It was the summer of 1957, and the night was calm and warm. The storm clouds from earlier were now just a few harmless puffs on the horizon, but the air still held a faint scent of sweet rain. A light breeze danced through the woods just outside of town, rustling the leaves of the oaks and maples and birches. And within these woods were two travelers, seemingly following some unseen path through the growth.
Come on, its just a little bit farther, called the man in the lead. He had short, scruffy, sandy brown hair and wore large, squarish glasses over his big sky blue eyes. He picked his way through the thick underbrush with an air of someone who had done it many time before. The woman behind him, however, wasnt having the same amount of luck.
I sure hope this it worth it, Will! shouted the petite Asian woman as she pulled her shirt free of another branch. I dont know how much longer my clothes can last out here. She paused to untangle a strand of red-highlighted hair from a bush. Or my hair.
The man scoffed. Pfft. Its not like you dont have enough clothes. And besides, were here. Then he stepped out into a small clearing.
The woman followed him, glad to be rid of those pesky branches at last. She swept her blouse and skirt free of any remaining leaves, then looked up at her surroundings. And her heart leaped into her throat when she saw what was growing in the clearing.
Happy Birthday, Cyphae, said the man happily.
Peonies. Hundreds of beautiful white peonies were nestled in that tiny clearing in the middle of the woods. The moonlight shone down in shafts between the tree branches, making the flowers seem to glow in the night. The scene was absolutely beautiful to her; almost too good to be true.
She had never seen so many flowers in one place before. Her eyes moved across the space, trying to take it all in. Did
did you do all this? she whispered, afraid that anything louder would break the magic and send all the flowers blowing away.
Will smiled. Yeah. I know peonies are your favorites, so I just thought it might make a nice small present for my best friends birthday. It took a while to find a spot far enough away from town so no one would steal the flowers, and it took a long time to save up to buy all the flowers, but it was worth it. I know its not much, but -
He was suddenly cut off by a tight hug from Cyphae. Dont be ridiculous. Its the most beautiful birthday present ever. Her violet eyes sparkled with joy.
Will beamed and returned the hug. Cmon, I got a couple of Cokes hidden in the bushes. Theyre not cold or anything, but I couldnt exactly plug a fridge in out here, could I?
Cyphae chuckled and joined him for a soda.
They sat amongst the flowers and talked for about an hour. Then Cyphae sighed and laid back in the grass, basking in the moonlight. Will followed suit, and they both laid there and gazed at the stars for a while.
Im so happy I met you, Will, Cyphae said suddenly. My people dont make many friends apart from other members of our
species. She paused at the last word like it was a curse word. A short silence followed before she continued. They say that humans are dangerous, and that were better off sticking to ourselves. But I dont care. I know that youd never do anything to hurt me. She smiled as she finished that sentence, her violet eyes beaming as well.
Of course I wouldnt, Cyphae! Will responded quickly. Let your family say what they will. Eventually theyll see that I mean you and your people no harm.
Cyphae smiled contently. Will
Promise me that well be friends forever. Even when were old and have our own husbands and wives and kids, promise that well always stay friends.
I promise, Cyphae, the man answered. Even when were old, he finished with a quirky smile. Then he picked off a nearby peony and sniffed it, taking in the scent. Even after all these flowers die.
Suddenly, a voice broke through the trees. Well, Im terribly sorry to burst in on this sweet moment, but I have some important business to attend to with that young lady there.
Cyphae and Will sat up and looked around for the source of the voice. Soon enough, a man in his mid-30s stepped out into the open. He had sleek black hair, a square jaw, he wore a gray suit that looked more suited for a business meeting than the middle of the woods, and held a black cane in his left hand. It was obvious he didnt need it. The words vanity cane suddenly sprang to mind.
Who are you? Will asked as he and Cyphae got to their feet. And what do you want with Cyphae?
The man chuckled lightly. Oh Will, you of all people should know why Im here for her. After all, you know her secret. He paused for a moment. As do I.
The womans eyes suddenly widened with fear. Will didnt
He couldnt have! He swore he wouldnt tell anyone!
The man continued speaking. But lets not dilly-dally any more. I simply want to take what I want and then Ill get out of your hair. Just dont try to run, Cyphae
He dropped his voice to an almost inaudible whisper. My little dragon.
Then there were men everywhere around them. They ran silently from the dark woods, carrying ropes and chains and knives. And they were all headed towards Cyphae.
Cyphaes body suddenly began to glow and shift. She seemed to become a tiny white star, glowing bright as the sun. She got brighter and brighter as her body continued to change. And then, less than a second later, the star faded to reveal a sleek silver Eastern dragon.
The dragon instantly took to the air, out of the mens reach. Will! she shouted. She looked around for her friend so she could snatch him up and take him with her to safety. Her eyes quickly scanned the area, searching desperately for him. But Will was nowhere in the tiny clearing.
Then she felt something around her tail pull her downwards. She realized it was one of the ropes and tried to fly back upwards, roaring in defiance. But as soon as she was back within the humans reach, more ropes and chains followed, sailing over her back and pulling her closer and closer to the ground. She was soon pinned to the dirt, struggling and growling menacingly against her restraints. But the men that held her were strong and held the ropes fast. One man sat on the back of her head and managed to duct tape her jaws together like a crocodiles.
Her eyes were still searching wildly for Will when the man in the gray suit stepped forward and kneeled by her head.
Looking for your friend? the man shook his head. Tsk tsk. My dear, didnt you realize? It was your friend that led us here in the first place. Hes long gone by now. Probably to go pick up that hefty reward we left him for your capture. But dont worry. I told you wed let you go once I got what I wanted.
He pulled out a vicious-looking hunting knife from inside his jacket.
Im sorry to have spoiled your birthday, my dear, the man said with no sympathy in his voice. He raised the knife above Cyphaes head. But it looks like checkmate for you.
And then the dragon roared in pain and betrayal as the blade was brought down across her left eye.
When the sun came up the next morning, both the men and the dragon were gone.
All that was left as evidence of the night before were hundreds of white peonies, trampled and covered with blood.