“The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil” ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
The sound of damp cotton and hot skin sliding across sweat soaked leather mingled with the uneasy tread of horses on packed gravel. The morning sun sat high above the horizon and illuminated the woman’s back betraying her firm curves beneath a faded summer dress.
She hummed to herself as she put up the laundry on the clothesline. She snapped wooden clothes pins over the cloth with practiced efficiency.
Gloria dismounted and walked down the lane with the reins of the horses as Raul walked beside the beasts on the other side out of view. They ambled along to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Gloria looked down at the path of trampled stone and continued past the edge of the barn where she handed the reins to Raul.
She slipped around the corner of the building and ducked behind the open barn door next to a rain barrel when she heard footsteps coming around the far side. The woman walked inside the open double doors and paused. She listened and looked around. Behind the door, Gloria felt her adrenaline skyrocket as she sensed the other Dragon Sister and felt her energy. She was formidable and wary.
In the dim light of the old barn, a shaft of light burned through the shutters and illuminated Gloria’s quarry in swirling dust, like smoke rising in a protective curtain around the Dragon Sister. She rummaged in a dusty wooden bin and lifted a piece of pipe and looked up. Gloria paused three meters behind her. The woman’s pupils narrowed to slits and the irises burned in anticipation of a battle with an unknown enemy in the barn.
“Sister.” Gloria’s husky whisper escaped her anxiety choked throat.
A flash of movement registered in the light that cut through the musty air like lasers. Gloria held her ground and braced for an attack. A reply sliced through the silence on Gloria’s left side.
“You are not my sister,” came the icy reply.
“Come to me then and look into my eyes.” Gloria challenged the Dragon that stalked her in the shadows. Gloria’s demeanor was that of a warrior accustomed to winning in battle, but her heart raced, and her head pounded with tension.
Angry yellow eyes glowed in the shadows, fixed on Gloria.
“Attack me so I can kill you or recognize me now,” Gloria demanded. “I don’t have time to play games with a village girl.” Gloria’s battle-hardened nature fueled the urge for a fight and the taste of fresh flesh and blood.
A shape and face formed around the glowing yellow eyes as the woman approached Gloria. She stopped and glared into Gloria’s face.
“Your skin smells like a Cybrid whore, but your eyes are those of my sisters.” The cutting words stung Gloria reminding her she was an outcast and not entitled to live inside the love of the Black Dragon Sisterhood.
“It is good fortune to die before your pretty flesh burns from your bones and your skull crushes from the strike of a Cybrid whore fucking your man.”
The sound of the thick pipe hitting the dirt floor followed a hand touching Gloria on the cheek.
“You are the sister that fights the Cybrids alone.”
“We fight for our masters, our people, and each other.” Gloria reached around her Dragon Sister and hugged her. She closed her eyes and felt the raw power emanating from the younger Dragon.
“I need your help, sister. My man and I need food, fresh clothes, and a place to sleep,” Gloria pleaded.
“Where is your man?”
“He’s waiting outside with the horses.”
“Bring the horses here for safe keeping. Upstairs is an empty room where you can stay.”
* * *
Tesli knocked on the door then walked in with a tray of chicken Tabaka in hazelnut sauce, fresh baked bread, cheese, and wine. Georgian cuisine was famous throughout Eurasia and from the delicious smell of the food, Gloria felt the popularity was well founded.
Their host put the tray on the small table and set out the meals and flatware. Tesli placed a small vase with a single wildflower in the center of the table as Gloria and Raul approached. Their hunger showed in their eyes as the smell of the food excited their ravenous appetite.
The Dragons resisted devouring their meal like beasts. Raul busied himself with his meal and sipped his wine as his eyes shifted between Tesli and the door. He hadn’t lived to his current age on trust.
“Where is your man?” Gloria asked when she paused long enough to swallow her chicken with a sip of wine.
“He is off fighting the damned Cybrids. My man and I are the only Dragons left in this village. The rest died.” Tesli never lifted her eyes from the drab surface of the table. She pushed her fork around on her plate.
“Do you have children?” Gloria sensed her sister was vulnerable if she were alone.
“Dead,” was all Tesli would volunteer.
“How is it that the Cybrids can kill so many Dragons? They don’t have our skill, technology, and power in battle?” Gloria’s question caused Tesli to lift her gaze; hatred distorted her face.
“They have bred assassins that hunt us like animals. They wait until the advantage is theirs then strike us down one by one. They are voracious hunters and spare no one, not even the children.”
Gloria reached across the table and touched her sister’s hand. They entwined their fingers as Gloria spoke.
“Raul and I are here to end this if we can, but we need your help.”
“Ask it and I’ll do what I can,” Tesli promised as she looked into her older sister’s eyes and felt the soothing flow of her Dragon energy through her fingers.
“Raul and I need a ride to Tbilisi. We are to meet others there to help organize a resistance against the Cybrids.”
“I know someone that can help. Let’s enjoy our meal and then I’ll leave you to rest. When I bring breakfast at sunrise, I’ll tell you if we can grant your wish.”
The conversation that followed started with memories of the past when Dragons ruled their insular world, before Cybrids and the war. Gloria told of her fight with Mariah that resulted in the Dragons turning her into an abomination of part Dragon and part Cybrid to keep her alive. She lived so she could fight the Cybrids and their desire to turn on their masters. The outcast Dragon Sister wanted to return to the glory of the past. Raul placed his arm on Gloria’s shoulder and soothed her with his touch as she recounted the moment the war began.
* * *
Val rested on the couch as Vika showered before bed. The news on the video viewer droned on about failing economies and the widespread disappearance of people and families. Her phone buzzed as she stared at the peeling plaster on the ceiling.
“Val, I have two of the Dragons from Poti here. They need a ride to Tbilisi to meet their contacts. Can you help them?”
“Do you know their identity?”
“Yes, one is the sister that fought with your mother twenty years ago, and she has her man with her. He is the Romanian captain from Constanta; the one Vika was hunting on her last mission.” Tesli’s information caused Val’s stomach to tense with anticipation.
“Keep them there out of view. I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon to pick the Dragons up. Do not tell them who I am. Gloria will not go with me if she knows I am the daughter of the one that had her banished from the Black Dragon Sisterhood.”
“Okay. I understand.”
Tesli disconnected leaving Valeriya swimming in anxiety and anticipation of the moment she dreamed of all her life. Gloria was the reason she infiltrated the Dragon Sisters. Her secret life was spent arriving at this time. Now she needed to find a way to kill Vika and try to bring Gloria back to the Praetorian Guards. She would pave the way for her father and mother’s dream of Dragon and Cybrid living together to come true.
She would bring the mixed blood of Cybrids and Dragons to power realizing their destiny. Val felt the exaltation of bringing the Black Dragon prophecy to reality.
“The world belongs to the Hybrids.” The words spilled off of Val’s lips as Vika emerged from the bathroom.
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