Rose was inside someplace dead.
She didn't understand how she knew that, but she knew it within her very heart. Behind her were tall, dark, thorny hedges that promised danger, and the air was heavy with unease. The foulness of death and decay rolled off from the dense fog surrounding her. The unnatural and dreary atmosphere that weighed over Rose made her heart quicken and her palms sweat.
Before her loomed an entrance to a dead, noxious garden. Peering inside it filled her with a distinct impression of sickly dread. Everything about it disturbed her, like a cry for help strangled from the throat of a killer's victim.
Every inch of Rose was on edge and her desire to flee was mounting, but she knew she had to go inside the garden. Her stomach dropped, her legs turned to cold stone, and she tried to will herself to move but found it impossible.
The fog continued to roll out from the garden, becoming thicker with each unreasonably long second. Only barely could Rose make out a subtle stir from deep inside the fog. An unfeeling wind made the dense, nauseating fog twist upwards into the dreary gray sky.
Unable to look away from the disturbance, it took Rose a moment to realize the blurry shapes hailing before her. Her head snapped up, staring at black and gray quills that floated from high above... and then the sound of wings. Growing billows of air came from the gray sky, and—
Rose woke up.
Her eyes shot open, the stench of the rotten garden still permeating her nose. The sky outside her window was nothing but stars. Rose slowly sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and wondering what woke her.
The door to her room swung open and immediately, the window transitioned back to the mountains, filling the room with brilliant light. Rose turned to face her guest, surprised to find Lanna there with a boyish grin.
"Hey, chicky. Dinner's here. You wanna eat with us?"
"Yeah," Rose responded, rolling out of bed and rubbing her eyes again. "Sorry, I guess I fell asleep."
"I don't blame you," Lanna said sympathetically, electric blue eyes softening. "Everything was pretty scary for me too when I first came here. I hadn't met anyone outside of my species before, and the castle is way quieter than what I'm used to."
Rose followed Lanna into the main room, brushing and tugging out the creases in her uniform. Her stomach growled as soon as she smelled the delicious dinner before them. A donut-shaped table floated around the fire pit carrying huge plates and goblets. The chairs and couch were pushed up closer to the fire so everyone could eat on the table.
Galio looked up from shoveling what looked like a drumstick into his mouth. "Yeah. It takes a while for everyone to adjust since most of us have only ever seen our family."
"Why is that?" Rose asked.
"Safer," Havi supplied. "Younglings don't have control over their magic, so outbursts are not uncommon. Species are typically immune to their own kind of magic, so it's safest for others if younglings only live with their kind."
"You grew up with humans, though." Galio took a moment to swallow. "Which is really weird. To have your magic suppressed to the point that it's safe to live with humans... I mean, that's pretty special."
"Only a Yellow Mage would be able to do something like that," Havi agreed, her lip curling back as if she were discussing dirty laundry. "Do you know why you had your magic repressed?"
Rose shook her head. "I didn't even realize I wasn't human until recently."
"That's crazy," said Philip, frowning.
"What—what did Professor Nigel tell you?" Rose asked, genuinely curious.
She took a seat beside Lanna, and the older girl handed her a plate filled with a variety of meat. It all smelled and looked very appetizing.
"He said you were a found Nehebur that had been living with humans until recently," Galio answered, taking a moment to bite off another piece of what looked like chicken. "He said you would need help adjusting to all forms of magic and we should be mindful if you have any outbursts."
Havi gave Rose a reassuring smile. "It simply means your magic bursts out of you. It doesn't hurt you, so don't worry."
"Like—like my..." Rose tried to remember Nigel's words. "Mall?"
"Mall?" Lanna repeated back.
They stared at her.
Galio said slowly, eyebrows raised, "you have a thrall?"
"I-I think so?"
Galio scratched his head. "Huh. Well, yeah, stuff like that."
Rose thought back to the mob and felt queasy. "Would you—I mean, would you guys be affected by my thrall?"
"You're far too young to have a thrall powerful enough to affect us through the castle wards. Thralls are passive forms of magic, and the wards on the castle repress such. Otherwise, every time a harpy spoke, we'd all be under their thrall," Havi said confidently. "You needn't worry about us ever being afraid of you. It's our job to protect you."
Rose felt a little better about that but wasn't entirely confident. She tried out a smile.
"Interesting you have a thrall, though. Not many do," Philip commented. "What are you?"
"A dragon, I think," Rose answered. "Nigel said I was a dragon?"
There was a beat of silence as surprise and unease flickered across their faces. Rose worried she might have said the wrong thing, but then Galio's large grin calmed her.
Galio beamed. "That's wicked. I've never met a dragon before, they haven't left their home world since—ah, you know..."
"Even stranger you were with humans," Wei murmured, eyeing Rose with open curiosity. She seemed unsettled at Rose's revelation, and Rose didn't miss the fact that both twins shifted away from her. "Have you thought about trying to locate your creators?"
Rose shrugged, feeling uncertain. Of course, she thought about finding her parents. Which orphan didn't? But after discovering her magical side, it hadn't been the most important thing on her mind.
"You're only ten," Havi murmured. "But your egg could have been created within the past couple of centuries depending on the size of your magical core." A thought seemed to occur to her with that. "Rose, have you fully transformed?"
"N-no. I grew wings and a tail by accident, but nothing more since then."
"Well, that'll be the first thing we'll have to teach you," Galio decided. "Kids look like their creators, and if you're pureblood, even more so."
"Not necessarily," Havi denied. "Dragons are extremely reclusive and reluctant about sharing information with the Community. We should first research the species, so we will be able to provide Rose with answers as she needs them. I'm sure she wants to better understand what she is too, and as kingmates, it's our duty and responsibility to take care of each other."
They mock saluted the princess and Rose's eyes stung. "Y-you would really do that for me?"
"You're one of us now," Galio declared firmly. "And we take care of our own. We'll be with one another for many centuries, after all. Better to make friends than enemies! Especially since I plan on being a ranger."
"You're way too stupid to become a ranger," Lanna sneered, her eyes gleaming with pure mischief.
Galio stuck his tongue out at her. "Shut yer beak, thunderbutt."
"Hush, children," Havi dismissed. "We have all year to discuss Galio's stupidity—"
"—But I suggest that we get a head start on helping our youngest kingmate. I was not exaggerating when I said it will be difficult to obtain accurate and unbiased information on pureblood dragons," Havi finished.
Philip gave a curt nod. "Havi is right. This is going to be hard enough for Rose, so the sooner we can help her, the better off she'll be."
All eyes then turned to Rose, and a few of them politely looked away. Lanna and Havi both moved towards the girl with leaking eyes, placing gentle hands on her shoulders.
Lanna gave her the brightest smile she could muster. "Don't worry, Rose. We'll take care of you. You're part of this family now."
Rose had never felt so warm before since she first caught fire almost a month ago.