The squeak of damp cotton and hot skin sliding across sweat soaked leather mingled with the tread of horses on gravel. The sun sat above the horizon and illuminated the peasant 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. Wooden clothes pins snapped 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 ready to jump into action if needed. 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. He placed himself between the horses to remain partially hidden.
Footsteps announced the woman coming around the far side. Gloria slipped around the corner of the building and ducked behind the open barn door next to a rain barrel. The woman walked through the open door and paused. She listened and looked around. Behind the door, Gloria felt her adrenaline skyrocket. She observed the other Dragon Sister through the crack between the door and frame. The young woman was wary. Perhaps she sensed the eyes on her or heard Gloria’s labored breath.
In the dim light of the old barn, a shaft of light burned through the shutters and illuminated Gloria’s quarry in swirling dust rising in a curtain around the Dragon Sister. She rummaged in a wooden bin and lifted a piece of pipe and looked around. Gloria paused in the shadows. The woman’s eyes narrowed to slits in anticipation of a battle with an unknown enemy stalking her 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 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 eyes glowed in the dun colored dark, 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 blood.
A face formed around the glowing eyes as the woman approached Gloria. She stopped and glared.
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 bond of the Dragon Sisterhood.
“It is good fortune to die before your pretty flesh sags from your bones and your skull cracks from the rage 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 people, and each other.” Gloria reached around her Dragon Sister and hugged her. She closed her eyes and felt the raw strength of 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 in here for safe keeping. Upstairs is an empty room where you can stay.”
* * *
Tesli, the young Dragon Sister, 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 herb and spice 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 joined her. Their hunger showed in their eyes as the smell of the savory 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 alone.
“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 were killed.” 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 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 as she 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 at her older sister and felt the comfort of being with this strange Dragon warrior that looked and smelled like a Cybrid but had the bold instinct of a Dragon Praetorian.
“Raul and I need a ride to Tbilisi. We are to meet others there to help organize a resistance against the Cybrids. I have a contact number to call to arrange a meeting. Can you make this call for us from a secure location? If the number is compromised, we don’t want to bring anymore sadness to you or the village.”
“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.”
A conversation ensued that started with Gloria and Raul recounting 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. In time she learned of the Dragons’ plan to evolve beyond the limitations of their flesh by breeding with Cybrids after they had matured and historical advances stacked up in the helix coil of their Cybrid DNA.
Gloria had lived to fight the Cybrids and their desire to turn on their surrogate parents’ dream of unity. She told how she saw the light, lived it in her body built from Mariah’s labor, the Cybrid she once tried to kill. The outcast Dragon Sister wanted to return to the right path. Raul placed his arm on Gloria’s shoulder and soothed her with his touch as she recounted the moment the war began.
That fateful moment when Gloria’s rage bought her a bullet through the cervical spine, fired by a beloved Dragon Master haunted Gloria though no one ever spoke of it again. In a voice cracked by emotion, Gloria told of her flesh withering, her organs failing, her mind shut off from her dying body. She was a patchwork of temporary fixes until Mariah spent all of her working hours devising ways to splice Gloria’s DNA with Cybrid stem cells, rebuilding her from the inside out. Now, she was a sentient machine, an apex predator hunting down the last enclave of Rebels intent on remaining free of Dragons to rule their own domain. That decision had earned them a death sentence.
* * *
Val rested on the couch as Vika showered before bed. The news on the 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 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 to Romania.” 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 them up. Do not tell them I am the one coming for them. Tell them to prepare to leave quickly when their ride arrives.
“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 joined the Dragon Sisters. Her secret life was spent arriving at this moment. Now, she needed to find a way to kill Vika without bringing suspicion on herself. She would bring Gloria back with her to the Praetorian Guards. She would pave the way for her father and mother’s dream of Dragon and Cybrid living together in peace after this rebellion was put down. She felt the weight of her plan press the breath out of her lungs. She would have to use Gloria in terrible ways to achieve her goal.
This mission would bring the mixed blood of Cybrids and Dragons to power; realizing their destiny. Val felt the exaltation of bringing the Dragon prophecy to reality. “The world belongs to the Hybrids.” The words spilled off of Val’s lips as Vika emerged from the shower.