Good morning (or whenever), folks! I’m participating in Rachael Richley’s #BlogBattle again, and since I got the idea for another installment of the same fantasy story I did last time, I’ve continued it. You can find the first part by clicking the “#BlogBattle” category at the top of this post.
It’s less edited than last time, because I wasn’t quite as prepared, and finished late, but… Enjoy!
The sunshine was bright and inviting, and a light breeze brushed across Hazel’s scales.
At least, she imagined it did. It always made waiting easier, so she closed her eyes and imagined as hard as she could. She had gotten pretty good at it.
Hazel pressed up against the bars, flicking the tip of her tail back and forth against her palms.
In a few minutes, she knew, the Keeper would unlock the enclosures, and she could get out. It was what happened, and Hazel always knew when to expect it, even though the sky was blocked out and she couldn’t tell the time. Somehow she always anticipated it.
Hazel glanced over at the wolf in the second to next cage, avoiding the sight of the empty cage between them.
The girl was crouched with her back to the bars, watching the door as if it was going to jump out and attack her.
Hazel tilted her head to the side, squinting, and then dropped to the ground and wriggled through the bars.
The wolf-girl heard her before she got there, and started, turning toward her. Her eyes widened.
“I know.” Hazel said, stopping just outside the bars. “I’m outta my cage.”
The girl’s eyes darted toward the Hazel’s cage.
“Nope. It’s not unlocked. I can fit through the bars. I’m like a mouse or something. Liiiittle tiny space, but I can get through.” She grinned. “Keeper hasn’t figured out yet.”
She girl was silent, but her eyes asked a question.
Hazel shrugged. “I can’t get outta the building. No spaces.” She paused. “’Sides, Keeper’d catch me again.” She took a small breath. “You’re mute, right?”
The wolf-in-girl-form nodded, cocking her head a bit.
Hazel grinned. “I was listening in on you and the Eagle. Couldn’t hear it all, but I heard that. Can you write?”
The girl nodded slowly, glancing around as if she expected to find a paper and pen lying around.
Hazel darted back to her cage and wriggled through again, rifled through her blankets, and was back in a few seconds, in girl form, with a stick of charcoal. She passed it through the bars. “Don’t break it. Took forever to get some wood to make it.”
The girl raised her eyebrows, scooting over to the charcoal and picking it up gingerly.
“To write your name.” Hazel said, “Because I’m not calling you Wolf. The Eagle’s bad enough, not telling anyone his name.”
The girl cast a quizzical look toward the Eagle, then leaned over and wrote in large, jagged letters, “Netra.”
“Ooooh.” Hazel said. “That’s a pretty name. Mine’s Hazel, even though I’m—” She stopped, straightening. Was that a noise from outside?
Hazel snatched the charcoal back, earning a snarl from Netra at her quick motion, and darted back toward her cage, barely managing to get back inside and stow the charcoal before the door opened.
She ducked her head, rubbing the black marks off her fingers and onto her blanket, and then looked up at the Keeper, ignoring Netra’s snarl.
The Keeper was a tall man in a grey coat, with dusty-gold hair and grey-blue eyes. If it weren’t for the memory of pain in the back of Hazel’s mind, and the empty cell to one side, she might have thought him dashing.
He was silent as he walked through the cages, glancing at each occupant with expressionless eyes.
Hazel stared back at him, not crouching in an almost-cower like Netra, but also not hissing like Arthur had. She just sat.
Keeper glanced over at her, and nodded the tiniest bit, almost in approval. Hazel couldn’t explain why that made a thrill go through her, but it did. Was he proud of her?
Keeper walked over to the door and opened it, letting shafts of sunlight dance on the dust motes.
Hazel stood, walking over to the gate of her cage in girl form. She didn’t touch it, though; it had burned her once, when the Keeper was there.
The gate unlatched, and then soundlessly swung open. Hazel glanced up at the Keeper, and then darted through, running at full-tilt toward the open door.
The outdoors were an explosion of color compared to the indoors. Yellow wildflowers, reddish dirt, grey rocks, brown tree trunks, and green, green, green.
Hazel dropped to the ground, cross-legged, and looked back at the door. She could see Netra’s enclosure through the opening, and though Eagle passed, and Hazel knew people were being let out from other rooms, Netra’s cage door remained shut, prompting Netra to growl.
There was a sinking feeling growing in Hazel’s gut. Netra had displeased the Keeper, so she wouldn’t be let out today.
Hopefully she wouldn’t continue growling and being defensive like that, or she’d eventually attack him, and then…
Hazel shivered, shaking her head. She wouldn’t think about that. It was best to not remember at all.
But try as she might, she couldn’t forget. Maybe she should have tried to protect Arthur, but it had happened so fast…
Maybe it would always happen that fast.
Hazel clenched her jaw, stood, and marched back into the room, planting herself in front of Netra’s cage—mostly because she couldn’t bring herself to get any nearer to the Keeper.
His eyebrows rose.
“I want Netra to come with me.” She said, her voice coming out much meeker than she’d anticipated.
“The wolf?” Keeper asked, tilting his head. Hazel froze. Surely something so small couldn’t get them in trouble, right? Hazel wasn’t attacking Keeper or anything.
“Why would you want that?”
Hazel paused. Why did she want that? Was it worth disappointing the Keeper?
Something brushed Hazel’s hand, and she jerked forward, snorting in surprise and tasting fire. She turned and looked back at Netra.
Netra was looking at Hazel with an intense stare that made a shiver run through her.
She chewed the edge of her lip, turning back to Keeper.
“Because we’re friends, and I don’t want her to have to stay in here. And she’ll stop growling if she can come outside, right, Netra?”
Netra ducked her head, nodding.
Hazel turned back to Keeper to find him crouching in front of her. She flinched back automatically.
“Alright. You get your way, dragoness.” He said, “She can come out.”
Dull pain briefly coursed through Hazel’s head. A threat?
Keeper stood, half-smiling as Netra’s cage door opened.
“You have an hour.” He said, for Netra’s benefit, most likely, since Hazel knew that.
Hazel breathed in, rubbing her tongue along the roof of her mouth and still tasting soot from her accidental burst of flame.
She was Keeper’s most valuable person in the whole menagerie, she was fairly certain, but would that change if she stood up to him? She wasn’t strong enough to actually fight him; she wasn’t sure anyone was.
Hazel didn’t really understand what would make the Keeper angry. Maybe she would when she was older than ten. But she wasn’t about to make him really get angry.
At least Netra was allowed outside.
Hazel hunched her shoulders and followed Netra out into the yard, letting the wind brush her skin, but ducking into the shade cast by the wall.
Netra gave her a small, grateful smile, then turned to Eagle, her mouth pressing into a determined line.
Hazel moved over to her, brushing her hands along the tops of the grass.
Netra looked at her, and Hazel froze.
There was that intensity again.
Maybe it was dragon’s intuition, but Hazel was pretty sure Netra was going to make the Keeper angry.