The Pearl Ch. 02byThistlethorn©
Edited by Wicked
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
I didn't have long to wait for my hopes to be fulfilled. Later that day as I slept in the river, I felt someone looking for me again. It woke me from sleep, and I stirred, letting the feeling guide me. I found Dakota at the same place we had spoken the night before. Once again, she was carrying a cardboard box. Judging from the sun, it was late afternoon.
"I'm behind you," I warned. She still jumped.
"God, I wish you wouldn't do that," she said softly as she walked over to me.
"What's in the box?" I asked as I stuck my head in. I smelled Mexican, and there were also some books. She lightly slapped my snout.
"Jeez, you're nosy. Why ask me if you're going to look for yourself?"
"Three of everything?"
"You're going to go broke feeding me."
"I haven't gone through the money from last night yet. Besides, I won five hundred dollars on an instant ticket from the convenience store."
I considered where we should talk. I was pretty certain I could block her from being seen, same as myself. I didn't want to have a conversation here, though, where people could be a distraction.
"Here," I said as I arched my back to where she could get on it. She eyed it dubiously. "Come on, don't you trust me?"
"Well, I guess I do," she said uncertainly as she placed the box on my back. "Just be careful."
"You're faith in me is touching," I said jokingly.
Carefully, I eased myself into the river. Making sure that no water splashed up on Dakota or the box, I made my way to a small island I knew of in the river. It was barely big enough for me, but I could stay partially in the water. When I reached it, I let Dakota dismount and settle in, then I arranged myself around her. Most of my tail lolled back into the river.
As I watched her, I got a better look at her. She was pretty, with longish blond hair that tended to fall into her blue-green eyes. She pushed it away so often it seemed an almost unconscious gesture. She had an athletic build, and I wondered if she was involved in any sports.
"Why did you come back?" I asked as she unpacked the box.
"I have a soft spot for strays," she said, pushing the hair out of her face. "You know, stay cats, stray dogs, stray people...."
"Stray dragons," I finished. "Doesn't this freak you out at all?"
"Hell yes it does." She finished unpacking the box and sat down. "But I kept thinking about your story last night, and I felt, I don't know, bad for you I guess. I kept thinking about how lonely it must be. Besides, I owe you for saving me at least from rape, probably getting killed. And I believe you were genuinely sorry for killing that guy. So, what did you, um, do with the body?" She tried to make the last part sound nonchalant, but I could detect a note of apprehension.
"I tore it up and sent it down river," I answered. I also tried to sound nonchalant, and I also failed.
"You really feel bad about him, don't you?"
I nodded, uncertain of what to say.
"I shouldn't have had to kill him. There were other options. I didn't think...."
"What kind of options? You had some serious whup-ass going on this guy and he didn't back down. You're a dragon for Christ's sake, and you didn't frighten him. He wasn't exactly a candidate for the scared-straight program."
"No, I couldn't scare him. When that didn't work I should have tried something else, though. If I could make some guy canoeing forget about me, I should have been able to make him forget about you."
"You don't know that...."
"But I didn't even try, that's the point. I didn't even think about it." I flopped back onto the ground, feeling even more miserable than I did when he died.
Dakota sat in silence. When she did speak, it was with careful deliberation. "You did the best you could do. You're going to drive yourself nuts second guessing what you should have or could have done." She grabbed my snout and looked earnestly into my face. "You understand that, don't you?"
I didn't, not really. But given the death grip she had on my snout, I decided to lie. "Yeah, I guess I see what you're saying."
She let go. "Good. Now eat your Toxic Taco before it gets cold."
I began to remove my food. "What all did you bring?" I asked, trying desperately to change the subject.
"Some books on dragons that I got from the library. I also brought my camera phone along."
"Camera?" I asked, beginning to eat my meal. "Selling me out to the tabloids?"
"Yep," she said, looking over the phone. "You'll be right on the cover with 'Elvis Clone Kidnapped By Aliens' or some such. Actually, I thought you might not have seen everything, so you might like some pictures. I'll delete them afterwards, or not take them at all; it's up to you." She placed the phone back in her bag.
I mulled it over. "It's a thought," I said. "Considering I still have no concrete idea what my head looks like. Let me think it over. What did you find out in the books?"
"Oh, I think you'll find this interesting. All sorts of stuff on Oriental dragons." She set down her food and picked up a book, opening it to a marked section. "Check out this story...." I lowered my head to the open book. "Ah, I meant that figuratively," Dakota explained while leaning back out of my way.
"Oh, sorry," I said as I moved my head away from the book.
"Now, according to this story, some guy in the Schezwan Provence of China had the same experience. Almost exactly." She proceeded to read the story, which did closely mirror my own. Guy finds pearl, really likes pearl, thieves try to steal pearl, guy swallows pearl to protect it, guy turns into dragon. However, there were some discrepancies, such as the pearl had magical powers beyond turning the guy into a dragon. Also, in the last lines of the story the dragon ascended into heaven. When Dakota reached that section, I looked around dubiously.
"If this is heaven, I'm feeling a little gypped."
"OK, it's not precisely what happened, but it's pretty damn close. You have to admit that. So apparently, what you have is a dragon's pearl."
"You're right, it is really close. But how did a dragon's pearl get from China to here, in a ring no less, and given how old the pearl would have to be, why was I the first one to get the idea in my head to swallow it? In the story, the guy just finds the pearl in a meadow. Obviously, he was the first to find it after the dragon was done with it."
Dakota shrugged. "I don't know. None of these books answer any of those questions. The problem is, none of these stories really go into how dragons think."
"I don't think any differently than I did before," I pointed out.
"No, but remember, you weren't always a dragon. The pearl could have come here with a dragon. We really have no clue how old it is. The question in how did it get into the ring."
"Wait a minute, the pearl has to come from a dragon, right?" I asked.
"Theoretically, yeah. I mean where else is it going to come from?"
"We're just going to ignore where the dragons get them from...."
"Actually," she said, reaching for another book, "I've got a theory on that...."
"I'll get back to that," I cut in. Though I was curious, I wanted to tackle one mystery at a time. "And for the pearl to be recent, the dragon would have to be recent."
"Well, yes," I could tell she was trying to follow where I was going.
"There aren't any dragons," I explained.
"Except for you," she pointed out.
"Well, obviously, except for me. But I certainly didn't make the pearl."
"No, but how are you so sure there aren't any other dragons?"
When I thought about it, what she said made sense. If I could figure out how to hide, they probably have it mastered. "OK, point to the cute blond with the Toxic takeout. But if it is recent, then why haven't I ascended to heaven, or another dragon shown up?"
Dakota, ignoring the blond remark, shrugged again. "I don't know. Like I said, these books only have so much information, and it's not a lot. I mean, for all we know the pearl is ancient and has been waiting all this time for you. Or maybe you're the first likely candidate to come along. I mean, what's the criteria for becoming a dragon, anyway? Chinese dragons were basically benevolent creatures. Could you imagine what brick shithouse would have done with just the raw strength?"
I had to admit, I didn't like those possibilities.
"You said yourself, the way you think hasn't really changed. I assume it's changed some, or did you always eat people's arms?"
"No," I replied, rolling my eyes. "But who I am has basically stayed the same."
"My point. You may well have been the first likely candidate. When faced with going to a very unlikely candidate, the pearl chose you. Didn't you say that you couldn't quite understand why you were doing some of the things you were doing?"
I nodded. "Good point. Are you suggesting the pearl has some sort of intelligence?"
"Intelligence, no. I think you would have noticed by now if it did. But remember the line in the story." She picked up the book again. "'The pearl had a proper home as a new dragon was made.' According to the story, the pearl sought either a dragon or someone to make a dragon. I imagine it was only a matter of time before something happened to make this change."
"Actually, that makes a lot of sense. Damn, you've put more thought into this than I have." I had to admit, I was quite impressed.
"All I'm doing is reading from a book. I didn't think you'd be making it to the library anytime soon. So I thought I'd get some books and see what we could figure out."
I finished my meal and settled in. "Read me a story," I said in as close to a child's voice as I could.
Dakota looked at me and shook her head. Pushing her hair back out of her eyes with that habitual gesture I was coming to love, she picked up the first book. All told, she went through some five books. Apparently, according to the legends, I should be able to control the weather, the fertility of the land, shape shift, and bestow luck on those who pleased me. Chinese dragons were apart of the bureaucracy the Chinese saw heaven to be. They served the gods and were semi-divine in their own right. I didn't feel particularly god-like and told Dakota so.
"You're not a god? Jeez, and here I am kissing up for nothing! Seriously, these are stories passed down from generation to generation. I imagine they've been changed over time. Or maybe you simply haven't come into your own yet." She smirked at me before adding, "If you do become a god, keep me in mind."
I smiled back, responding, "We'll see. I guess it depends on how well you kiss up, now doesn't it?"
"Humph. See if I read you any more stories," she said, slamming the book shut.
"Please, just a couple more? Pleasepleaseplease!" I whined the best I could as a dragon.
"All right, if it will shut you up." She opened the book up again and, laying it in her lap, continued on. I laid my head down next to her, and she rested one of her arms on it while leaning back against my neck.
Additionally, it was noted that Chinese dragons were made up of several different animals. We had the head of a camel, horns of a stag, eyes of a demon, neck of a snake, stomach of a clam, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle, pads of a tiger, and ears of a cow. I cocked my head so I was looking her in the face, not hard to do given the size of my head.
"Seriously, do I look like all of that?" I asked.
Dakota set the book aside and took a long and considering look at my head. "Kinda," she said with a nod. "Really?" I asked in disbelief while raising my head.
Dakota laughed, a musical sound I found very attractive. "What, you're OK with the whole snake thing but freak at camel with horns?"
"I don't know if 'all right' is exactly the right phrase. Still, I can't even begin to imagine the whole camel/snake/whatever the hell else combo."
Smiling, she shook her head at me, causing her hair to fall back into her face. She pushed it out of the way while reaching for something in her bag.
"It's not entirely like a camel's," she explained. "That's why I said kinda. The snout is still scaled, so are the ears, though there's fur on them, like the mane. And long whiskers off the snout." She pulled something out of her bag. I could see it was her cell phone.
"If you're interested, I could show you."
I contemplated her offer for a moment. Even though I hadn't known her for long, I trusted Dakota. Why, I couldn't say. I suppose it could have been that she was the only person I had to talk to. Besides, even if she did sell the pictures, nobody saw me that I didn't want to.
"OK, go for it," I responded, moving my head so she could get a good shot.
She took a straight on shot, then a right and left side shot, then showed me the pictures. The face was somewhat broad, like a camel's, but was scaled with short, dangling whiskers, like a catfish. A thick ruff surrounded the sides of my face and followed my chin like a beard. The horns were somewhat antler-like, but not the large spreading rack I would associate with a deer. They were thinner, and the tines didn't spread out very far.
"Carp's scales," I groused. "They're blue. Whoever heard of blue carp scales? And demonic eyes? I don't think so."
"Well, I agree with you there. Though last night you were pretty damn frightening."
Though I knew she didn't mean anything by it, the reminder of the night before unsettled me. I shifted slightly and Dakota noticed. She looked chagrined.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, placing her hand on my front leg. "I shouldn't have said that."
"No, it's cool. And, I mean, you're right. I was pretty pissed, and I imagine it showed." I sighed. "I just need to be way more careful."
Dakota moved from her seated position to a kneeling one by my snout. "Do we have to go over why you shouldn't be beating yourself up over this again?"
In spite of myself, I smiled. "Are you going to grab my face again?"
"If I have to." She laid her hands along my jaw without taking a grip. "In fact, I'll pull this fur right out, give you something else to think about. For your own good, of course."
"Of course," I agreed. Actually, I would have agreed to just about anything at that moment. Predictably, that's when her cell phone went off. Damn it.
Dakota removed her hands and turned away to answer her phone. In the short conversation she had, it was determined that she was late and would be somewhere shortly. She snapped the phone shut and gathered up her purse and the books. "I'm sorry," she said while gathering. "I totally lost track of time. I've got to run, but I'll try to be back tomorrow."
"Back tomorrow?" I repeated in surprise.
"Is that problem?" she asked in complete seriousness.
I looked at her for a moment before replying, "I don't know, let me check my bulging social calendar."
She slapped me lightly on the snout. "Seriously, is that a problem?"
"Dakota," I explained slowly, "I don't do anything but wander around this river. I haven't gone to work or class since this happened. Clearly, my schedule is wide open. But I imagine you have a life outside of delivering me Mexican fast food."
Dakota gave me the most wonderful smile. "Not really," she said. "So I'll be back tomorrow. Can you give me a lift back to where you picked me up? I have no idea where this is." ****
Later that night, a wicked storm blew up out of nowhere. Lightening struck the banks around where I was lying in the river, thunder rolled with such recurrence as to feel continuous, and rain lashed down in a deluge. As bad as is was to be outside and exposed in such a fury, the worst part was that I felt the storm. My body, and particularly the pearl, resonated with it. I was certain that somehow this storm was directed at me, and whatever it meant, it wasn't good.
As I stared up into the wind torn sky, I saw something coming down through the center of the clouds. As it drew closer, I realized it was another dragon. He (and I instinctively knew the dragon was male) rode the tempest down until he hovered a mere few feet above me. He was immense and majestic, and as much as I wanted to look away, I couldn't. He began to bellow something at me, and though I could hear him perfectly over his attendant monsoon, I couldn't understand a word he was saying.
"I'm sorry," I called up to him, "but I don't understand." I was terrified, and it was going to get much, much worse. He stopped speaking and looked down on me with such disdain that I wanted to crawl under a rock. He locked his eyes onto mine. They glowed with the fury of the storm itself, and I realized that the storm was a reflection of his anger. And it was directed at me. I was so screwed. Then in my mind I heard:
Give me the pearl.
The words were "spoken" with a calmness that chilled me. I also couldn't refuse the command. Slowly, I willed the pearl into my claw and handed it to the angry dragon.
"Please," I said. "I don't understand what I've done, or why you're so angry with me."
He said nothing more, but took the pearl from my hand with his jaws and held it in his mouth. And I felt it. As the breathtaking but terrifying creature first held then rolled the pearl, my pearl, around his mouth, I could feel it on my own body. I soon realized he was doing something with the pearl. At first I was only vaguely aware of it, then I began to relive everything that had happened from the time I swallowed the pearl forward. As this was happening, the anger slowly drained from the dragon's face, replaced by a far gentler look and finally a smile. The storm abated almost as quickly as it began. I owe you an apology. It seems I have misjudged you, and I am sorry. You did not come to this situation by your own choice.
I was seized by a sudden bout of homesickness. I could see in his eyes that the dragon felt it, too. "Can you help me go back to being human?" I asked, suddenly desperate.
His eyes grew sad. No, I cannot do that for you, but I can assist with this. He swallowed the pearl.
I felt it go down, as though I had been swallowed along with it. I was surrounded by his amazing energy, and though I could tell he meant me no harm, I felt terribly vulnerable. I did not like this feeling.
"Um, will I be getting that back?" I asked.
He nodded. Yes, it is yours. Though we have much to discuss, you and I. He was silent for a moment, apparently working on the pearl. I could tell he was doing something with it, but what I did not know. After a short time, he brought it back to his mouth. His eyes locked onto mine and again I was struck by how very majestic he was, how much stronger and more powerful a creature. He was everything the books wrote about, and beautiful, as well.
With infinite care, he lowered his head to mine. Using his snout, he gently opened my jaw and placed the pearl back into my mouth. The act was strangely intimate, a kiss like no other I'd had before. I couldn't help it; I shuddered from the sensation. Then he blew softly into my mouth, sending the pearl back down my throat. I automatically swallowed. Though the jolt wasn't as bad as when I first swallowed the pearl and transformed, this time I was consuming his power, and the strength of it was immense and overwhelming. As the pearl settled back into my body, the magic spread.
I stood speechless for a few moments before I managed to stammer out, "What was that?" I looked over to my visitor and saw that he had landed. He seemed pleased with his handiwork.
"I simply strengthened your pearl. Time robbed it of much of its power."
I took me a further moment to realize he was physically speaking to me. "How is it you can speak English now?"