HAVEN • by Kevin Shamel

Spears of sunlight pierced the high canopy and plunged themselves into the forest floor. The floating things of the forest shone in the twisting rays of light — seedpods, and dust, and bugs flashing into the shadows.

Lylee tried to ignore the slow beauty of the deep grove. Blanketed by a thousand years of cedar needles, the floor was a silent sponge. Moss, and spice, and those shafts of sun hanging through the life-wise behemoth trees made her heart full — an ancient reflex, an instinctual feeling of home. She shook her head, sharpening her eyes, opening her ears.

The encompassing hush of the grove shifted to absolute stillness. Not a scurry or shuffle. No twits of squirrels, not a squawk from the tops of the trees. Even the wind stayed its sway of the forest’s crown. Lylee could hear the scrape of a centipede on the tree trunk above her head.

She slowed her breathing, shut out the sound of her beating heart. She sank into the high roots of the tree, pressing her back to its wide trunk, dreading the scuff of soft leather on loam.

Deep under her, in the thinnest fingers of the tree’s roots, she felt a shudder. Ringing up the tree, a slow thud. A quiet vibration crept down the mountain, barely an echo in the ground. But it shook Lylee as it crawled over her.

The dragon had come into the trees.

In her heart, she’d known he would. Even the most foolish fool knew that Cobalt of Wings Peak — Black Shadow of the Overworld and Highest Rider of the Sky — King of Dragons feared no danger imagined or devised by humankind, dragonkind, or Mother Earth herself.

There were stories that the ancient cedar forest held a magic over all dragons. The wizards and the wise proclaimed Cedar Grove a safe haven.

When pressed as to the particulars, they would mumble about ancient wisdom and spells, waving away questions with wrinkled impatience. “Trust me, girl, the Grove has never welcomed a dragon into its shadows. No dragon, not even their King, would enter.”

Yet here he was.

Another slow footfall, shaking its way through the tree and into her heart.

Time turned slow, and the spears of sun froze in the air. Dragon’s breath wafted its way down-breeze. Another step, softer this time. Lylee stopped breathing. She longed to wipe away the strand of sweaty hair falling across her eye, but she heard the rasp of dragon scales. The tiniest twig popped on the other side of her tree.

Lylee’s heart slammed to her throat, its drumming filled her ears. She wanted to close her eyes, and she almost did.

But there was his head — brilliantly speared with a bolt of again-golden sun. His terrible eye focused on her startled stare. Cobalt, King of Dragons, wound his way from behind the heavy tree, his black body uncoiling before her.

Lylee met his penetrating gaze, letting out her breath. She straightened herself, and finally wiped the hair from her face. “You came into the Grove.”

Cobalt’s head swooped close to her. “A forest? Come on, Lylee, I breathe fire.”

She reached up and took hold of his exquisite face. “You certainly do, lover. You certainly do. And you pass the second test. You found me on the other side of the world — and in this place where dragons supposedly dare not enter.”

“I’ve missed you.”

She smiled the way she did for only him. “One final test of your spirit, and you will be worthy of my heart and kingdom.”

“And you of mine. At the full moon, I shall sing your secret song — the one that moves your blood and guides your feet — the music of your soul.”

Lylee shivered — cool and warm at once. “And if it’s Dragon Rhythm…”

“Then we are one,” he whispered with her.

Sunlight lit his night-colored scales in spear points. He came down to her like a warm field of stars; a universe of heated dragon.

They wrapped the forest around them — blanketed in shadows and spice, floating on slow currents in the tide of trees.

Kevin Shamel writes a strange mix of stories that he hopes are as entertaining to others as they are to him. The story “Haven” was first written as a joke to raise his professor’s brows.

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