Her head was pounding as AD woke to the dull grey of a barred prison cell. If only she had a dollar for every time that had happened since joining the Alliance. She sighed, glad at least that it wasn't Coredeath's prison, or a Huntsclan dungeon. The cell was typically what she'd expect. Three walls, one with a tiny barred window, and the fourth wall and door made out of more bars, too narrowly spaced for her to squeeze through. On the other side of the door was a long hallway with doors at either end. AD could tell by the shadows cast on the wall that there were other cells next to her's, but they appeared to be empty. Her's seemed to be in the middle of the row. The only furniture in the cell was a cot, a sink, and a toilet, all bolted to the floor and walls. She pulled on the bars experimentally, but they didn't budge. The bars and lock also proved to be fireproof, and without her dragon talons, she had no way to pick the lock. As she searched the room, her thoughts drifted back to the events that had landed her here. Her cloak had been taken, but thankfully they hadn’t found the Heart of Draco. She’d hidden it in one of the cloak’s inside pockets, and had swallowed it while running away from the market.
She didn't have long to think though, as two stern-looking guards came towards her cell. Or at least, they would have looked stern, but tripping over their own feet every few seconds ruined the effect. Both were goombos, one armed with a long spear and the other dragging a sack that was almost as big as he was. They seemed to be having trouble seeing where they going, which was no wonder, as they both wore sun glasses. Both of them also wore what looked like tin-foil hats. It was all AD could do to keep a straight face. She actually felt sorry for the poor silly things, and didn't think laughing would get her any points with these two. Besides, who was she to judge clothing styles? Maybe it was a dress code thing?
"Somebody left a gift basket for you." said the one dragging the sack, unlocking the cell door.
"I'm over here." said AD.
The guard locked the empty cell door again and peeked out from under his sunglasses to make sure he had the right cell this time. As soon as he caught of her, he quickly covered his eyes again and unlocked the door, while other guard held her at spear-point. Tossing the sack in, they quickly relocked the door and left the hallway. Curious now, AD opened the sack. There was an actual gift basket inside it, but so big that it shouldn't have fit into that sack at all. AD wasn't that phased by it though. After all, magic could do many strange things. The first thing she pulled from the basket was a greeting card that read:
"Welcome to the Chi Kingdom of Sarasaland! Sorry my sister punched you in the face. Enjoy your prison stay!"
AD blinked in disbelief. They actually had a greeting card for her exact situation… That was just weird, even for this place. Clearly though, it was the little werelion cub AD had seen at the market, who had sent this card. Her big sister certainly had a hard punch, which made AD wonder why she didn't have a black eye, or worse. Now that she thought about it, the bruises on her wing were gone too. Those had almost healed on their own anyway, but the change was still enough to notice. They must have taken her to a healer before dropping her off in here. That was odd... Given her alien nature and the tabloid news, she’d have thought their first stop would be a government laboratory- not that she was complaining. Better a jail cell than a dissection table. Unless...
She shook the dark thoughts from her mind. Paranoia now would only drive her crazy. The best thing to do now was get her strength back, and be vigilant to the here and now. She turned back to the gift basket, noticing that it was stuffed full of fruit. There were also two books, and something that resembled an oversized nail-care kit, along with several small combs. One book was titled Wing and Feather Care for Dummies, and the kit proved to be the various tools she’d need. The other book was The Official Sarasaland Tourist Guide. Well, AD thought, at least she’d have plenty of time to read them. Settling down, she started in on the fruit and began with the feather care guide.
It was a presence that caught her attention, for there was no sound to hear. AD didn’t turn to look behind her, she didn’t need to, but simply continued reading. The figure waited, patient, until she finished the page she was on. But it was AD who spoke first.
“The dragonslayers of my world were trained as ninja.” she said. “How long did you think you could hide?”
“If you knew I was there all along, then why not seek me out?” said the Fumon. “I could’ve killed you at any time.”
“But you didn’t.” said AD. “And you sent me trainees in your ambush. That has me curious... I’m clearly a newcomer here, and you don’t know the extent of my power. For all you know, those newspapers could be right. Why not get rid of me?”
“That was a test, and a warning.” he said. “As for those stories, who do you think started them in the first place?”
“My question stands. What purpose could you possibly have for me?”
“We are the Fumon. Spreading ignorance and hatred is what we do. And you, my draconic friend, well...”
She heard the scrape of sword leaving sheath, turned, but found him gone.
“Why waste the potential you have for causing both, and so much more?” he whispered, his voice right beside her head. She froze, feeling the steel of his blade against her belly. He tapped her lightly with it, right over the spot where her gizzard was. The spot where the Heart of Draco now rested.
“Others before you have tried to control what I guard.” she said. “You won’t find it any easier.”
“You would be foolish to anger us.” he said, stepping away from her and gesturing his sword to the shadows on the back wall. She looked, seeing the eyes of other Fumon hidden there. Too many if it came to a fight.
The sound of the hallway door opening distracted her. When she looked back, the Fumon had vanished.
“Gah!” AD clutched at her heart, staring at the werelion cub who had just appeared at the cell door seemingly out of thin air. She stepped back, felt something bump her tail, and looked. There was an egg sitting on the floor behind her. Scowling, she cracked it open, quickly checking the ruby inside for damage. Satisfied that the gem was still whole, she tucked it under her wing.
"Are you ok? Sorry I scared you." said the cub. "My name is Kate. What's yours?"
The dragon-yoshi blinked, taking a moment to process the excited chatter before answering. "Call me AD, and I'm fine, thanks."
"That's good," said Kate. "Did you like the fruit basket and my card? Gaijin thought the books would be good for you too. I hope your wing is feeling better. Are you really an alien? Do you want to be friends? Can I ride you? How did you get that aweful scar on your side? Did you know there was a reward for catching you?"
"Uh…" AD blinked again, not sure how to even begin answering. It wasn't that she didn't like children, but being the loner that she was, she'd had little experience with them. She ate some more fruit before answering this time. "The fruit's good. The card was weird. Thanks for the books. My wing feels great, and yes, I'm an alien." She wasn't ready to answer the cub's questions about friendship or rides just yet. Kate's family might not approve a friendship with a possibly dangerous outsider, for one thing. As for giving the girl a ride… AD had been ridden before, but never just for fun. Dragon riding was a stealth tactic for combat when planes would be a disadvantage, and also to quickly evacuate the wounded from a battlefield. It took a great deal of trust between those involved, and it was still too early for AD to know who she could trust in this new world.
Her wing subconsciously moved to cover the old scar at Kate's mention of it. "I don't like to talk about it…" she said.
Kate seemed to have realized she'd gone too far, and an awkward silence followed.
Suddenly remembering the last question, and wanting to change the subject, AD said, "I knew about the reward for hunting me. It was in all the newspapers. I suppose your sister and Gaijin already collected it?"
“And used it to pay for your bail.” said a new voice.
They both turned to see Kate’s sister, Gaijin, and his wife being escorted into the cell block by the same guards that had brought AD the gift bag earlier. At least, she thought it was the same guards. It was hard to tell. The two stopped the group once they were inside the door, offering them each a pair of sunglasses and a tin foil hat. These were politely, but firmly, refused, and the group continued down the hall until they’d joined Kate. The guards both exchanged a glance, then exited the hallway, closing the door behind them.
AD studied the new arrivals for a few moments, and they did the same to her. Finally, it was Kate’s sister who broke the silence.
“Sorry about that sucker punch.” she said. “I’ve have used a net, but we didn’t have one.”
AD gave a slight nod. “I’ll live.” Turning to Gaijin, she added, “And I’m sorry about hitting you in the face with soggy groceries. You... you didn’t have to help me... Thank you...”
“You could’ve just asked.” said Gaijin. “We’d have given you the help anyway. You certainly don’t seem as dangerous as the newspapers would like us to believe.”
“I see that now,” said AD. “and I am sorry... I judged your world based on how mine would have acted.”
They looked at her in some confusion, but before she could explain, Gaijin suddenly drew his sword. The others tensed at this signal, readying their own weapons, and Aki asked, “Gaijin, what is it?”
“Fumon.” he said simply, pointing his sword between the bars of AD’s cell to something above and behind her.
She turned to look, and spotted one of the ninjas’ bandanas caught between two of the ceiling titles. “So that’s how they got in here.” she said, more to herself than the others.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, one of the Fumon trainees was looking for the bandana he’d lost for the third time in as many weeks.
Light caught AD’s eye, and she turned back to stare at Gaijin’s sword. The blade was covered in writhing coils of fire emerging from its hilt. She felt a growing heat beneath her wing, and pulled out the Heart of Draco, noticing that it was behaving strangely as well. It pulsed much faster than normal, and glowed with power, though she wasn’t using it. All of the group stared between the two artifacts. On a hunch, AD brought the ruby closer to Gaijin’s blade, and the activity of both increased. The sword blade completely caught fire. Meanwhile the ruby grew hot enough that she could barely hold it, pulsing like a racing heartbeat and the color of its glow turning a darker red the nearer she held it to the sword, until it was almost black. The two quickly drew away from each other, and with the separation their items returned to normal.
AD was stunned. She’d never gotten a reaction like that out of the gem before. But then again, she’d never let it near another magical artifact before, as she now guessed Gaijin’s sword might be.
Gaijin and the others look equally shocked, and he studied her more intently this time before saying, “We clearly have a lot to talk about.”
“That might take a while.” said AD. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be stuck in here.”
“But you won’t!” said Kate with a grin. “Didn’t you hear my sister? We paid your bail! You’re coming home with us!”
“Only,” said the older werelion, raising a finger in warning. “until we find place for you to settle down.”
AD made sure her gift bag was tied shut as the guards were summoned to let her out. Though she was grateful to them, these four and she still had some way to go before any friendship could be made. But this, thought AD, might just be a good start to one- if her answers to their questions didn’t alienate her even further...