"Hazzi, be nice!"

The staring contest lasted for a couple of seconds, long enough for Beth to realize that she wasn't faster or smarter than this canine, long enough for Layne to realize that Hazzi was ignoring her command.  Beth scrambled, struggling to get to her feet so she might have a chance of climbing one of the broken trees.  Something fluffy and frail, yet powerful and resistant, shifted when she twisted around.  The sound was like rubbing two pieces of cloth of different textures against each other.  And then there was another sound, the hot panting of breath and a rough growl of effort; she lunged, but the fluffy resistance didn't move fast enough and Beth found herself lying sprawled on her face.  Her nose throbbed.  Her back was shrieking with protest at what might normally have been a pretty comfortable position if it weren't for the twisted, lumpy things she was tangled in.  Somehow, the pain was going beyond her back and extending outwards, radiating out into a part of her body that she didn't know she'd previously had, and finally had to admit existed.

She had wings.  There were real feathery things poking out of her that she could fly with, in theory, that is.  Layne had said Beth had wings and she did, and Layne did too, though hers were black.  This was no hallucination.  Presumably, that meant that the little girl who had summoned a wolf was not insane.

Pulled back to the present by that thought, Beth dared to move her head, wondering why she wasn't torn to shreds.  The couple seconds that had passed were more than enough for a wolf to clamp its jaws around an unprotected throat. 

Layne had tackled the wolf and he had acted accordingly, switching his attack and pinning the young girl down.  His head was bent. 

A red glaze filmed over Beth's vision.  Her various aches and pains vanished; the sensation of blood dribbling over her lips was far away, pleasantly cool now.  Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.  She saw now that the wolf's tail was wagging, lowered in submission, and he was only licking at Layne's cheeks instead of eating her face, but she couldn't stop.  Her shoulders tensed and her wings were pulled out from underneath her with a jerk.  The pain was sickening, but somehow still far away even as the delicate surfaces ripped. 

The next couple seconds were a blur.  One moment Layne was reaching up to scratch behind a slightly torn, perky ear and the next Hazzi was being flung away from her by Beth, who had grabbed his forelegs in one hand and his hind legs in the other.

There was total silence as both wolf and girl stared at Beth.  And then Layne squealed.  "Wow, that was so cool!  Do it again!"

Beth didn't reply.  She was utterly stunned.  What was that?  She'd never raised a hand against anybody before, and here she'd just manhandled a wolf!

"You're bleeding."  Layne wriggled out of the older girl's grasp and inspected her wings, gently tugging at feathers here and there.  Beth suddenly ached worse than ever.  Her nose continued bleeding. 

Tell new alpha to hold nose shut with artificial fur.  Breathe through mouth.

Layne reached up to touch Beth's cheek.  "Hazzi said to hold your nose shut with your shirt and breathe through your mouth."

Her voice muffled and nasally, Beth couldn't help the tired spark of interest.  "You can talk to him?"

"Of course.  Wouldn't you be able to talk to your wollof?"

"I guess so," Beth conceded.  Warm blood was trickling through her fingers; she shuddered.

"Come home with me."

"Oh, no, Layne.  I couldn't."

"You have to!  I want to know."

"Know what?"

"Everything!"

Beth laughed, then winced.  "I don't know what you think I am, but I don't know everything."

"Not everything everything.  Everything about you."

"Why?"

"Well..."

"Be honest with me."

"Well, you're weird!"  Beth let out a startled bray of laughter, cutting it off quickly when she realized how hysterical it was.  "I thought other people were fairytales."

"Where is this?"

"It's my island!" 

Layne looked so ready to burst with pride that Beth almost stopped right there.  "It's a very, um, pretty place."  The wreckage around her was anything but, but she could see beyond the broke trees and knew that yes, it was beautiful.  "What happened?  Here, I mean."

Layne was quiet for awhile as she stroked Hazzi's fur.  The wolf  twitched an ear.  Careful, he warned.

"Momma told me not to talk to strangers.  I never did, 'cause there weren't any.  I always used to laugh.  But now you're here!  But you aren't what the people in my books are like.

"I didn't think you'd have wings like me.  And you're supposed to have a horse or a dog that Hazzi could play with.  You were supposed to be younger.  And you were supposed to be a boy."  Beth blushed under Layne's scrutiny of her chest, as if she'd just figured out that it obviously meant she wasn't male.  "It's always a boy."

"Always?"

A nod.  "You were supposed to rescue me.  That's what always happens to girls in stories when they're lonely and stranded.  They get rescued by princes on white horses who just killed dragons and monsters.  I like dragons, though.  I'd want my prince to tame it.  He could kill the monsters, though.  Monsters are scary."  Layne added, "It's all going wrong now.  It isn't right.  Why aren't you a guy?"

Beth figured she'd come back to that and asked, "Are you lonely and stranded, Layne?  Is that why you want a prince?"

Layne said nothing.  And walked away. 

Flight of Dappled ShadowsRead this story for FREE!