Kana’s voice, stern and unyielding. I push my eyes open, and, startled, I open my other eye as well. The room is dark. It is night. It is the very depth of night, from the darkness. Kana is standing in the doorway of the closet. There is a faint light coming from outside of her bedroom.
“What?” I say, too groggy to come up with a better reply.
“Get up. Now. Put these one.” She passes me a set of clothes I have never seen before.
“New clothes?” I say. I never get new clothes. Kana patches the clothes I tear on accident. She only gives me new ones when I outgrow the ones I have. But the ones I have now still fit.
“Yes,” she says. Her impatience is clear. “They’re sturdier than what you have now. I have some shoes for you, too.”
I begin to dress. There’s nothing else to do but what she says. I send my eye out toward the faint light in the living room. There are two men here, standing, each clearly full of tension. The light emanates from a dim lamp lit on the table. One of them is old, with gray hair and wrinkled skin. He still stands strong and tall, despite his years. Telal.
The other is much younger. I don’t recognize him. This is odd, because I know, by their face, everyone in the town. I have been watching them for years. He is much younger than Telal, younger than Kana, even. I think he is older than Fia, Kana’s assistant. He has a face cloaked by a dark beard, and dark hair just long enough to reveal a faint, natural wave.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
Kana looks at me. “You are leaving.” She is clutching a bag in her hand. Even in the dark, I can see the tightness of her grip.
“I’m… leaving?” I ask. I should be terrified. It is night. There is a strange man I don’t know in the house. Kana has taught me, over the years, that people hate me. I know that he must hate me, but I guess that Kana is sending me with him. I have never left this house.
Yet I am not afraid. I am breathtakingly excited. I have never left this house, not bodily. I have asked, I have begged. Always, Kana has said no. I have thought about sneaking out, but my loyalty to Kana has prevented me. I have only looked out through the windows and explored the town with my eye.
“You’re leaving,” Kana said.
I have put my clothes on. Kana reaches down to straighten them with one hand. I draw back, surprised. Kana does not touch me. And yet, she just did. She does not comment on the fact that I flinched.
“Why?” I ask. I am confused. My life has, until this point, maintained a predictable routine. Kana feeds me three meals a day. I clean the house on a schedule. I bath at the same time, on the same day of the week. I hide in Kana’s closet, where I sleep, when there are visitors other than Telal. Telal stops by to give me lessons about numbers and letters. Kana teaches me, a little, about herbs.
“Your tenth birthday is in one week,” Kana says. “Come on.” She leaves the room. I follow.
“Oh,” I say, understanding, but not all the way. I know that my tenth birthday is important. It is the day the Dragon Laws will stop protecting me. It is the day Kana no longer has to keep me in her house and feed me. It is the day the people in the town, who Kana says don’t like me, can finally show their displeasure.
Kana has never told me which day is my birthday. I have watched other children around the town celebrate theirs, with cakes and happiness. I have never had any of that. Kana has never answered when I’ve asked about it. She ignores me, just like when I ask about my name. She has always said, “Your birth is nothing to celebrate.
But, apparently, she has not forgotten it.
Neither has Telal, because he is here, at Kana’s house, in the middle of the night. He raises his hand as I enter the room, a brief wave. An acknowledgement. The man I do not know looks at me. He gives me nothing in the way of a greeting.
“This is her?” he says.
“Yes,” Kana says.
“Who is this?” I ask, because I have so rarely met a new person. I don’t know how to act or what to say.
“This is Garth,” Telal says. “He is going to take you away.”
“Take me away?” I ask. I change my mind. I am still excited, but now I know that I can be both excited and terrified. “Why? Where am I going?”
“He says there is a place where you will be safe,” Kana says. “Even after you turn ten.”
“Garth is going to take you there,” Telal says. He is standing in front of the chair he normally sits in. It is not a time for sitting, I guess.
“There’s a place where dragon kindred go,” Garth says. He has a rough voice, like someone has taken sandpaper to it. “It’s sort of like a town, I guess. No, it is. But they have to be very quiet about it.”
“How do you know about it?” I ask.
“I take people there,” he asks. This isn’t an answer, to me. I want to know how he found out about it in the first place. I want to know where it is, and why Kana and Telal didn’t know about it before. I want to know how they met Garth and why he is here.
Garth distracts me from all of this with a simple question. “What is your name?”
I gape at him. I have no answer. I’ve never been asked this before. In fact, I’m the one who has asked, time and again. Kana and Telal have never answered me. “I don’t know,” I say finally.
Garth looks at Kana, who shares a glance with Telal. I see this all from two angles: from the eyes in my face, and from the eye I have set level with Garth’s head, which observes him from the side. I will not miss anything.
Telal sighs. “Perhaps it will do you no harm to know,” he says. “I suppose we really haven’t had a reason to hide it from you. It just became habit overs the years.”
“I have a name?” I demand, feeling something I rarely let myself feel. Anger.
“No,” Telal says. “Not exactly. Your parents died before they could name you.”
“One of her parents,” Garth says in a whisper he clearly meant to be heard.
Telal glares at him. “Your parents. Your human parents, who might have loved you, in a different world. Their names were Hevric and Elila Rollen.”
I like to think that I know when I am about to cry. Kana has taught me that crying to get what I want is for babies. So is crying when I hurt myself. But this, for some reason, gets me. The question that I have been asking for nine years, for some kind of name for myself, for some kind of connection to my parents, has suddenly been answered. And not because I asked again. Because a stranger asked what to call me.
It’s not a full cry. I don’t feel weak. I don’t sob and carry on. I do feel the tears fill my eyes. One of them escapes and rolls down my snout. I wipe it away. Hevric and Elila Rollen. My parents. I’ll never know what they look like, but now I know their names.
“And Onosang,” Garth says. “Onosang, the Watcher. He’s your real father.”
“Enough,” Kana says. “She knows. There’s no need to be cruel.”
I do know this, of course. It is part of what I have been taught. There is Vanaprimax, the Elder Dragon, and then there are his nine children. I am the kindred of Onosang, the Watcher. That is why I have my eye. It is part of his gift to the children he sires.
“I’m not being cruel,” Garth said, holding up his hands. He meets my eyes. “Your human parents are important. Your mother was your mother, no matter what.”
“You have her eyes,” Telal says, haltingly. I can see that he is trying not to cry, just saying that.
Garth flicks his eyes toward Telal, but continues. “I’m not asking you to forget Hevric and Elila. I’m sure they were fine people. I just mean that you can never forget that Onosang is a part of you.”
“She won’t,” Kana says. “How could she? Just let that be.”
It is odd to hear Kana coming to my defense. She has never shown me great affection. She has always made it clear that she cares for me only because the Dragon Laws force her to do so. Telal has long been the one most likely to show me anything like affection.
“Fine,” Garth says. “Are you ready?”
I suppose he is asking me. I have no idea if I am ready. I have never gotten ready to go anywhere.
Kana answers in my place. “One moment,” she says. She hands me the bag. “I put this together for you. There is some dried meat. It will keep for a long time.” She opens the bag to point inside. I see the meat, wrapped in cheesecloth. I see something else in a wrap, and two small clay jars with lids, like Kana gives to her customers. “You’ve also got some enriched tack, in the other cloth. It won’t taste good, but it’ll keep a long time.”
“What’s in the jars?” I asked.
“Cream for your hands in the brown one, for when the grow rough,” Kana explained. “In the red one is a salve for wounds. It’s not miraculous. It won’t heal you i a day or anything, like in those stories you read. It will help protect a wound from sickness and help it heal cleaner, though.”
Beneath the jars is a tightly rolled blanket. Kana has so rarely done anything so kind for me. I don’t know how to respond appropriately. “Thank you,” I say, though the simple words do little to express how I truly feel.
“Your new shoes are by the door. Put them on, and you’ll be ready to leave.”
I didn’t feel ready, and it wasn’t just my lack of shoes. That had very little to do with it. I had never worn shoes before. I never had a reason, since I never left Kana’s house. Now I was to leave the house, the only home I’d ever known, with man I had never met.
I closed my eye and opened it again on the other side of the door. Outside. I sent it up, up toward the ceiling, up until I couldn’t send it any higher. I looked down on the town. From so high up, it looks small, even though it is so much larger than the space I’ve been in for all of my life. I know that it is small. In this moment, I know it more completely than I’ve ever known it before, because now I am leaving it behind.
In the dark, I can barely see the town, but I know the sight so well it doesn’t matter. Only the azure glow of the cielmoss lights the world at this hour, when there are no brightclouds passing by.
I know these streets as though I’ve walked them. I know the people that live in those houses, and the lives that they lead with their children. The kids who are my age I know the best, because I’ve watched them the closest. I’ve seen them play and wished that I was playing with them. I’ve watched them study in school and wished that could be there learning with them. I’ve seen them fall and get hurt, seen their parents rush to their side, and wished that I had someone who would do that for me.
The shoes fit me well, though they are quite stiff. Uncomfortable. I don’t think I need them, but I am accustomed to doing as Kana asks. I know shoes re for protection, but I have scales on my feet. They are much tougher than the soft flesh of regular people.
Kana passes me a pair of gloves, which she helps me put on. She shows me how to tie my shoes. She reaches behind me and pulls a hood over my head. “From a distance, you will look like a human,” she explains. “A mask would only make it obvious that you’re trying to hide something.”
“Won’t the hood?” Telal says. “There’s sort of stigma against them.”
Kana shrugs. “Your decision, Rollen. You’ll have to make your own from now on.”
It takes me a moment to realize that she is referring to me. Rollen. My parents’ surname. I have never felt this connected to a word before.
“You are Onosang’s kindred,” Garth says. “Do you know how to use your eye?”
I nod. Of course I do. It is as much a part of me as the eyes on my face. The question seems odd to me. “Yes. I am using it now.”
“Good,” Garth says. “I need you to watch from above, to watch to make sure nobody sees us.”
“I’m already doing that,” I say, though I hadn’t thought of it. I bring my eye down to where I can pick out more details of the town. It’s dark, but I think, based on the way I’ve watched other people act, that I can see better in the dark than normal people.
Garth walks to the door. He’s not carrying anything on his person that indicates to me that he’s ready for a journey. I scan the area around Kana’s house. Yes, there is a horse there, laden with saddlebags, that does not belong here. I am surprised I didn’t notice it before.
He opens the door. I am frozen. I have so long been forbidden from crossing that threshold that the idea that I might do so now feels wrong. I look to Kana for guidance. She smiles at me, a faint curling of her lips that does not touch her eyes. “Go on.”
Telal looks at Kana for a long moment. He approaches me. He bends at the waist and knees, bringing himself closer to my level. His arms extend. I have seen other people do this. I have never experienced it. But from watching, I know what to do. I hug him back.
I cried when I learned my parents’ names, and I cry once more at the feeling of another person embracing me for the first time. His warmth presses into me through our clothes. His smell fills my nostrils, a faint, pleasant scent of him and his flesh, but also of the wood-scented oil that Kana sells to men for shaving.
“Goodbye,” Telal says. “Stay safe.” When he pulls away, he passes me something. A book. My favorite book, a collection of myths and stories from different cultures.
“Thank you,” I say, feeling once again that the words are not enough.
“Let’s go,” Garth says. He’s looking out of the open door with anxiety, though I would have told him if I saw anyone coming.
“Okay,” I say. “Goodbye, Kana.”
She does not answer. I take my first steps outside into the dark night, and silently, I say goodbye once more to the only life I’ve known.