I stood at the top of a tall stone building with long steep stairs leading down into a land so green it practically glowed with life. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people walked on the ground and the lower steps of the building. They brought flowers, jade jewelry, and little wooden cages with brilliantly colored butterflies fluttering inside. They laid these gifts at the feet of the man who stood beside me.
He was nearly as tall as Fafnir, pale-skinned and blond, with a thick beard. He wore a shimmering iridescent green and red cloak of feathers, a tall leopard spotted hat, a brightly beaded leather loincloth, and lots of jade jewelry.
The tall man looked nothing like all the other people. They were shorter than my mother, dark-skinned with dark hair. They wore simple loincloths, paint, beads, and some feathers, but nothing like the magnificent feather cloak of the man beside me.
The man raised his arms and all around me, the people fell silent. Many knelt reverently. Others put their hands over their foreheads and bowed their heads.
The tall white man smiled down at them. He waved a hand. All the people with butterflies in cages, opened the doors of the little cages at once.
As hundreds of butterflies filled the air, the white man shifted, growing larger and larger, until he was as big as Fafnir in battle form. Royal purple scales as brilliantly iridescent as the butterfly wings and the feathers flowed over the man’s flesh like a flower blooming. The dragon spread wings to catch the morning sunlight, the feathery cloak still draped around his great shoulders.
Brilliant purple scales the same color as my own were marked with tiger stripes of red and accents of black and gold. He was the most beautiful dragon I’d ever seen.
I stood beside him and all the people looked up at us. Their faces were beautific with reverent joy. Tears flowed down some of their faces. Love. They loved him, this magnificent purple dragon.
He looked down at them with the same joy. He loved them back. He looked over at me, standing beside him and held out one giant golden-clawed hand. “Fly with me, child of another time,” he said, and smiled into my eyes.
He could see me.
Hundreds of people stared up at us, and I realized I was stark naked.
I woke up with a start. Weird dream. I’ve had enough dreams of the past now to recognize one when I had it. But that was the first time I’d ever had a dream where anyone could see me, as me. I wasn’t just riding along in someone else’s head. I wondered if it was a true dream of the past, or just the result of the drugs they’d given me in the hospital.
They told me later I’d been asleep for two days. Didn’t seem that long. I felt reasonably okay when I woke up, just thirsty, and I had to pee like a racehorse.
Jack slept in a chair next to my bed. He looked adorable, black hair fallen across one eye.
I reached over to brush it away, but my arm came up short. There was a bag of red fluid dripping through an IV tube into my arm.
Liberty must have found someone to donate.
I peeled back the covers to look at my torso. Tape and a big gauze pad covered the unarmored spot on my flank where Bobcat got the worst digs in.
I dragged the IV stand as quietly as possible, so as not to wake Jack, over to the bathroom and took care of things. While I was in there, I peeled off the gauze and looked underneath. The wounds were closed. Bright pink welts showed where they had been.
I peeled more gauze off the left half of my face, and found something similar. It could be a very cool scar, except I generally didn’t scar. It would fade away in a few weeks. I peeled another gauze patch off my right shoulder. I didn’t even remember getting clawed there.
I heard voices outside, arguing. I didn’t want them to wake up Jack. I quietly wheeled my IV as far as it would go. The beepy heart rate and blood oxygen, etc. monitors were plugged into the wall, so I had to extend my arm out behind me to get enough slack to reach the door of the tiny hospital room. I opened the door a crack, and leaned out. Floyd “Tex” Donovan was arguing with Mark “White Knight” Novak. Everyone I know seems to have at least two sets of names.
“… I can’t even believe you have the guts to show your face here,” Donovan whispered really loudly. Like he wanted to shout, but was trying to remember he was in a hospital. Some of Novak’s friends murdered a bunch of Donovan’s friends. Needless to say, there was no love lost there.
“You don’t have the right to keep me out,” Novak said. “I just want to make sure she’s okay.”
“She’s fine,” I whispered. “But her boyfriend is asleep, so she would appreciate it if you two could argue somewhere else.”
“Vlad the Black is here?” Novak asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Vlad is not my boyfriend. Jack is my boyfriend.”
“But I thought … Who is Jack?”
“Is there something you want, Novak, or are you just here to quiz me about my love life?”
His cheeks shaded a little pink, and he ducked his head. It reminded me of the way he acted when the Georgians dressed him down. Beaten. Ashamed. “I just … it doesn’t matter.” He turned and started to walk away.
Donovan nodded in satisfaction and sat back down on the chair by my door. He’d been doing the bodyguard thing, watching over me while I was out cold and defenseless. Which made sense, since, technically, he was my bodyguard.
“Novak, wait!” I whispered loudly. I leaned as far out the door as my tether would allow.
He stopped, hesitated for a moment, then turned around slowly, like he expected me to say something nasty.
“Did you donate blood for me?”
He nodded, and waited stoically for my snarky retort.
“Thanks,” I told him. “That’s the second time you saved my life. I was kind of a jerk about it the first time.”
He crooked one side of his mouth a little in something sort of like a smile. “I think you’re still ahead of me by one.”
“Well, stop sticking your butt in cracks you can’t get out of then,” I told him with a smile to let him know I was just giving him crap.
He smiled back a little. “Same to you.”
“Liberty’s been looking for you. The Protectors are short-handed.”
The smile disappeared. He shrugged. “They don’t need me.”
I sighed, and decided to get pissy with him again. He seemed to respond better to that. “Guess my grandmother was wrong about you. She thought you were a hero.”
He winced a little. That was a low blow, I admit. I was hoping it would get him fighting back, but it seemed more like I’d just confirmed what he already believed. “She was wrong. I’m just a freak.”
“Welcome to the club.” I sighed. I felt a little woozy and the breeze on my back end from the useless tie-in-the-back hospital gown was getting annoying. “At least, let Liberty know I didn’t kill you before you vanish back into your self-pity hole.”
“Why would she think …?”
“You’ll have to ask her that. I need to go lie down.”
Donovan stood up and supported my scaly, non IV connected arm. “I think you’ve outstayed your welcome, hero.” He spat the last word like a curse.
Novak nodded, and walked away.
I felt sorry for the guy. He’d found out that everything he believed in, lived his life by, sweated and bled for was a lie. But I was kind of pissed off at him at the same time. My grandmother was famous for not letting just any old schmo wield her sword. Excalibur was not a sword for people who couldn’t take a bad blow and get back up again.
There were a lot of people out there who needed a White Knight to save them. My grandmother, Lady Nyneve, the Lady of the Lake, believed that Mark Novak was that Knight. From what I’d seen, she generally knew what she was doing. I’d just have to trust her.
Jack was awake when I looked back over my shoulder.
He winked at me, and wiggled his eyebrows.
Apparently, he’d gotten a really good view of the gap in the back of my hospital gown while I’d been leaned out the door.
If I could blush, my cheeks would have glowed like Rudolph’s nose.