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    Volume 11, Issue 3, September 10, 2016
    Message from the Editors
 The Dead Life by T.A. Hernandez
 The Lightship by Neil Davies
 Song of the Brethren by David Cleden
 The Quiet Death by Dean Giles
 The Inmates are Running the Asylum, and the Asylum is Running the Ship by Matthew Nichols
 Editors Corner: The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler
  Editors Corner Review: The Einstein Prophecy by Nikki Baird


         
Thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher has a new best friend: a dragon named Jade. At first it's a dream come true--Jade can perform magic, change shape, and fly Rose away from her predictable small-town life. But the more Rose learns about her new friend, the more dangerous her life becomes. Soon she finds herself in the middle of a dragon conflict that's been brewing for millions of years. Can Rose and Jade stop a full-out war?

excerpt from The Dragon Waking

Grayson Towler

         

Chapter Two: Jade

         For a moment, Rose couldn't move. Her whole body clenched like an overwound spring, her breath freezing in her throat. The sight of the vast creature filled her eyes and paralyzed her thoughts. Sunlight gleamed off green scales and enormous translucent wings that cast their shadow along the dry riverbed. It was a dragon, as solid as the stones and creosote bushes, standing there in stark defiance of everything Rose knew to be true.
         The dragon parted its jaws slightly, exposing teeth like pearl-white daggers, and let out a chuffing breath. Rose stared transfixed into eyes like living emeralds.
         Then the creature took a step toward her, and Rose whirled and ran.
         She heard a rumbling grunt as loud as a semitruck, then the thud of heavy footsteps. Rose screamed and sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her, the soft sand sucking at her boots and slowing her down. She pelted past the wrecked motorcycle and threw herself at the slope of the dry flood bed, gouging out handfuls of sand as she scrambled up the grade. She hauled herself out of the trench and took off across the desert.
         Something crunched behind her, and she dared a look back. The dragon loomed out of the sandy trench and examined something stuck to its front claws. It had stepped on the dirt bike. It gave its foreleg a mighty shake, and the debris flew free. Then it swiveled its great head on its sinewy neck and focused on Rose again.
         A terrified whimper emerged from her throat.
         The dragon lunged up the steep side of the flood bed, but the loose sand gave way under its great bulk. The creature tumbled over backward with a startled bugling sound, kicking up massive clouds of sand and dust as it collapsed in the miniature avalanche.
         Rose tore her eyes away from the spectacle. A rocky cliff face climbed out of the sand no more than a hundred yards away---she might find some place she could hide there. She dropped her backpack and ran for all she was worth.
         Something behind her made a tremendous whooshing sound. She risked a quick look over her shoulder and saw a swirling trail of dust rising from the flood bed into the sky. A massive winged shadow slid across the desert.
         A part of her mind gibbered that this was impossible, completely impossible. It had to be a dream! A nightmare! But that didn't matter, because everything else in her howled to run away from the creature. Fiery pain burned in her lungs, and her legs ached in protest as she pushed them harder than she ever had, desperate to reach shelter before the winged monster swooped down and took her in its claws.
         The shadow expanded as the dragon descended. Rose heard a quick snapping of wind blowing across the taut membrane of the creature's wings. She shrieked and covered her head. Useless, she knew. The creature could snatch her up whole in one bite. But no attack came. The dragon's vast shadow passed over her again.
         Rose threw herself the last few yards toward a space between two large boulders at the base of the rocky slope. She squirmed her way in, praying that the space would be too narrow for the beast to reach.
         What if it could breathe fire?
         Frantic and sweating, she wedged herself into the space as far as she could. Then she froze, waiting. Rose stared back through the narrow space, able to see only a slice of the desert beyond.
         For a long moment, the only sounds were of her rapid-tempo breaths.
         Then a plume of sand puffed up, and she heard the beating of the immense wings. The thump of the landing dragon sent a pulse of vibration through her hiking boots. Rose let out a trembling moan as one massive eye peered through the little crevice at her. The dragon studied her for several seconds, then pulled its head back and reached into the crack with one claw.
         Her shelter wasn't good enough. The great talon loomed closer.
         "No!" Rose screamed.
         The claw jerked to a stop, then withdrew.
         Rose stared in astonishment. The dragon peered at her once again, then backed off a few steps. It sat back on its haunches and regarded her with those extraordinary eyes, cocking its head slightly back and forth, making soft muttering noises to itself.
         It wasn't attacking.
         The dragon could have easily plucked her out of the inadequate hiding place. And she knew it could have caught her long before she got to the rocks if it had wanted. So why had it chased her?
         The dragon shifted its great bulk and Rose felt her throat clench, but the creature didn't come any closer. Instead, it hunkered down--folding its wings tight against its back and wrapping its tail around its legs--and rested its chin delicately on its front claws.
         The dragon didn't move, except to occasionally flick the end of its tail. For several long moments, Rose and the dragon stared at each other in the silent desert.
         Rose felt her breathing begin to slow to a calmer pace. She shifted her position to relieve the pressure from a sharp rock in her back. The dragon twitched but seemed to deliberately settle back into its waiting pose. It was, she realized, making itself as small and nonthreatening as a creature its size could be.
         That wasn't the way a predator or a hunter would act.
         "Hello?" she called out. Her voice emerged muffled and squeaky.
         The elegant spiny ruff that framed the dragon's face perked up with curiosity at the sound of Rose's voice. The dragon let out a soft little chirp.
         Rose swallowed her fear, increasingly sure that the dragon meant her no harm. She wriggled herself free from her stony hiding place and hauled herself out of the crack into the open air.
         The dragon raised its head very slightly, watching her intently.
         Rose still trembled at the sight of the dragon's long talons and massive jaws, but she mustered her courage and edged closer. The dragon slowly extended its great head toward her as she approached, a posture that suggested both restraint and intense curiosity.
         Rose's sense of fear melted into wonder. Never had she seen anything lovelier than the tremendous green dragon before her. The elegant shape of its head and neck, the subtle shadings of green on each of its diamond-shaped scales, the delicate patterns on the translucent membranes of its folded wings--every feature of the dragon struck a perfect balance between beauty and power.
         Once again, some part of her insisted that she must be dreaming. "Are…are you real?" she asked the impossible creature.
         Though the dragon didn't offer an answer, it moved its head closer to gently sniff the air. Rose could make out the scent of its warm breath, tangy and smoky. If this was a dream, it was hands-down the most mind-blowingly vivid one she'd ever had.
         The dragon's face hovered just a foot or so in front of her. Rose reached out slowly, tentatively, and rested her hand on the smooth scales of its muzzle.
         She had a moment of feeling the unexpected warmth and pliancy of the scales beneath her fingers before her vision went swimmy, as if her eyes were full of the shimmering waves of distortion that arose from hot sand. She thought she might be fainting and struggled to keep a grip on her consciousness.
         Then the world righted itself, and the dragon was gone. In its place stood a human girl.
         Rose had the impression of looking into a fun-house mirror that turned everything just a little different and shifted most of the colors to green. The girl before her wore an outfit of overalls and a T-shirt almost identical to Rose's, except every article appeared in shades of green, right down to the braided leather bracelets she'd made herself.
         She could have been Rose's cousin--she looked the same age and of a similar build, though paler and without Rose's freckles. Instead of Rose's red hair, the stranger's was the deep color of pine needles, with an odd streak of green so light it was nearly white running along the left side of her head.
         Rose squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. This day just kept getting weirder.
         "What's going on here?" she asked.
         The green-haired girl said nothing as she blinked around at her surroundings, wearing a mingled look of surprise and delight. She examined her hands, opening and closing the fingers in deliberate motions, then ran her fingers across her hair. The girl let out a laugh, then put her hands to her mouth as if surprised by the sound of her own voice.
         "Hey," Rose said. "Um…are you okay?"
         The girl looked at her.
         "Can you understand me?" Rose asked.
         Rose saw interest in those brilliant-green eyes, but no sign of comprehension. The stranger took a step forward and stumbled, coming down awkwardly. Instinctively, Rose lunged to her aid and caught her before she fell. A strange tingle passed through Rose as she touched the dragon-girl, like the hum of an electric current.
         The girl grasped Rose by the arm and let herself be guided back to balance.
         Clearly the green-haired girl wasn't used to her new body. "Come on," Rose said. "Here. This is how you walk." With that, she led the girl slowly along with careful steps. The stranger picked up the knack of walking within just a few paces and soon found her equilibrium. She let go of Rose's supporting arms and took a few steps on her own, then suddenly did a clumsy spin and nearly lost her balance again, laughing as Rose caught her.
         "You imitated how I look," Rose said. She didn't know how this could possibly be true, but the whole situation was already completely unreal. Another flash of insight came to her. "You had to touch me first," she said. "That's why you chased me."
         The girl said nothing and kept smiling. Did she understand anything?
         "You're not stuck this way, are you?" Rose asked. "Could you turn back if you wanted? I read a story about a unicorn that got turned into a human and couldn't change back." Rose curled her fingers into claws and spread her arms, trying to make herself look bigger. "You changed yourself, right? So you can change back." She added to her pantomime by making a flapping motion with her arms. "If you wanted, you could…"
         Suddenly she felt that swimmy sensation again, and the dragon burst into view before her in all its glory. A gust of wind blew back the hair from Rose's face as the dragon spread her translucent wings wide enough to block out the horizon. Rose let out a startled squeak and stumbled in retreat, tripping and falling on her butt.
         Rose's heartbeat took off to a gallop, but this time it wasn't from fear. She found herself gripped with a longing to experience the thrill of being carried skyward on those enormous wings, to feel them driving her into the sky with each swooping beat. She wondered what it would be like to grab on to the dragon's neck and ride her aloft, faster than any horse, the ground shrinking away as they hurtled together into the sky…
         The world shimmered once more, and the dragon became a human girl again and looked down at Rose with concern.
         With a weak laugh, Rose got to her feet. The vision of flying with the dragon had left her strangely breathless. "You're…you're real," she whispered. "You're really real." She let out a shaky laugh. "How is this possible?"
         The girl's brow furrowed as she stared intently at Rose. She seemed to be trying to understand, but Rose wasn't sure if she grasped the meaning of speech.
         Rose decided to try something simple. She pointed to herself, exaggerating the gesture. "Rose," she said, then repeated it.
         The green-eyed girl considered this for a long moment. Finally she took a swallow and spoke her first word: "Rose." The name floated in the air like a snatch of song.
         "Good!" An elated grin bloomed onto Rose's face, mirrored by the dragon-girl. "Can you tell me your name?" She pointed to herself, said her own name again, then pointed to the other girl and waited.
         The girl grasped her intention almost immediately. She pointed to herself in a precise imitation of Rose's own gesture, and then opened her mouth. What emerged was something between a screech and a growl loud enough to make Rose jump.
         The girl's eyes widened in shock, and she poked curiously at her throat and mouth.
         Rose laughed. "Wow. That's…quite a name! It probably sounds better when you say it as a dragon, huh?"
         A puzzled look was the only response she got.
         "Look," Rose said, "I need to be able to call you something. Is it okay if I come up with a name?"
         A tiny smile flitted across the green-eyed girl's face.
         "I'll take that as a yes," Rose said. The stories she knew about dragons didn't give her much to go on--she didn't think anything like Tiamat or Smaug was going to work. She thought through her mental catalog of green rocks and gemstones. "Let's see…emerald? No, that's not a name. Variscite is a pretty stone, but…no. Not so good."
         The other girl listened, a look of lively interest on her face.
         "Okay, there's olivine. That's green. Maybe shortened to Olive? No, wait, there's an Olive Dunsdale down the block, and she's a drama queen." Rose rubbed the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. "There's got to be something."
         Rose examined the girl again, letting her eyes linger on the colors in her hair, and suddenly a name came to her in a flash.
         "Jade!" she said, and she knew it was right.
         The dragon-girl's eyes widened.
         Rose pointed at her. "Jade."
         "Jade," the girl repeated, tapping herself on the chest.
         Rose grinned at her new friend. "So we've got a name for you!"
         Jade giggled. Rose laughed along with her, a giddy sensation of euphoria flooding her mind. She didn't know how a creature out of legend had found its way into her life. It was real, not a dream, yet it was also impossible--and utterly wonderful. The last remnants of her initial fear unwound and spooled into joy throughout her body. Jade clasped her hand and they laughed together, their voices mingling across the sun-baked waste.
         Their laughter finally exhausted itself and tapered off slowly to silence.
         "So," Rose asked. "What happens now?"
         Jade said nothing but looked at her with an expectant smile.
         "I guess we'll figure it out," Rose said.
         
         




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