The Right Words

I apologize for the fact that this does not continue Shadows, but I wanted to let this idea free from my mind before it escaped me.

For a time, Ytha felt only the joyful bliss of love. Den looked at her with his eyes full of something she had never expected to experience, but it was what they lacked that drew her closer and closer to him. He showed no fear, no anger, no hatred, no disgust — he was the first person in her left who looked at her like she was a person, and not a monster.

Her mother had cared for her. She must have, or Ytha would not be alive. Careha had continued to support and care for Ytha even after she had reached her tenth birthday. She hadn’t needed to do that. She could have turned Ytha out of her house, or fed her a meal laced with poisonous fungus, or smothered her in her sleep.

She had done none of those things, and now here Ytha was, past her twentieth birthday, alive, and in love with a boy who seemed to love her back.

The village hadn’t killed her, either, which was another miracle. Ytha knew that there were supposed to, because she’d read about it in books. Dragon kindred were meant to be disposed of after the Laws stopped protecting them. They were dangerous. They wanted to replace humanity, and Ytha was a physical manifestation of the actions they took to achieve that goal.

One of the books she’d read in the town library warned against the dangers of all of the different dragon’s kindred. Onosang’s kindred could watch you from afar. Sophonalia’s were icy cold to the touch. Children of Ivresaid dulled both senses and sense, leading to foolhardy actions. Last in the book — and, by the author’s reckoning, the most dangerous — were Kiraimorvid’s kindred.

Kiraimorvid’s kindred were dangerous because of the breath that they inherited from their father. Like many of the other dragons, Kiraimorvid’s blood allowed his children to breath fire, but that wasn’t what inspired the author to list them as the most dangerous. It was the second fantastic breath that the author feared.

Every breath from a child of Kiraimorvid — every breath from Ytha’s mouth — came out accompanied by a shimmering cloud of light, with myriad colors mixing and separating as it spread through the air. Even when diluted, the breath retained at least some of its power, meaning that everyone around Ytha fell prey to its effects.

The breath of Kiraimorvid’s kindred inspired those who inhaled it to feel positive emotions toward the one who had breathed it out. Ytha did not know if the breath invigorated emotions that were already there, or if the breath itself was the genesis. She found it hard to believe the former, because she saw the glances cast her way even by those under its effects.

The longer someone breathed of Ytha’s breath, the more they were affected by it, and the more natural it became for them to feel positive things toward her, rather than negative. In the ten years during which none in the town could harm her, enough of them breath in her shimmering miasma that they began to feel, if not warm toward her, at least neutral or ambivalent. If nothing else, it was enough to keep her alive.

It was not enough to keep her happy. She wore a hood everywhere she went, with a scarf pulled around the front of her face, so that only her eyes were visible. She wore long robes and dresses and leather gloves. She kept her second set of arms clasped around her stomach under her garments when she went out into public, and when she walked, she tucked her tail between her legs as best she could, to keep people from noticing it.

People still stared, of course. Nobody dressed like her, so even though they couldn’t see her scales, eyes followed her everywhere she went. She had accepted it. She had grown accustomed to it. She still hated it.

Ytha wanted to be able to walk somewhere and have nobody pay her any mind. She wanted to talk to someone without watching them turn their feet away as they tried, with varying degrees of politeness, to escape the conversation. She wanted to go a day without meeting someone’s eyes and realizing that they were either terrified of her or disgusted by her or both.

Den had given her that last wish. They had known each other from childhood. Her mother had sent her to school. Many of the children were cruel, Den included. The Laws didn’t protect her from that. As time passed, however, and the children breathed more of her breath, the cruelty lessened. They never truly treated her as they did one another, but at least school became bearable.

When she was seventeen, she noticed something about Den. When he looked at her, she saw none of the things she feared seeing in the eyes of others. He smiled when he spoke to her. He made her laugh. He asked her questions about herself, and not in the mocking way she’d heard those same questions asked time after time.

He genuinely wanted to know what it was like to have four arms. He wanted to know if it made her better at multitasking, or if she could write two things at once. She told him that it did not and she could not. She couldn’t use her four arms to do different things any more than a human could use their two.

He wanted to know what it was like to have a tail, and whether she could use it like another arm. Could she pick things up with it? She told him, no, she could not. She had some slight control over it, and she could move it left and right and bend it and curl and tuck it, but it would never be as deft as one of her hands. She said it was more like a third leg, only even less manipulable.
He wanted to know what her scales felt like. She let him touch them. He marvelled at how soft the fine scales on the underside of her wrists felt to the touch, and how hard those on her knuckles felt in comparison. Hard, he pointed out, but smoother than he expected.

He was the first person, other than Ytha’s mother, to touch her like that. He had wanted to touch her scales, and he did so unselfconsciously, and without fear. He hadn’t withdrawn in disgust, but instead, his fingers had lingered on her inner arm. His eyes had met hers, and they both had smiled, before nervous teenage laughter overtook them.

He was the first person to embrace her. Her mother had held her as child, at times, but an embrace was something different entirely from being truly embraced. He hadn’t planned it, so far as she could tell, and neither had she. They were preparing to part ways after studying together at the library and, as she had turned to leave, he’d stepped forward, his arms sliding around her.

She had stiffened, thinking, for a brief moment, that he meant to attack her. Then she recognized his actions as something she had seen before, among others, and she had relaxed. Somewhat. She returned the embrace, patting his back, for she hadn’t know what else to do.

Their next embrace had been less awkward, and as they embraced more often the act became more and more natural. She came to long for the feeling of his arms wrapped around her body, pressing his heat into her. It felt good. It felt comfortable. It felt right, like something she’d longed for her entire life without ever knowing what it was.

Den made her smile. His presence lit a small flame in her chest which strengthened to a raging bonfire in his absence. Everything her mother had taught her about how the world would respond to her, and everything she had told herself as a child, railed against the idea that what she might be feeling was love.

Against all odds, she began to suspect that he might love her, too. He went out of his way to spend time with her. He brought her flowers when they met at the library. He asked if he could join her and her mother at their home for dinner. He ate the meal with them, and made her mother laugh and smile. Then, he had asked for her hand in marriage.

She hadn’t been able to answer. She’d sent him home, even, with the explanation that she had to think and consider. She didn’t know who had been more shocked: herself, or her mother.

Three days passed. Ytha avoided Den, opting to stay home instead and help her mother around the house. Those were the most torturous, happiest days of her life. She wanted desperately to say yes, but she knew that Den’s parents wouldn’t respond well. She knew that life would get harder for both of them, especially if she bore a child.

She knew that marrying him might very well be enough to get her killed when simply existing had not. Nevertheless, near the end of the third day, she went to her mother with every fiber of her heart ready to tell her mother she planned to tell him yes.

There are those that say the right words or combination thereof can destroy a person entirely. Ytha had read a fable about that, once, but she hadn’t believed it until her mother held up her hand, forestalling she words she had apparently expected to hear from her daughter.

“What if he only loves you because of your breath?”

Ytha had fled to her room, where she had poured tears into her pillow for more than an hour, until, with all of her energy spent, she fell asleep.

On the dawn of the fourth day, she went to Den’s home. He met her at the door with surprise and anxiety plain upon his face. She told him yes.

Yes, though she knew that their life together might never be a happy one.

Yes, though if they bore a child, they would only be advancing her father’s father’s designs.

Yes, though every bit of love she gave him and every bit she felt in return brought would cast the shadow of doubt upon her heart for as long as she might live.

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