(Flash Fiction. Takes place ten years before the events in Drifters Rising.)

“I was in the woods and found two eyes watching me. I walked closer to the edge of the woods and there he sat, in a field, looking pitiful. Can I keep him? I’ll take good care of him. I’ll be sure he gets lots of exercise, and food, and water. I’l train him too, I promise.” Ava, barely ten years old herself, smiled hopefully at her uncle. “His parents were killed by a pride of cats. You know he’s too young to survive without care. Humans are so fragile.”

Tuv, sovereign of the dragons and the most powerful being on the planet, sighed. Since the spaceship full of self-described humans had landed on his world, nearly one hundred season cycles had passed. For all that time, he had managed to keep the humans from seeing dragons. It kept everyone safe. And now his niece brought one into his flock, as if the human baby was a pet. The child was so young he could barely stand on his two legs. Tuv’s eyes cut to his younger brother.

Derom shrugged. It was obvious Ava had bonded to the child and bonded dragons, regardless of age, were fearless in protecting their bond match. Besides, he had never been able to say no to his first daughter.

Tuv now understood why humans rolled their eyes. “I’m sorry Ava, you may not keep him.”

Her eyes flashed and narrowed on her uncle.

Tuv huffed, “You will return him to where you found him and guard him until the humans find him. He must be raised by his own species. Once he’s back with the humans you may not approach him until he is older, and then only after the humans have learned of us.”

“You don’t plan for the humans to ever learn about us,” Ava wailed.

“I would prefer they not. We have abilities that will frighten them, but I know it will happen.” Tuv smiled, curving his long neck down to look her in the eye, “Fear not, child, you will see him in a few years.”

“Years,” she exclaimed. “That’s forever.”

“No child. But it is long enough for you to grow up and be a proper dragon for your bond match.”

Derom herded his daughter and the human down the tunnel and out into the sunlight.

As Ava cooed to her young friend, an idea popped into her head. “Father, if the humans don’t come in search of him can I bring him back home?”

Derom smiled at her question, “They will. The humans do many odd things from our point of view, but they would no more leave a child unprotected than we would. I promise, we’ll wait and keep him safe until they arrive. Now place him here and we’ll watch from a distance.”

Ava nodded and looked at her little bundle. She didn’t want to place him in the field where the cats had killed his parents. At least the blood and remains were out of his sight, hidden behind rocks. She wasn’t worried about the cats. They wouldn’t return while dragons were nearby. She just didn’t want to leave him. Ava leaned him up against a rock, patted his head and turned to leave.

He screamed and held out chubby little hands, reaching for her. Ava picked him up and he smiled. She glanced over at her father.

Derom nodded, “I’ll look for the humans. You sit with him until I tell you to hide. At that point his screams will alert them to his presence.”

Ava grinned and sat with the boy. It wasn’t long until she heard the crashing through the forest and her father’s unnecessary warning. Humans always made too much noise. With a final hug, she left him and joined her father. The child cried immediately.

“There’s Kort!” A woman rushed over and picked him up, holding him tight. “Do you see Dallas and Kelly?”

The man looked around and cursed. “They’re dead. Looks like the cats got ‘em.”

“Poor Kort. He must have been so scared. It’s okay, sweetie. Uncle Denver and I are here now.”

“Come on,” Denver hurried her along. “We need to get out of here before the cats return.” He took one last look at the field and shook his head. How did a toddler survive the cats?

“Are you sure my Kort will be safe?” Ava asked when the humans had left.

Derom nodded, “Of course. He’s with other humans. And you’re bonded now. You’ll know if he’s in distress.”

Ava watched them walk toward their settlement. They’d better take good care of her Kort, or they would have her to deal with.

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