The Pearl: EpiloguebyThistlethorn©
Edited by PennLady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
"If the river told you not to, then why did you go in?" Chang asked.
They were at the river. Sebastian's dragon form was curled among the rocks in the river the blue of his scales nearly blending in with the water and Chang's long form arched in a seated position, black scales reflecting the water. Dakota made herself comfortable on some rocks on the bank. It was the following day and Dakota insisted Mingzhu visit Qiang. Dakota pointed out that with both Chang and Sebastian to look after her, she was sure she'd be all right. Mingzhu agreed to leave after lunch, but promised to be back by dinner.
The day was beautiful; the bright autumn sun caused the patchwork of colored leaves to glow. Dakota pulled her new sweater tighter as a cool breeze blew through.
"Well, I didn't want to waste Qiang's time for nothing. If it was some minor thing I could handle then I would've taken care of it."
"But that was part of the reason he'd been asked to watch you, so you would have someone to call on if something came up."
Sebastian looked down. "I know, I know. It's just he's already not that fond of me, I thought I would just make it worse if I hauled him down here for something that wasn't a big deal."
"You knew it was spiritual in nature?"
Sebastian shrugged. "Yeah."
"How did you plan on determining how dangerous it was?"
"Well, I thought it might be obvious. I guess in retrospect, that wasn't the best plan."
Chang sighed. "The problem with that plan is you're too inexperienced to know if something is dangerous or not. When an animal wants to scare you off, what does it do?"
Sebastian thought it over a moment. "Look big?"
"Precisely. But in contrast, when something dangerous wants to get close enough to strike what does it do?"
"Look small and unobtrusive," Sebastian muttered.
"Precisely. You made an honest mistake and I understand your concern about Qiang. But in the future, please do not explore these things alone. You were exceptionally lucky, this time. And assistance came from some very unexpected quarters."
Sebastian's eyes darted over to Dakota as he responded, "Ah, yeah. Yeah, that's true."
Qiang curled his head up and regarded Sebastian. "You haven't told her yet."
"Well, it hadn't come up yet," he hedged, looking away from Dakota.
"What hasn't come up yet?" Dakota asked, her tone concerned and a little annoyed.
Chang sighed. Without removing his attention from Sebastian, he explained that Chad was now human.
"When did that happen?"
"Apparently, during the ordeal with the Jorogumo," Chang explained.
Dakota considered the information. "Sooner than I would have thought."
Chang nodded. "And I too. But from everything I can determine, it is true. He found his way. Or at least has started to."
"What happens now?" Dakota was careful to keep her voice neutral.
"Though he his my responsibility, Qiang has agreed to keep watch over him."
Dakota nodded, not looking at him. Chang cocked his head at her.
"How are you with this?" His tone was gentle.
Dakota was again silent for a bit before answering. "I don't know. I wish I could say 'fine', but I'm not. But I'm also not as upset with it as I'd thought I would be. I guess I just don't know."
Chang nodded. "Fair enough. Sebastian?"
Sebastian sighed and screwed up his snout in a snarl. "I'm not happy, but Qiang pretty much laid down the law. As long as Chad doesn't do anything to me or Dakota, I'm not supposed to do anything to him."
"Good. Are you going to listen?"
Sebastian rolled his eyes. "Yes."
Dakota continued to look thoughtful. "You said help came from unexpected quarters. Did you mean Chad?"
"In what way?"
"He was the one to slay the Jorogumo. I am under the impression he assisted in other ways as well. Whatever the exact details, he impressed Qiang enough to speak for him."
Dakota nodded. "I see."
Dakota and Sebastian stood in the spacious living room of a bungalow-style house. A dining room that led to the kitchen was off to their left. There was a foyer in the front from which there was an office on one side and an utility room from the other. The living room opened onto a porch in the back. The yard was a good size, but the real selling feature was the section of the river that butted up to the back yard. Sebastian could feel its call.
"Well, I'll tell you someone who really likes this house," he said.
"Yes," Dakota responded with a smile. "I can imagine."
Dakota returned to the foyer and took the stairs up to the second floor. There was a master suite and two smaller additional bedrooms. It was all very nice. She headed back downstairs.
"I don't know," she said.
"Don't you like it?" Sebastian asked.
"I love it. It's just so much."
She returned her attention again to the face sheet on the house. It had been built as a vacation home, had stood empty for awhile, and was then refinished and updated for use as a full-time family dwelling. The furniture could be included for an additional amount, or would be removed at the discretion of the buyer. She sighed then returned to the front porch to the waiting Qiang.
He was leaning against the railing of the front porch. The porch took up the entire front of the house and was shaded by the overhanging roof. He raised an eyebrow as she stepped over to him.
"Well?" he asked.
Dakota paused before speaking. She was torn. It was the beginning of November, and she was getting squirrely living in the hotel. She was sure the cost of living there was astronomical, but Qiang buying her a house didn't seem right either.
"I don't know. I mean, it's really nice. And I appreciate that you found one on the river. But a house, Qiang? I didn't even own the previous house. I was just renting."
"As you've said." Qiang crossed his arms over his chest and appeared to be thinking. "How about this, then. I will purchase the house but retain the title. You will live here and pay the utilities. Does that sound acceptable?"
"What about rent?"
Qiang waved his hand. "I'm sure something can be arrived at."
"Qiang, I'm serious..."
"I never doubted that for a moment. Now, if you're sure this is the house you would like to live in..."
"Yes," Dakota said, nodding for emphasis. "I like it a lot."
"Very well. I will put in an offer and with luck you will be moving in shortly."
Luck was with them. The sale went through and Dakota moved in just a short time later. There wasn't much to the moving, as she decided to keep the furniture in the house. Just her clothes and the things Qiang had purchased on line. Dakota bought a new stereo and started saving for a television and DVD system. One of the upstairs bedrooms was kept as a guest room. The other converted to a library. Her book collection was still small, but there was room to expand. She was quite happy with it. Qiang had yet to locate the first edition Poe for her, but was still looking.
"I should think if you invited him and he wanted to attend, then he should attend." Chang sat across the table from Qiang in his lair, sipping tea with cream and sugar.
"It is far more complicated than that." Qiang also took a drink of his plain tea.
"Well, yes it is at that, isn't it?" Chang took a dumpling from the platter between them. "What can be done to make it less complicated?"
"That is what I'm asking you."
Chang sat back in his chair and thought. For the past several years, Qiang had had a Thanksgiving dinner for staff and friends. This year, Mingzhu had invited Dakota and Sebastian which was fine. The problem arose from the fact that he felt he should extend an invitation to Chad. Not wanting a brawl at his gathering, he consulted Chang.
"Chad has changed considerably, that's certain," Chang conceded. "And Dakota did acquiesce to dropping the charges. So the problem would be Sebastian."
"Thank you for asking her to do that. In light of everything else, I thought it might be too much for me to ask."
"She is still reserving judgment. I doubt there will every truly be peace between them."
"And he will have to live with that."
"True. And has that situation been resolved?"
"What, with the warrant? Not hardly, but he's not in jail. I have a lawyer on it."
Chang smiled and shook his head. "You move more adroitly in this world than the other."
Qiang shrugged and drank more tea.
"What is he up to now?"
Qiang sighed. "He says he's getting a feel for the lay of the land as it is now. But I hear rumors of a new hunter, a young male. He hasn't struck often, twice, perhaps three times, but it has been noticed."
"He is young for that path." Chang's concern was clear.
"True, but you can't say you're surprised."
"No," Chang agreed, with some sadness. "I cannot."
"I intend to speak to him about it. Still, this isn't the matter at hand."
Chang prepared another cup of tea. "No, it is not at that." He paused again, considering. "I say invite him. I will ensure Sebastian's behavior. I think Sebastian needs to see Chad for who he is now, not for who he was at the restaurant."
"Do you think he will see?"
"Chad carries his awareness like a banner. How could Sebastian not see?"
Qiang nodded. "Perhaps the more correct question is, will it matter?"
"I wish I could say. Sebastian's feelings for Dakota run deep. He may refuse to acknowledge the change. In which case, I will see that he behaves."
Thanksgiving day came. A large sign hung on the door that read: Closed for the Holiday. The dinner started at one and a splendid feast was laid out with a mix of traditional American Thanksgiving and Chinese dishes. Sebastian, Dakota, and Chang arrived a little early to help set up food and places along with Mingzhu and her family. At one, the workers arrived and the meal was started.
Qiang proved to be a congenial host. He was pleasant, made conversation with everyone present, and ensured all the guests were served before he took his seat.
Qiang sat with Enlai and his family, his wife Lin, daughters Mingzhu and Bao, and his son Junren. Sebastian, Dakota, and Chang were also at this table. The other workers sat at tables around the restaurant but close to the section of the buffet the food was on. The conversation was light.
At one thirty, Chad walked in. All conversation stopped. He stood, self-conscious, in the door way.
"I'm sorry I'm late. Something...came up."
Qiang stood up and gestured to Chad with a warm smile. "Well don't stand there letting the cold air in. Come in, get a plate."
Chad walked over. He was dressed in jeans, a pull over, and work boots. He also wore a long duster that he shrugged his way out of as he walked. His hair brushed the top of his shoulders and he didn't look at anyone as he moved to get his food. His eyes were haunted and he carried an air of otherness that everybody in the room noticed. Qiang met him at the buffet and served him a plate.
Dakota nudged Sebastian in the side as he pivoted in his seat to follow Chad's path.
"Stop staring," she whispered sharply.
"I can't help it," he whispered back. "There's just something seriously weird about him." Sebastian shook his head and turned back around to the table. "Chang's right, he's not the same."
Dakota pushed food around her plate. "Is that a good thing?"
Sebastian shrugged, then laid his hand on hers. "I wish I could say."
Chad took a seat at an empty table. After a few minutes, some of the more outgoing workers joined him and soon drew him out into conversation. Though they found him engaging, quick witted, and in general fun to talk to, afterward they would all comment on how his eyes glittered and how he tended to look off to the distance.
The dinner lasted well into the evening, with people leaving at varying times. Soon it was down to Qiang, Mingzhu and her family, Sebastian, Dakota, Chang and Chad. When Chad got up to leave, he asked if he could take some of the food with him. Qiang nodded. Chad filled up two Styrofoam take out containers, bagged them, and went on his way.
"What happened to him?" Sebastian asked.
Chang looked over to Sebastian. "You opened his eyes and he sees the world differently now."
Sebastian struggled with his conflicted feelings. "I'm not going to feel sorry for that son-of-a-bitch," he said, with far less conviction than he would have liked.
"Then don't," Chang responded.
Dakota said nothing.
Chad arrived back at the flop where he was staying. He landed in a secluded area and was pleased when he managed not to mangle the take out container. He shifted, grabbed the food, and entered.
"Hey, welcome back, Mr. Chad," called the elderly black man who worked as the night desk clerk.
"Hey, Happy Thanksgiving," Chad answered as he walked over to the counter. "Here you go." He set one of the containers on the desk. "Enjoy."
The clerk thanked him but Chad just nodded before walking up to his room.
Once inside, he put the rest of food into the fridge. He puttered around, looked up some folklore websites, and took copious notes. At eleven he got ready for bed. Before laying down, he went back to the fridge, pulled out the leftovers, and set them on the counter. He then laid down and was soon asleep.
Around Midnight, a rat worked his way in from his usual entrance behind the fridge. The unmistakable smell of food got his attention. Once he verified Chad was asleep, he went over to the counter. Resuming his more human form, he found the food left out for him, a fork set on top of the container. Ambrose smiled to himself. Apparently, he wasn't being as slick as he had first assumed.
The weekend after Thanksgiving there was an early snow storm. Sebastian had always loved the snow. Watching it fall from his vantage point in the river engendered a childlike enthusiasm for it. He convinced Dakota to join him in watching the snow.
He laid in the river, the current cool against his back. The slower parts of the river had already developed a thin sheet of ice, but anywhere the current was swift, the ice had no chance to form. The cold didn't bother him and he hoped Dakota was warm enough.
Dakota lay stretched out along his abdomen, her head resting on his chest. Having her there felt so good to Sebastian he hoped they would lay that way long into the afternoon.
The Christmas holidays had been arranged, with both of them staying in the area. Sebastian felt he had no choice, but was both sad and happy that Dakota would also be staying. Sad that she would miss out with her family, but happy that she would chose to stay with him. The mixed feeling intensified what he already felt for Dakota.
They lay in companionable silence for a while. Sebastian contemplated the snowflakes as they drifted down, about how no two snowflakes were alike and how he and Dakota were not like anything else. The though brought a smile to his snout and a contented flip to his tail.
Dakota lay on top of Sebastian. His front legs were folded on top of her and she rested her arms on them. It wasn't as cold as she thought it would be, and suspected the reason was a combination of Sebastian and the river. She had decided to stay because she loved him and didn't want him to be alone. Her family suspected a man might be involved, but Dakota wouldn't confirm or deny anything. Her mother was disappointed, but told her it was her decision and that a care package would be sent.
As Sebastian had predicted, the river did want back into her. With so much going on, and with her schooling to be considered, she firmly said "not at this time." She was surprised by how well the river took that. She couldn't escape the feeling the river was waiting for something it considered to be inevitable, and given the almost eternal nature of the river, it could wait. She was also almost sure there was some of the river still there, in her.
She also considered the favor she continually almost asked Chang for, to temporarily be a dragon. Again, too much going on. Every time she went to ask, it felt wrong. The right time would come. Like the river, she just had to be patient. It was worth waiting for.
"Are you cold?" Sebastian asked.
"No. You're pretty warm, and I suspect the river trying to keep me warm too."
"Yeah, the river can be kinda intrusive."
"Honestly, I don't mind. This is really beautiful. I've never just watched the snow come down before."
They lapsed into silence for a bit longer. There was something Sebastian had been wanting to bring up to Dakota, but couldn't find the words. He decided now was the time.
"Uh, Dakota, can I ask you something?"
Dakota detected the slight apprehension in his voice. "Sure, what's wrong?"
"Well, nothing's wrong, exactly. It's just that...Well, remember that whole thing with the pearl and swapping pieces and all?"
"Well, you pulled in the piece you had and I still have the piece I got and..." He trailed off.
Dakota smiled. "Yes. You can have it."
Sebastian smiled in turn and moved his attention inward. He absorbed the piece of Dakota, lingering on the sense of her, and smiled. He had never forgotten Qiang's warning about how ephemeral his relationship with Dakota could be, most likely would be. But at least he would always have a piece of her.
Dakota felt surrounded by Sebastian's energy. There was safety there, and his love for her was as intense as anything she had ever known. She felt his pearl again. As the piece of her settled in, some of the intensity of the feeling eased up, but it didn't disappear. When she focused, she found she could sense him around her. She looked for the pearl and smiled when she found it. She couldn't resist a caress. She felt Sebastian undulate underneath her.
"You little minx," he muttered, but the tone in his voice said he didn't mind.
The two settled into each other as the snow continued to fall. The afternoon grayed into evening and the snow continued to fall. Though Sebastian hated to do it, he mentioned to Dakota going home. He felt her snuggle into him some more before sighing in contentment.
"I'm already there."