surprised him to the point where he tried to turn too quickly, and flipped himself over within a few feet of the ground; he recovered after touching his one good foot to the uneven ground, and coasted over to see Danielle in person. 

She smiled as he approached. "Well, look at you! Honorary dragon indeed!" 

"It's Kendra's doing," Mordril said, attempting a landing. He bounced a bit and elected to use Danielle's body as a cushion, which made her giggle. Hobbling back up onto one foot, he looked at the eggs: "What have we here?" 

"I landed here just as several of the beasts--" she pointed, but the herd had wandered away -- "were giving birth. I suppose I felt a certain kinship with them." 

"Five! My lord, you're prolific." 

Danielle smiled and looked away. "There's more where those came from. Funny, it used to be that the weight of the eggs inside me bothered me. Not anymore. In fact, I kind of like it: I suppose I've gotten stronger since then." 

"And larger," Mordril said. "Your body grows to accommodate your offspring. You are a fair bit larger than Kendra herself, now." 

"I suppose I could have laid these in the nursery, or even just held onto them; but the conditions for hatching are good here, and the trips to fetch food for the hatchlings will be far shorter. I'm beginning to think it's a bad idea to keep all my eggs in one basket." 

Mordril nodded. "What's amazing, regardless, is that they are all _your_ eggs." He sat quietly for a moment. "Do you enjoy it?" 


"Breeding. I mean... now that you are who you _are_, is the bearing of children your... life's desire?" 

Danielle had to think about it for a moment. "Sometimes? No. I mean... it's a lot of work. But it's a powerful instinct." 

"Dangerous thing, instinct," Mordril commented. 

"Yes, I know. But we... dragons... were meant to be here. I have the power to right a great wrong: the ability to ensure that the balance is kept. And to that end I do love it. It's great power, bringing such wonderful creatures to life. It's as though life itself flows through me like a river; in one end, out the other. And at the same time it's not just raw instinct, or biology... but love as well, for Isaac and our children and Kendra..." 

"You're changing the world," Mordril said. 

"Mmmm," Danielle hummed, unsure how to take that comment. " So Kendra has conferred her highest honor upon you. I remember that night so well, Mordril, I do. I thought it was certainly a dream; coasting over the treetops with hardly a care. Given that, why are you here on the ground rather than soaring among the clouds? Or were you given a particular mission?" 

"No-- no, no mission. My... artificial leg has failed me, and Kendra knew this would lift my spirits as well as my body. As for why I'm here-- I was interested to see..." 

"Kendra is certainly wise, that's true," Danielle said. "You know, Mordril, though you'll have to return Kendra's power to her eventually, I've been considering that it might make sense to bind you-- I mean _assign_... one of my own children to your care. I'd be honored for you to teach them what you know; and you'd always have a companion at your side, or to guide you through the skies, even after your current adventure is ended." 

Mordril looked about. "Danielle-- I don't know what to say. I--" 

"Don't say anything. Think about it. I know it's a big responsibility; but if Kendra can consider you one of the family, then Isaac and I certainly can. You've done a great deal for me, Mordril; I will never forget that, and neither will my children, and theirs. You never need be lonely. Now you should take advantage of the daylight," Danielle said, looking skyward. "It was one thing I didn't have, at least while I was still human." 

Mordril nodded. "Yes-- Yes... Of course. O, Beautiful Danielle, I thank you with all my heart." He balanced on his foot, and started to spread his wings. 

"Wait," Danielle said. She stood, rather suddenly, toppling Mordril to the ground, then giggled with embarrassed laughter at her mistake. 

Mordil turned over and dusted himself off. "What?" 

"Kendra is right. You _are_ an honorary dragon. And a special one at that. I wish you could be one of us for real; and although I can't make that wish come true, there is one additional desire of yours that I believe I can fulfill." 


"Stay. Watch." 

Danielle lifted her tail, and closed her eyes. The bulge below her tail began to form. 

"I know you've wanted to see this," Danielle whispered. "I'd be honored if you stay with me while I lay. I promise, it won't take long." 

Mordril turned his eyes. "Wait... No human has ever seen it... and lived," he said. 

"You're not human in my eyes," Danielle said. "You're an honorary dragon. Though..." 

The bulge under Danielle's tail vanished. "I can't believe it: I feel so self-conscious. I believe I'm embarrassing you, Mordril, being so impulsive and immodest--" 

"No," Mordril said. "It's fine. It's a natural function, Danielle... but if you'd rather, I can return after you've finished--" 

"No, silly." Danielle closed her eyes again. "The only reason I'm laying these eggs now is for you. I can do this. In fact, I trust you so much--" Danielle turned her body, placing one leg on each side of Mordril. Looking below herself at first, and then around her side, she realized she'd misjudged her position a bit: she'd wanted him to see, not be buried by the actual eggs when they came. It was harder to move, however, now: one egg had already descended into the cloaca, making it difficult to walk. 

"Just a minute-- One of us needs to move a bit-- you'll get--" 

"It's okay, Danielle." 

The birthing scent washed over Mordril, making his wings become solid almost involuntarily. The cloacal bulge formed directly above Mordril's body, and Danielle was obviously working to prevent the egg from escaping. Mordril scooted back a bit, but not far enough to be out of the way; he was too busy watching what was happening right before him. 

"It's likely to be messy," Danielle said. "And the eggs are heavy--" 

"I'm not that weak," Mordril said. 

"Fine, then. Stay right there; you can be the one to catch them. Great Mordril, you are now a part of the birth of a new Dragon..." 

At long last Danielle relaxed her vent muscles. Her body split open far more quickly than Mordril expected; as the dragon had grown, so had her ability to deliver her eggs. Her inner membranes opened, revealing the perfect circle of one end of the egg. Already under the command of gravity, the egg began to slip from Danielle's body; she lowered her tail, took aim, and pushed; Mordril held up his arms to cradle the egg as it arrived. Most of the birthing fluid was trapped behind the egg and dripped downwards only after the egg was out. 

"Whoa..." was all that Mordril found himself able to say. He held the egg, which was already warm, an amazing feat for a cold-blooded creature. "Danielle... this is... amazing--" 

Mordril looked up only to see that a second egg was on its way. 


Still overcome by the experience, Mordril glided quietly and low to the ground for a while. He stopped first near the forest's edge, where the river emerged from the forest, to drink and then bathe, washing Danielle's now-sticky birthing fluid from himself. Then, refreshed, he felt truly light indeed: he took aim at the clouds, an impossibly steep angle, and jumped. Kendra was asleep now, agreeably stranded near his forest home. Thus alone, and singularly in charge of himself, Mordril came to feel the great elation that had been promised him: soon the forest, the grasslands, all were well below. He circled the mountain that was Kendra's home, and passed within feet of the doorway -- able to reach that height in mere minutes, by himself! -- then soon to the mountain's very peak. Though the air grew cold, and colder still as he climbed, Mordril reached the clouds in less than an hour's time, and there he coasted, in and out of the foglike structures. 

Below, Danielle finished another meal and curled around a total of eight eggs, including the three laid just a short while ago. She looked up at him, acknowledging his presence. Isaac was teaching the children to hunt, and thus was chasing a herd progressively further away; in the end he'd have to catch the meal for them, but it would be a good lesson nonetheless. Ahead lay countless miles of the unknown; away from the humans, and Mordril flew until he began to worry about finding his way back. 

As the sun set, Mordril returned to Kendra, gently woke her, and relinquished his power such that she could eat and return home. She did, promising to renew Mordril's experience in the coming day. 

Mordril journeyed further on the second day than he had on the first; but understood there was a limit to his travels. Despite the immense dragon-power granted him, he could not fly as quickly as a true dragon could; when Kendra understood this, she agreed to journey with him as a passenger to the edge of her territory and beyond. Mordril, however, was now a sufficiently adept flier that he made a different request first. He wanted to make one more flight: in the midst of night, to the human city where he was born, retrieve either a spare leg or the tools necessary to fashion one, and along the way determine exactly what the humans were up to. 

Since Mordril could achieve this stealth far more easily than a giant dragon, and a bit of intelligence-gathering would prove useful, Kendra agreed to that trip with the usual provisions. And thus Mordril left, a few carefully-selected handmade tools in his possession. 

Danielle and Isaac slept in the fields among their children. There were twelve of them now, and four eggs. The oldest children were approaching maturity, beginning to show signs of preference among each other; a pre-mating ritual that still seemed strange even to Danielle and Isaac. Danielle considered all the hundreds of eggs that all the females carried and the fact that the world would soon be filled, like it or not, with dragons; that the task of teaching them _civilized_ behavior, human language, and the such would be virtually insurmountable. Yet the children were quick learners; the oldest understood English as well as a human preschooler. 

Kendra, flightless and sleepy, remained awake with her eyes closed, feeling Mordril as he rushed over the treetops, approaching the human village from the most unlikely and circuitous route possible. Using a new skill he had learned, grasping a treetop to pause his flight and watch, he found the human village as quiet as he expected for this time of night. He silently glided down from his perch, right down the center of the street. Knowing that his missing leg would make for a difficult landing, he held a pillow-- an old chair cushion from the forest house -- before him to make sure his arrival was silent, and it was.

Danielle and the Dragon / 19 

Kendra, who hadn't planned to fall asleep, had done so anyway; and thus she was rudely and suddenly startled awake by a sudden attack of panic. 


Kendra spread her wings to fly and then realized that she couldn't; not while Mordril himself still used that power. She stood up, alone and helpless, and finally made the one call -- as quietly as she judged, to still reach the grassland, where Danielle and Isaac still slept.

Isaac roused first, but it wasn't until the third call that he understood that the voice was Kendra's. He kicked Danielle awake, but took off for the forest before she could wake up completely. Three of the children had been woken by the sound of Kendra's distress as well, and Danielle remained to calm them. 

Isaac flew to Mordril's house with all possible speed, landing at the forest's edge and then rushing headlong into the forest. Finding Kendra, he looked at her in the near-darkness, realizing she was uninjured, and that something else must have been the problem. 


"He's fine. Retrieved his spare leg, even, but on the way back--" 


"Jeremy must have gone mad. Soldiers-- hundreds. Wait--" 

"What? Where?" 

"Wait a moment." Kendra held up one hand for a moment. Mordril, from his vantage point near the top of a tree, was listening in on a conversation among several of the men, and Kendra wanted to catch it: 

one soldier was telling a group of others. He lifted his sword over his head, bringing it down towards the tiny campfire in the center of the group. 

another soldier interjected. said another. 

the soldier demonstrated -- 

one of the soldiers shouted. 

The other soldiers laughed, fairly raucously. 

Someone else came running up. 

Kendra shivered and looked up at Isaac. "They've taken every able-bodied man they could find. They're about three-quarters of the way here-- and worse yet, they've cut a trail as they've gone, to make the trip far quicker in the future. Mordril must have gone completely around them as he flew into the village; for he only found them on the return trip." 

"They haven't spotted him, have they?" 

"No, thank goodness. The man clings to treetops like a bird. I'm having him return here now... good, he's on his way." 

"So there's a hundred?" 

"Hundreds. From where they are, they might finish their journey in two or three days. They have planned to arrive here well before the full moon." 

"Jeremy is with them?" 

"I think so." 

"So what do we do?" 

"I don't know. There are too many options." 

"We have to find Jeremy's assistant. Make him your offer, you know." 

"He's dead. Mordril overheard it. Jeremy killed him." 

"Jeremy killed his own assistant?" 

"Yes. It's become something of a scandal, Mordril believes." 

"So we leave here, then. Fly off to where they won't find us." 

"And the children?" 

"Most of them can already fly. We can carry those few who can't, and Danielle hasn't laid any eggs in two days. They'll arrive to find no dragons at all." 

Kendra shook her head. "They'll only continue to hunt us. Besides, if we travel as far as necessary we'd have to find a new source of food; the humans will discover these fields and the abundant herds. With a trail cut they'd begin to slaughter the beasts for themselves, or-- worse yet-- for no reason at all, merely to deprive us of food." 

Kendra stretched her wings suddenly, making it obvious that they were functional again. Mordril, having made a perfect landing, hurriedly made his way from the clearing; Kendra and Isaac met him halfway. 

"You've replaced your leg," Isaac said. "Good." 

"I got that, but couldn't risk getting to my tools. People are living in my house!" 

"Kendra," Mordril asked, "What... are you going to do, with the knowledge I've given you?" 

"I don't know. We were just discussing it. Come, ride with me; Danielle should be part of this." 

"She already is," Isaac said, referring to his link to his mate. 

"Neither Mordril nor I can really hear her." 

Mordril climbed atop Kendra, and the three made their way to the grasslands where the children slept and Danielle paced nervously about. 

"I'm worried about the children," Danielle said. 

"So we have the advantage of surprise," Kendra said. "Isaac suggests that we just leave." 

"That sounds good," Danielle said. "Though you brought up a valid concern about the food, Kendra." 

"You would also be giving up one of the best things you have," Kendra told Danielle. "The cave and its nursery. You can bear your children outdoors at this time of year; but I can tell you right now that your eggs will not hatch in cold weather. The humans may very well discover the nursery and somehow destroy it, depriving you and your offspring the ability to lay year-round. We could build another, but my ancestors required more than two years to carve this one. There might be other similar places, abandoned, elsewhere, but it would take a lot of dragons, or a long time." 

Danielle and Isaac sighed together. 

"In the old days, knowing what we already know, there would be no choice. We would destroy the human villages while there was nobody to defend them; then trap the soldiers in the forest and kill them." 

"How?" Mordril asked. 

"They've made a cardinal error. They've come during the dry season. When the forest burns around them, so will they." 

"They're staying fairly close to the river. They would go there for safety." 

"There are ways of dealing with that," Kendra answered. 

"No," Danielle said. "I can't do any of that! Destroy the villages, kill innocent people while they sleep? No, there is only one man at fault here, and although I would be more than happy to take his life with my own claws--" Danielle lifted one hand and mimicked the action of cutting him to ribbons with one swipe and a squeeze-- "I cannot hold the others responsible. There has to be a better way." 

"But the others believe in him, Danielle," Kendra said. "You don't understand-- it's not just Jeremy. The humans develop technology, grow in number and strength and confidence. By their action they assert that they are now powerful enough to destroy us." 

"They think there are only three of us," Danielle said. "My children are already strong; most can defend themselves." 

"For how long? Danielle, it's not only their strength, but what they know. Perhaps not this year, but within the next few, we will be forced to destroy them for our sake-- and theirs. Not _all_ humans, you understand. But the huge cities, teeming with them; the scientists, who threaten to tip the balance between magic and technology. Like the herd-beasts, left unchecked they destroy even themselves. No. We leave them with a chosen few to rebuild, like we've always done, like they did to _us_. I wouldn't ordinarily have done this quite yet-- but they force the issue and give us an opportunity as well." 

"I know you're right, Kendra, in my heart-- but I can't.... There has to be..." 

"She's _right_?" Mordril objected. "Are you seriously considering this plan?" Mordril wheeled around. "My God, there may not be anybody in civilization that gives a damn about me, but that doesn't mean I don't care about them! Think, Danielle! Small children-- human like you used to be -- defenseless! Do you remember that horror?" 

Danielle nodded her head. "I remember stories of it." 

"I have little concern either way. They would have killed all three of us without a second thought," Isaac said. "Yet I find I hold no particular malice. I just want the safety of Danielle and our children." 

"Then let's make a show and buy some time," Danielle said. "We meet them -- surprise them -- at the forest's edge. Not all of us, I think some of the older children should remain at a safe distance; but most of us. We'll be ready for them while they're unprepared for us. Anybody who attacks us-- we kill them. And then-- I will volunteer to take care of Jeremy... personally, as soon as any of us spots him." 

"That won't cause them to flee, necessarily," Kendra said. 

"No. But they will have misjudged our number... by quite a margin; they will come to realize they have _no idea_ how many dragons they face. We then _imply_ that there are at least as many already on their way to destroy the villages. Most of the men have families back home: with their leader gone, and the trail giving them perhaps a two-day journey back to a village they believe is burning to the ground, they'll run. Trust me, they will. They return to find a pleasant surprise -- that the villages are unharmed -- and then, only then, do we make the offer we've planned. Two years from now, they will be part of a society ruled by man and dragon... together. Mordril returns home a hero, having brokered the agreement; we live among them where we can keep an eye on them; the dragons live and breed in peace." 

"Wow," Isaac said. "I like it." 

"You'd like anything she does," Kendra said. "But at least this is with good reason. I like it too. Mordril?" 

"I was hoping that nobody would be killed. Except Jeremy, of course." 

"I can't guarantee that," Danielle said. "But at least it won't be without reason." 

"Yes," Mordril said. "I agree. Very well. What can I do?" 

"You did well collecting intelligence on the humans," Kendra suggested. "None of us could fly over their heads undetected as you can. I think we should avail ourselves of your services; perhaps you can locate the elusive leader. If you don't mind, that is." 

"Consider it done," Mordril said, sounding younger and more confident than ever. 

Danielle and the Dragon / 20 

Less than two hours to go. The humans would reach the edge of the forest in the afternoon. Most of the dragons remained low and hidden nearby. Two of Danielle's children watched the six flightless, unprotected ones near the far end of the grassland. Two others, the oldest, who had been sent away for the express purpose of the survival of the species should something go horribly wrong, had found something more interesting than the upcoming battle: they lay in one of the clearings, deep into the throes of mating. 

Danielle, who was aware of this even as her connection with these two children faded somewhat, had mixed feelings for this. They seemed so young! And yet, there she was, her beautiful, blue-green daughter, as fertile as anything, receiving the seed of her chosen mate. Danielle shook herself, trying to rid her brain of the notion that that mate happened to be her son. Though dragons had none of the genetic weakness that led to such taboos as incest, and she was certainly aware that these two simply had no other choice, she still felt a bit uncomfortable. 

To tune the two of them out, Danielle turned her thoughts to herself; bored, she began the process of fertilizing yet another egg within herself. Having not laid a single egg in days, she held six completed eggs. Even so she felt nearly empty, her body had grown so. The largest known dragon in existence, Danielle was nearly half again as large as Kendra, whom the humans considered a "mighty" dragon. 

Danielle found herself increasingly hungry, and as she'd just eaten this seemed curious; until she realized that it was her sperm sac, not her stomach, that was nearly empty. As a human, Isaac had fathered eight dragons in that one fateful night; as a dragon himself, he'd already brought himself at least forty-five more, though some were still in various states of development within Danielle's immense body. She intentionally distracted Isaac with the message that she'd be preparing a new dose of her mating scent soon. He seemed pleased with the thought. 

They waited, quietly; as the humans approached the forest's edge, Mordril, who had yet to find Jeremy, decided to return to a safe point behind the dragons such as to return Kendra's power of flight before she might need it. The soldiers had no idea what lay in front of them; they broke free of the forest, eyes tuned to the mountain in the distance, the dragon's lair which, unknown to them, stood empty; the dragons themselves just yards away, hidden in the grass. 

Kendra simply stood up from where she lay; three of the soldiers fell over upon themselves at that moment. "Greetings. May I help you?" 

Isaac revealed himself next. "Ah. Visitors?" 

"You-- you knew--" one of the soldiers stammered. 

One of the children-- chosen so as to be easily mistaken for Danielle herself, though at a smaller size, stood up, remaining silent so as not to give away her identity. 

The soldiers hadn't much of a chance to group; more than half were still in the woods. One of the rookies yelled out: "Dragons! Get 'em!". This and another ran forward toward the child-dragon, swords raised. 

"No! You fool!" called one of the others. 

The two rookies stopped in place as soon as they saw the other dragons, hiding. Meanwhile, the dragon they'd chosen to attack took one swipe with razor-sharp claws. Though the men were protected by armor, everyone could hear the awful snap as the dragon broke one man's arm, and the other's neck, merely by the force of the blow. 

The other dragons rose; Danielle herself, the largest dragon, last. "You shouldn't have done that." 

One of the men -- not Jeremy, but someone with some obvious authority, yelled out: "Ambush! Retreat!" One foolish soul ignored the order and charged at one of the smallest dragons, sword drawn; this dragon lunged forward with its mouth, biting the man and then slowly crushing him, armor and all. 

The dragons cheered, and roared, as the humans retreated a short distance into the woods. Danielle thought she caught glimpse of Jeremy himself, to one side, running back with the rest of them. She walked after him, slow, not threatening, and then called out into the forest where the men cowered: 

"Jeremy! Why are you running from us? Come, now, you didn't travel all this way for nothing, did you?" 

He didn't answer; afraid to give away his location. 

"I did turn out to be rather prolific, don't you think? Speaking of which... with this many brave, strong men here... you didn't leave all those poor breeding-females of yours... and _their_ children... completely defenseless, did you? Oh, that's a shame. I know to keep a very good eye over my children." Aware that the humans could still, most likely, see her, she extended her wings, pulling a few of her children close to her. "Right, kids? So sorry about yours..." 

With one nod, about half of the children spread their wings and took off -- low, over the forest, directly for the human villages. After leaving the sight of the soldiers they turned, coming back another way, and then passed again, as though another entire wave of dragons was setting forth to destroy humanity. 

The cries of the humans were plain; the soldiers, abandoning the heavy swords and other gear as they went, running for the trail and the marathon-length return home. Jeremy's voice could be easily heard: "No! You fools! They haven't beaten us yet!" 

"You idiot, Jeremy! What about the children!" came an anonymous reply. 

"It's a trick! Somehow-- there can't be that many! Stop!" 

"You're blind, you idiot!" 

"I demand to know who said that! Stop! Now! Or I'll kill you myself!" 

There was nobody left who would answer Jeremy. 

Kendra nodded to Mordril, who'd come up from behind her. "Okay. Your turn. Find him. It's okay if he sees you now." 

"With pleasure." The transparent wings appeared behind Mordril, and he took off for the direction that Danielle pointed him in. With the key part of their adventure over, the children hopped in a group over toward the river to take a drink. 

Mordril didn't find Jeremy right away; the coward was certainly hidden. But he did find something else. 

"Wait!" cried Kendra, to the children who were nearing the river. They stopped. 

"What?" asked Danielle, from across the field. 

"Barrels... some kind of... oh.... my heavens... they've poisoned the river!" The vision came clearly to Kendra as Mordril saw it: three large barrels, propped up in the shallow river, slowly dripped something into the running water. Mordril landed. 

Kendra asked him. 

Kendra repeated. 

Mordril said. 

Mordril said. 

Danielle landed next to Kendra. "So?" 

"It's a kind of poison--" 

Mordril corrected. 

"Mordril says it isn't a poison. But it... renders a dragon sterile. Like me. Destroys her eggs somehow." 

Danielle circled. "Sterile." 

Kendra waved the children away from the river. "Come on. We'll find another source of water. There's a lake not too far--" 

"Like you," Danielle repeated. 

Kendra stiffened all at once. She heard a voice in her head. 


The fact that Kendra could suddenly fly told Danielle what had happened. She took off immediately after Kendra, and there-- a short distance, at the riverbank; Jeremy stood near Mordril, who slumped at the river's edge, a knife in his back. 

The two dragons descended at once. Jeremy had never seen such a large creature. "What... magic is this?" he demanded. 

Danielle grabbed him, cruelly tight in her claws. "That's none of your concern," she said. 

"Mordril..." sighed Kendra. She turned to Jeremy. "It is you who are the traitor, to your own people and to civilization itself." 

Jeremy, caught in Danielle's claws, could barely breathe. "But... the villagers..." 

"I'll tell you a little secret," Danielle whispered to her foe. "A dragon never makes a threat if it plans to carry it out. Your people are safe; you are correct that this was a deception. But you will carefully note that I am not threatening _you_." 

"But then--" 

"You see?" Danielle said. "You're not so stupid after all." Danielle took off, carrying her prey tightly. 

Mordril wrested the knife from himself, but it was apparent that he was unable to survive the injury. "Please... Not like this." 

"It ended as it was destined," Kendra told her friend. "With us as friends, and you as a hero of heroes. I only wish I could extend our time together." 

"But... alone... in the cold... I can't... Please... I beg you... end it... let me feel your fire..." 

Kendra looked about; it wasn't cold at all. Then she nodded. "I understand," she said. "I wish I could save your life; but I can't. But I do wish us to be together always; and to save your soul. Here, friend, one last time--" 

She took Mordril, who was bleeding profusely, into her mouth, wrapping her tongue about him as she'd done before. Then she lifted her head high into the air; swallowed; and let out the longest, lowest dragon cry the world had heard. 

. . . 

Danielle threw Jeremy roughly to the ground. Despite the armor, his arm had been cut by her sharp claw; he tried to stem the flow of blood. 

"You sentenced me to die because of something I had," Danielle said, looking off into the distance. Surrounded by other dragons, Jeremy didn't risk moving. "Bound to an arranged marriage not because of a man I would love; not even for wealth or politics or my very soul; no... for my womb, for my ability to grant someone children. Someone I didn't love. How did you put those charges? 'Offering my flesh to a man outside marriage, in violation of an agreement...'? Yes. You know something, Jeremy?" 

"Wha... What?" 

"It gives me great pleasure that the very same 'flesh' you spoke of... my very womb... is your undoing. I love the irony. You see? I have claws... I could rip you to delightfully small pieces. I could chew your body apart one limb at a time. And of course-- " she held her mouth over him, making a breathy sound as she whispered -- "I could simply burn you to a slow and painful death." She stood up again. "But no, that's not the tool I use to bring about your end; that I use to wrest this world from your grasp. It's my womb. My wonderful mate. And our ability to breed." 

She stepped away. "Feed them," she said. "You shall give them your life, as you tried to take mine." Her children advanced upon him, claws snapping. A moment later, Jeremy disappeared into the group of hungry dragons; they left only his armor and clothing behind. 

Kendra arrived a moment later and discerned, from the scene, what had happened. "Good riddance," she said. "But we're still left with the rest of our problems. The humans, the soldiers, now the trail... we can't live in peace, not here." 

Danielle looked up. The children were thirsty, still. She chirped a message to them, and they hopped over to the river to drink. 

"Danielle! What are you doing? The water-- it's still... !" 

"I know." 

"But... they'll become... sterile!" 

"Like you," Danielle commented. 

"Yes! Like me!" Kendra turned to bark the dragon command to stop the children, but Danielle prevented it. 

"_Just_ like you." 

Kendra sat and waited as the children drank their fill. The three boys seemed unharmed; but all eleven girls knew within minutes that something was wrong; yet they drank anyway. 

"No..." whispered Kendra. 

"The others are safe," Danielle said, calmly. 

The female dragons collapsed within a few minutes, strong pains in their sides, high in their bellies. They cried out for their mother, and Danielle hopped over to accompany them. These, the younger ones, couldn't yet understand what was happening to them. 

"No... no... please," Kendra asked. "How can you deprive them..." 

"For the best of causes," Danielle said. 

. . . 

They came from the sky in the light of day, dozens upon dozens of them; the wings darkening the skies as had been foretold. The humans hadn't expected it to come this way; during daylight when it would be easy to fight back -- but then the humans were unprepared, no weapons nearby, no armor, no clay-balls to clog the dragon's fire-breath. But then, just as quickly as it came, the humans realized that there was no fire, no blood, no wanton destruction as the dragons were supposed to bring. They chased humans, yes, sometimes even cut them accidentally as they grabbed at them. Most of the humans ran, in circles, pursued; the ones who fell behind were caught. It looked like they were eaten; but each person captured was spit out, and restrained. 

The dragons worked in pairs. After capturing a human, the dragon would stop and call to another; that one would descend from the skies, circling, inspecting the prey. 

A man screamed from an open window as his only teenage daughter was captured this way. One dragon held her securely by the legs, standing, coiled in the dragon's tail. The other dragon walked around his daughter and then, pleased, stood high on its hind legs above her. Then the dragon's legs began to bend; the view blocked for a moment; the first dragon whispered something to the girl, and the second began to sit, bringing its weight down upon her so as to crush her with its underside. 

The man ran outside, but the first dragon had already released the girl, and the second was lying down, seemingly atop her. He beat at the dragon with his bare fists. When the dragon stood again, the only thing remaining underneath was a bit of moisture; no crushed bones, no blood. He looked up and heard the slurp as the dragon's vent closed; then the dragon stretched a bit and the bulge under its tail-- where his daughter had been taken-- vanished. The dragon sighed. 

"What-- what have you done with her?" 

"She'll be fine," the first dragon whispered. "She'll be one of us, soon." The dragon wrapped its tail around the legs of the girl's father. "As will you." The dragon licked him clean, and the female dragon turned in place, opening her empty cloaca anew. "See you soon." This time the first dragon lifted the human upwards, into his partner's waiting receptacle, pulling his tail away just in time for her to swallow him. 

There seemed no end to this. The dragons guarded the perimeter of the villages as they hunted down the humans one by one. The female dragons were swollen visibly by the weight of the humans they'd taken within themselves yet they still hungered for more. 

Danielle and Kendra circled high above, watching. The humans were still running, but were tiring; some were now going voluntarily. Fewer than half remained. 

"I suppose this is one way to ensure cooperation between the dragons and humans," Kendra said, glding. "Turn them into dragons." 

"'Beware the one that cannot breed'," Danielle said. 

"But how...? I could barely manage you and Isaac." 

"No offense... but they're younger. For each dragon they might have borne of themselves, they'll now bear one that used to be human." 

"Are you going to leave any humans at all?" 

"I'm sure some will escape our clutches." 

"Clutches," Kendra smirked. 

"The younger ones... that can't survive the transformation... we'll assign them dragon companions of their own, to protect and teach them." 

"Dragon riders," Kendra said. "That's Mordril's vision. I'm glad to see that it will come to pass." 

"We'll need the humans again in a thousand years or so, anyway." 

Kendra thought about that. She took the lead from Danielle, breaking the lazy circle to turn the other way; Danielle followed, barely a wingspan away. "So. Now what? What do you do with yourself?" asked Kendra. 

"Something Isaac always wanted to do: travel -- and what better way than on dragon wings? Besides, there's no room left in that nursery of yours. It's been stacked to the ceiling with my daughters' eggs for more than two weeks." 

"Laying your own eggs as you go, then? I should have named you Danielle Dragonseed, single-handedly repopulating the Earth." 

"Yeah," Danielle laughed. "'Danielle Dragonseed, mother of all dragons the world over.' Except you, of course, who have earned that title yet a degree higher. Actually, I do hope that we run into some others on the way; it would be nice to discover that we were never really _alone_." 

"It will happen again," Kendra noted. "This little stunt may extend it a bit-- I end one circle and you've started a few thousand others-- but each generation will lose fertility. Then it will all happen again. Still, I suspect that dragons will occupy every corner of the world for a time." 

"True," Kendra said. "Perhaps that's how it was supposed to be." She roared her dragon-song into the air.