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Week #19: Creative Writing Challenge – Meet Cute

May 16, 2021

Write about two people seeing each other for the first time.

**Read the post from Week #10 for more background to this story!

Part 1

Lost in thought, Kayla found herself in a small opening surrounded by a stand of towering aspens. The sky peaked through, so bright it was momentarily blinding. Kayla let the warm rays splash across her face, glad of the attention after days traveling under a rainy sky. It was in this moment of reverie that Kayla was startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger bounding into the clearing. Kayla mentally kicked herself for not hearing him tumbling through the brush. Not paying attention was certainly a good way to get killed in these woods.

The stranger skidded to a halt upon seeing her in the clearing. He very blatantly looked Kayla over from head to toe, lingering on the belt where her mother’s blades lay snug and secure. Quickly gathering himself, he strode confidently to where Kayla stood. She quickly pulled one of those blades from her belt and aimed it at his throat. He didn’t come any closer.

“In about 30 seconds four very angry pixies are gonna come racing in here. I was planning on making my stand here. I’d suggest you run, or use those blades to help me out,” he said in a hurried but rich voice.

“What makes you think I would help you?” Kayla asked incredulously, blade still pointed at his throat.

“Because you look quite capable with those, unless they’re just for show,” he said as he flashed her a grin and threw a glance at the other blades still safe and sound in her belt. “The choice is yours, but you probably want to make it soon.”

With that, he turned to face the direction from which he had come, simultaneously drawing his bow and arrow like a practiced dance. He walked toward the middle of the clearing, muscles tensed toward the anticipated onslaught.

The pixies were not a quiet or nice folk. Instead they were loud and vulgar and full of attitude. Their kind had been pushed to these outer forests when King Callum’s father had ruled the kingdom. The pixies resented the treatment, and terrorized the settlements at the foot of the mountain. Even now, the king dispatched royal sentries to watch over and protect the settlements. Not because he cared about the people, but because he didn’t want an all-out uprising to deal with.

The pixies blustered into the clearing like a hurricane, shouting obscenities and stumbling over each other as they found themselves in the same patch of sun Kayla had just been entranced by. The breeze calmed for a moment as all four gained their bearings and locked eyes on the stranger.

“You have no where else to run. We will break your bones and suck their very marrow, but only after a slow and painful death,” spat the apparent leader. “We will give the same courtesy to your new-found friend,” He added as he gestured in Kayla’s direction with a knobby hand. His spindly legs and gangly arms didn’t paint a picture of violence, but when he smiled Kayla could see the sharp and jagged rows of teeth. She had never seen a pixie up close before, but their reputation was legendary. Kayla had heard rumors during her time in the castle of groups of pixies stealing children from villages, ruining crops, vandalizing homes, and playing dangerous practical jokes on unsuspecting humans. If the teeth didn’t send a shiver of fear and excitement through her, just one look at their claws made Kayla wish that she had run for the hills. But she hadn’t run. She couldn’t figure out why in the world she wasn’t running. It baffled her, the calm that she felt standing there watching the situation unfold. Well, she hadn’t run, and it was too late at that point, so instead, she shifted her grip on the knife still in her hand and drew another from her belt.

“Return what you took from us and we’ll have mercy and kill you both quickly,” the leader promised.

Kayla noted that the stranger had slowly moved so that he stood between her and the oncoming hoard. They started to advance, snarling, claws and teeth ready for a fight.

Kayla slowly shifted to her right and let one of her blades fly true. The pixie leader slumped to the ground with a knife struck deep into his left eye. The stranger quirked a smile that Kayla could barely see and launched into action, releasing a flurry of arrows into the group at the same time another of Kayla’s knives sailed past him and into the fray.

Two more pixies materialized at the edge of the clearing. Not able to retrieve her knifes, Kayla resorted to her combat and self defense training. She flew at the pixie on the right, surprising it with a roundhouse kick to the head. The pixie recovered quickly and came at her, claws first. Kayla mastered her breathing and dodged several blows as she worked her way back toward the two dead pixies and her prized knives. Not taking her eyes off the advancing pixie, Kayla grabbed for the hilt of the closest knife while simultaneously ducking to avoid the pixie flying over her head. Kayla whirled around and caught it from behind, running her knife quickly across its throat.

From the other side of the clearing the stranger had drawn his own short blade and was currently running it through the torso of the last pixie standing.

Without the blood lust and palpable energy of the pixies, a quiet fell over the clearing. Brown blood glistened in the sun patches.

Kayla walked slowly to where her other knife lay wedged in the pixie leader’s head. She retrieved it and slowly wiped the blood off both blades with her shirt, before placing them back into their homes in her belt. She was well aware that the stranger was following her every movement attentively, despite collecting his own weaponry from the slaughter. She watched him from the corner of her eye. He moved with fluid and purposeful movements. Kayla was pretty sure that he could have handled the six pixies by himself.

He wasn’t pretty like the men she was used to seeing around the castle. He was rugged, and reminded her of Diddeon’s father. It was clear that he spent plenty of time outside in the mountains from his tan skin and light shaggy hair that flopped over his ears and into his eyes each time he bent down to snatch an arrow. His broad muscled shoulders were nothing to scoff at either. He would likely have been recruited as a good castle guard.

The stranger rose from collecting his last arrow and strode toward where Kayla now stood watching him from the far side of the clearing. As he moved closer his gaze met hers and Kayla’s breath hitched when she realized that his eyes were blue like the bright midday sky. Eyes that color were rare in the kingdom.

Kayla, having recovered from the brief surprise of his eyes, stared him down as he approached. As a rule, Kayla avoided pixies at all costs, not wanting to become a character in any of the stories she had heard. They were vile creatures, but Kayla didn’t like killing things unless it was absolutely necessary, and here she had killed three of them. She was angry at being dragged into this stranger’s story.

“Thank you for your knives. I owe you for that.” The stranger said.

When Kayla didn’t respond he pleasantly continued, “My name is Elias. You can call me Eli.”

Kayla stared at him. She had no idea what to make of him or the ridiculous situation that had just unfolded, but she was curious. What would a man need to do to get six pixies to give chase? To risk their lives? To die? He seemed pleasant enough, but Kayla knew better than most that people could wear different faces for different situations. She was wary and a bit annoyed. “What on earth was that all about?” Kayla demanded.

Eli fished into his shoulder bag and pulled out a package of soft leather a little bigger than his calloused palm. He opened it to reveal some dried herbs. Kayla’s breath caught for the second time in less that a few minutes. She knew what those herbs were. She had read about them in her mother’s personal library. He said, “Just some herbs for my dinner. Those stupid pixies thought I took something else and wouldn’t stop chasing me.”

“If that’s the story you’re sticking to, you can go stick it to someone else.” Kayla was so tired of people lying to her, or at least not telling her the truth. Hearing this blatant lie from someone she had known for less than five minutes threw her over the edge.

As she started to storm away, Eli grabbed for her arm but missed as Kayla avoided his grasp. She whirled on him as she drew one of her now-clean knives and pointed it in the general direction of his chest. “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, which is obviously why you immediately chose to lie to me. It makes total sense and I don’t fault you for it, but I also want nothing to do with it. If you really don’t know what you carry, then I will also wish you luck. There are many more dangerous creatures than pixies in these mountains that’ll be hot on your trail searching for what you carry.” And with that, Kayla turned to go. “And don’t follow me unless you really want to see one of my knives up close.”

Kayla purposefully and quickly made her way to the opposite side of the clearing and picked up the trail again. She had no doubt that he would follow her. The question was when he would slip up and show himself. Kayla didn’t bother worrying about it, other than to make sure she stayed alert. No patches of sun would make her lose focus this time.

As the afternoon marched on, Kayla made her way farther into the mountains. When the sky started darkening and the temperature dropped, Kayla set up camp in a small flat space away from the trail. It was still safe enough for a small fire and she had shot a rabbit with her bow earlier in the afternoon. She would at least eat well tonight, even if she might not sleep.

The snap of a branch roused her attention from the cooking rabbit, but she didn’t let on that she had heard. At the next noise, Kayla quickly threw a knife at a tree in the shadows nearest the noise. There was a sharp intake of breath. “I know you’re there Eli. You’ve been following me all day. Do you think I’m stupid?” Kayla demanded.

“No, it’s very clear you’re no where near stupid,” Came the reply from outside the ring of firelight.

“What do you want?”

“I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t throw that other knife at me. I know you missed on purpose with the first one. I would also like to apologize,” Said Eli in a slow and earnest voice.

Kayla got up from the fire and slowly walked to where her knife was embedded in the tree. She gently freed it and started to return to the fire. “Well come on then.”

Eli silently walked to the fire and sat down where Kayla motioned him to. The two of them sat in silence, Kayla tending the rabbit and Eli staring into the fire. “Well?” Kayla prompted. Eli looked up, a bit startled by the noise, and held her gaze. She was absolutely mesmerizing in the firelight. Eli could tell that she was beautiful in the clearing earlier, but he was stunned.

When Eli collected his jaw off the ground he said, “I really am sorry that I dragged you into the business with the pixies earlier. But I can’t say that I’m sorry about lying to you. It’s a dangerous thing that most don’t know about and don’t need to know about. Those who do know wouldn’t think twice about killing me for it. It was really for my safety, but I think you understand that.” He paused and then continued slowly, testing the waters. “Frankly I’m surprised that you recognized what I had just by sight. Very few would be able to recognize it, let alone know anything about it. I’m very curious how you came by that information. Were we to maybe trust each other, we might have much to gain from our chance meeting. Maybe we start with your name.”

Kayla considered him a moment. What he carried was for sure toggleweed, which was a rare ingredient in many healing tonics and had fallen out of favor with the kingdom’s healers after the dragon clans vanished. The dragon clan healers used their magic to coax chemicals out of the toggleweed. Toggleweed was barely effective at treating a headache on it’s own, but with dragon magic it could cure any number of horrible ailments. Why would he want toggleweed? It wasn’t worth anything without the dragon clans and the dragon clans were hidden. Unless… Maybe he knew something about the whereabouts of the dragon clans. Maybe he knew about the Library of Dragon Lore. She certainly didn’t trust him, but she might be able to get the information she needed if she were nice to him.

“Kayla. My name is Kayla.” She said with a sigh.

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

After rolling her eyes, Kayla drew on her training and dove in. “Tell me about the toggleweed.”

“I was sent to retrieve it by my family. My cousin is very sick and it’s the only way to save her. The man I was sent to meet had been ambushed by that group of pixies and nearly beaten senseless. So, I followed the pixie tracks to where they camped, and stole the bag with the toggleweed in it. I had to hide in a tree overnight to avoid them, but by yesterday morning they had somehow found my trail. I knew about the clearing and led them to it so I could have some room to fight them. You know the rest I believe,” He related as he avoided Kayla’s piercing gaze.

Kayla addressed him slowly, “What you said might be the truth this time, but you and I both know that toggleweed is useless in helping the sick. So what you said isn’t the whole truth. Do you want to try again?”

Eli stared at her incredulously. He tried to read her eyes, although they gave no inclination as to what she expected him to say. To tell the whole truth and trust this young woman whom he barely knew, or to walk away now? Those were his two options. Eli breathed deeply, searching for some sign. Kayla continued to watch him calmly, waiting for him to figure out the war in his head. She knew she had won when Eli heaved a great sigh and unstrapped his bow and quiver to set them at his feet.

“Everything I said was true, including that my cousin is very sick and needs the toggleweed,” Eli began in a low voice. “My family knows how to manipulate toggleweed to help release its healing properties. I was sent to retrieve the herb because I am familiar with the territory and its inhabitants. I am expected back within the week, and hopefully not too late to save my cousin.”

Kayla studied the man carefully. What he said was more of the story but still nagged at her brain. Very few, as in, no one alive but her, knew about toggleweed and even she didn’t know the magic behind wielding it. Only the dragon clans knew that information, if her mother’s stories were to be trusted.

Kayla studied Eli as he gazed into the fire, quietly awaiting her judgment. In the firelight Kayla could tell he wore a v-neck forest green shirt covered by a brown jacket and snug black pants. A worn leather belt held his short blade still. As Kayla perused his garb, her gaze stumbled at his neck, right where the skin met his green shirt. It just didn’t look quite right. Several triangular greenish markings were peaking out from under his collar.

Kayla jumped up and back out of the firelight as she gasped. Eli reflexively reached for her to keep her from tripping, but she stumbled away and out of his grasp. Kayla could see more of the faint greenish markings on the back of the hand that was still stretched toward her. She hadn’t noticed them before.

Kayla held her breath.

Eli followed her gaze to his hand and froze, as if any sudden movement would shatter the world in two.\

Part 2

He was a member of the dragon clans. An actual, real-life dragon person. Kayla had been holding onto the hope that her mother was just deeply disturbed and that she wouldn’t have to try to save the world. That hope vanished at the sight of Eli’s faint markings and slowly gave way to wonder and awe and hope.

“They’re just tattoos. Sorry if they frightened you.” Eli tried to calm Kayla who was still frozen outside the ring of firelight.

Finding her voice Kayla said with some snark, “Yeah, those are tattoos, and I’m queen of the realm!” Kayla stared him down for another minute before heading back to her place before the fire.

“Tell me what you are.” Kayla demanded, having enough of the silence.

“I won’t hurt you. I swear. let me share your meal and warm fire and I’ll be on my way before first light,” Eli said softly. “Please,” he added.

Kayla was going to need to shift tactics. Eli wasn’t going to be cowed into telling her anything about himself. Maybe if Kayla appealed to his curiosity she could get more out of him. That was a dangerous game to play though, as she would likely have to divulge information to him as well. On the other hand, this could be her only chance to learn about the dragon clans and where the Library of Dragon Lore was located in these godforsaken mountains.

Kayla took a chance. “You seem pretty tight-lipped about yourself and I can see how curious you are about me. How about a game of Three Questions?” She paused, and then concluded with the phrase that was likely to win him over. “Only truths be told and kept for eternity.” It was the motto of the Library of Dragon Lore. He would be familiar with it if he was, in fact, a member of the dragon clans. Kayla hoped he wouldn’t be able to resist his curiosity.

Kayla was deeply rewarded when Eli’s glance shot to hers and a look of confusion, mixed with incredulity passed over his features. After what couldn’t have been longer than a few seconds, a mischievous grin blossomed on Eli’s face. “I think this will be much more interesting than I anticipated. I agree with your terms. And as the visitor, it is customary that I get to ask the first question.”

When Kayla nodded, he continued, “Why are you traveling?”

The question encompassed so much information and Kayla knew that Eli had purposefully asked a vague question to get the most information possible. That was the way the game traditionally worked. The person answering questions was honor-bound to answer fully and directly. If the questioner could ask the right question they could get a lot of information.

Kayla chose her words carefully. “I’m traveling from Eddiot on an errand for my mother. She sent me to find information to support some of her research as head librarian to King Callum.” It was true and captured the essence of her quest. Not untruthful, but well within the boundaries of the game.

“Your words are guarded, but fair.” Eli responded.

Kayla decided to go straight to the heart of what she needed to know. “How, specifically, can I get to the Library of Dragon Lore?”

Eli’s blue eyes burned with sudden anger. He couldn’t ignore the question. He had to answer or there would be some magical consequence, those were the dragon clans rules. The magical consequence was never the same. It could be something like only being able to speak lies for a week, or it could be something like a magical sickness. The rules of the game meant that it was played infrequently and that players generally told the truth.

“I’ll answer your question, but even in the game you have to show me your mark.” Eli responded in a deep and guttural voice. He was not pleased at this turn of events. Humans weren’t supposed to know about the Library at all.

“What mark? I have no mark.” Kayla responded warily.

Eli moved to cross through the firelight to her, but she jumped up and whipped out a knife again. “Don’t touch me” Kayla growled.

“I won’t harm you. The mark on a human is usually self-inflicted and in the shape of an ancestral dragon. Maybe a tattoo?” Eli said with an exasperated tone. This was getting less fun by the minute.

Kayla had frozen. How could he know about her dragon tattoo? Not even Diddeon knew about the beautiful soaring ancestral dragon inked above her heart. Her mother had inked it herself when Kayla came of age, saying that it would keep her safe just like in all the stories her mother had told her.

Kayla slowly opened her jacket and pulled down her shirt to bare the upper part of her left chest.

“It’s beautiful.” Eli barely whispered. He had never seen a mark on an actual human. He hadn’t even been sure that she was supposed to have one, having only heard about it at school. Eli was taught that there were humans who remembered the dragon clans, kept their legends and history while the rest of humanity had forgotten. These keepers, it was said, had marks so that a member of the dragon clans could recognize a friend. No one Eli knew had ever seen a mark on a human.

Kayla quickly covered herself back up and moved back to her seat. It seemed to her that they were both moving in slow motion for a minute, re-setting bearings and adjusting expectations.

“The Library of Dragon Lore is built into the side of these mountains, three days hike from here. Follow the lime of trees through the valley to the east and you’ll meet a small river. The birth place of the river is The Library.” Eli explained clearly. “But I am also honor-bound to tell you the way is guarded by hidden magic runes that are designed to throw any wayward travelers off the route. Only those with dragon magic will be able to find the way.” He warned.

“Why are you looking for the library?” Eli continued before Kayla could respond.

The rouse was at an end. If what Eli said was true, Kayla needed a guide to the library and there was one right in front of her. She needed to be a bit more forthcoming or he might just leave her to find her own way. And that wasn’t an option.

“The complete story is that my mother was a librarian and historian for King Callum. She kept all the normal books and scrolls, but also had a hidden fascination with the dragon clans. She used to tell me stories about dragons when I was little, swearing me to secrecy. No one would have believed me anyway. I thought they were fantastical and brave and absolutely amazing and I would do anything for my mother.” Kayla paused to take a breath and curb the threatening tears. “A week ago there was a raid on the library and the queen’s quarters at the castle in Eddiot. My mother was fatally wounded and the queen disappeared. On her death bed my mother told me that all the stories she told me growing up about the dragon clans weren’t just stories. She told me they were the true histories of the dragon clans. She said to figure out the truth and save the land, and the dragon clans, I needed to go to the Library of Dragon Lore.”

There was a long pause before Kayla continued, suddenly angry. “It was my mother’s dying wish that I go. Other than that, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.”

All Eli could say was, “I’m sorry about your mother.”

They sat in silence for a while watching the flames dwindling. Kayla threw some more sticks on the fire to help the rabbit keep cooking.

“Are you really a member of the dragon clans?” Kayla asked a bit breathlessly. Both fear and anticipation gripped her as she waited for Eli’s answer.

Eli met her eyes and said simply, “Yes.” He kept her gaze and asked something he had been wondering about all day long. “How did you learn to throw knives and fight like you did earlier?”

Kayla smiled, remembering when her mother gifted her a set of throwing knives and Diddeon matched it with the belt of fine leather. It was her 16th birthday. “I’ve been trained informally since I was 6. My best friend’s dad is the Captain of the Royal Guard in Eddiot. When I turned 16 I was formally trained to use a variety of weapons, self defense maneuvers, and survival skills. They were part of my training as a messenger for the royal court.” Kayla explained.

She hesitated before asking her next question. Kayla didn’t want to offend him or ask something inappropriate and no one had ever taught her how to interact with the dragon clans. They didn’t exist to everyone else.

“Can I ask you about your magic?” Kayla asked hesitantly. She continued after a nod from Eli. “What kind of magic do you have and how many kinds of dragon magic are there?”

She looked so utterly curious and almost unafraid that Eli wasn’t even going to call her on the two questions disguised as one. “There are a variety of different magic types among the dragon clans. Some have protective gifts, healing gifts, the gift of flame, leadership gifts, gifts of swiftness or knowledge. The gifts are indicated by the color of the scale markings. My gifts are for swiftness and stealth. That’s what green means.”

Realizing that they had each asked their three questions, and not knowing where to go next, a heavy silence descended. They consumed the finally cooked rabbit in that silence, each lost in their thoughts.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    May 20, 2021 2:43 pm

    Aaah this is so fun! I want to read this book! Or book series! :O

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