Under Her Wing
by Ethan Hedman
The newborn dragon was a miserable sight, a runt left to fend for himself by a ruthlessly selective breeder. He shivered and cried out to the darkness from the shelter of a broken crate in a dirty back alley.
Taevel heard his cry as she walked past. Her heart ached when she saw the tiny creature. She knelt and slowly inched her hand towards his face, hoping he'd be too exhausted to bite or scamper off. The dragon grew quiet and curled into a ball, his eyes peering out from behind one of his wings. Taevel set her hand down in front of him and waited. He soon craned his neck out just far enough to sniff her fingers.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she whispered. He glanced up and stared deep into her eyes. Eventually he cooed and nuzzled his head against her wrist. Taevel sat there with him for a time, stroking his spine gently until he was relaxed enough to be picked up and carried home.
She named him Liatris for his scales' noble hue. It reminded her of a landscape she adored as a child, a vast hilltop field of the tall purple flowers. He was never far from his rescuer, often climbing his way into her lap or arms. She fell asleep each night listening to the rhythm of his quiet snores as he snuggled up against her chest.
Liatris was a pleasant houseguest and would eat almost anything. Peppers were his favorite treats, the spicier the better. He puffed out little clouds of smoke after gobbling them up, basking in the aftertaste. Whenever Taevel went out, Liatris would go with her. At first he hitched his rides from the safety of a tote bag, peeking out at the mysterious world, but soon he started perching on Taevel's shoulders instead. He liked watching other people as they went about their business and would sometimes cluck at them to say hello.
The only thing which gave Taevel any concern was Liatris' refusal to fly. He flapped his wings eagerly when he felt a strong breeze, but never chose to rise into the air. Taevel thought his aversion to flight had come from his abandonment. She'd taken him in and shown him love when he'd been left to die. Liatris feared that his life would crumble if he were to fly away from her, even for a single moment.
She wanted him to know he could soar through the skies to his heart's content, that she would always be there waiting down below. Liatris was smart. One flight is all it would take for him to know she'd never leave him. He only needed a gentle push.
When breezes came she tried hoisting him up from her arm, but he held fast, flapping all the while. Taevel tried tossing hot peppers high into the air; Liatris would dart around below and snatch them in his maw. She tied one to a string and tossed it over a branch, dangling the pepper far above his head. He clambered up the tree trunk and snorted embers at the string until it smoldered apart. Again and again Liatris foiled her plans, and always so charmingly that she couldn't help but laugh.
Weeks after Taevel had given up on coaxing her friend into the air, he presented her with newfound hope. During one of their morning walks, when Liatris stopped to drink some water from a stream, he became entranced by a shimmer beneath the surface. Taevel helped him uncover his discovery: a fallen, sunken drone which had been lost under the rolling tide.
It was in terrible shape, battered from its fall and waterlogged in the time since. Taevel nearly tossed it back into the stream, but the sight of the broken machine made her recall the night she found Liatris, how he shook and cried out to the darkness. They were both damaged things left alone in the world, and she couldn't bring herself to leave the drone behind.
Almost everything had to be replaced, but with a bit of cost, time, and care, the drone soon became airworthy again. Taevel sprung for the extravagance of a flight camera and a pair of screenglasses. When the drone finally managed to hover a few feet above the floor, Liatris flapped up at it excitedly. Taevel used the controls to point the drone's camera at her friend, showing him his own image in the glasses. He cocked his head at the pair of tiny dragons on the screens. She pointed the drone's camera at herself. He sat transfixed, cooing at the doubled image. Taevel hoped he understood.
She bagged up the drone and took Liatris on a trip to the field near her childhood home. They were lucky; there was a breeze. Her companion's namesake flowers swayed back and forth in the wind.
Taevel sent the drone into the air, guiding it slowly in its climb above the field. Liatris watched intently as the strange treasure he unearthed took to unfamiliar skies.
"Moment of truth," she said. Taevel put the glasses on and started flying faster overhead. "Are you going to join me?"
Liatris gazed at the drone and flapped at the breeze. He clucked in her ear and shifted in place. Finally, as she brought the drone back in a rush past them both, he put all of his strength into his legs and leapt up.
The pair twirled around in an aerial dance, finding their way around each other. In that moment of bliss they were unbridled masters of the sky. They flew until the sun went down, but the moment lived on forever in their hearts.
Ethan Hedman is a speculative fiction writer from South Florida, the land of heat, humidity, and hurricanes. His work has been included in a variety of publications, such as Tales of Ruma, Drabbledark, and the debut issue of Lucent Dreaming. His full bibliography can be found on EthanHedman.com. Writing aside, Ethan is a secular humanist who spends a great deal of time with a charming neighborhood cat named Thor. He also occasionally wreaks havoc on mechanized combatants with ELK Robotics, a local robot combat team.
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