“Maple? You mean one of my bestest best friend in the entire world? She’s awesome! I love her! She’s clever and fierce and kind- when she wants to be anyway- and overall a really great dragon to know! How could you not like her?”
On the crisp, fallen leaves of a maple tree, an egg hatched.
The tanish brown eggshell, with swirls and starbursts of a nearly hidden gold, fell apart to reveal a small bundle of dusty yellow scales.
The dragonet’s parents, Mist and Hyrax, were overjoyed at her hatching, and dubbed her with the name Maple. They showered her with all their love and attention, as if she were the best thing that had ever happened to the both of them.
For the first few months of her life, the family of three lived on the outskirts of the Mud Kingdom, tucked away from the prying and judgemental eyes of other MudWings. From time to time, Mist’s siblings would stop by to say hello, but their visits usually always ended up with them arguing amongst one another, while Hyrax took Maple to one of the farthest rooms from the shouting and read scrolls to her.
Soon, Mist decided it would be best for all of them if they moved to a secluded place from the rest of Pyrrhia. Having a wide variety of knowledge on Pyrrhia’s geography and maps, she suggested that they moved to a small island in the Bay of A Thousands Scales.
And so that’s what they did.
With the help of a few friends and willing relatives, Mist and Hyrax managed to move all their belongings into a cave located on the center of the chosen island.
Maple was hardly fazed over the move, and actually relished in the expanse landscape that she was able to explore. With her parents’ strict restrictions in mind, she would move about freely and collect anything she found remotely interesting to her, before locking them away in a chest her father had bought for her from the mainland.
For the next few months, her family was living happy, comfortable lives.
That is, until Hyrax’s body was found at the bottom of the ocean.
Maple and her mother were horrified, with the former developing a hatred and fear of the sea. No longer would she happily play along the beach’s shores, instead keeping to the island’s thick forestry. A change in her usual daily schedule was prominent as well. She would stay away from home during the daytimes, preferring not to interact with Mist’s growing bitterness and attitude, and only returned when night had befallen and she knew her mother was fast asleep.
Almost a month after Hyrax’s death, Mist thought it best they move from the island (she was well aware it wasn’t doing either of them any good), and made plans to live in Possibility, a city accepting of all tribes. Wanting to travel light and quickly, they didn’t take many belongings with them and left early in the morning the day after the decision had been made. The flight lasted for about the entire day, with frequent stops being an essential, before finally landing on Possibility soil in the late afternoon.
Using old contacts, Mist was able to find them a small rented-out house to live from a NightWing. She bought them new furniture; several scrolls and scroll shelves, various cushions and blankets of browns, golds, and light shades of yellow that reminded them of Hyrax’s scales, and wooden night tables.
Almost immediately Maple was enrolled into the nearby school. It wasn’t something she had experienced before, and she was positive that almost all the other students knew it. Maple kept mostly to herself, choosing to act shy and quiet and wandering the halls and library alone. Anyone who attempted to approach her was either snapped at or shot such a venomous glare that they would fidget uncomfortably before hurriedly excusing themselves and scurrying away.
Only one dragon managed to wiggle their way through her angry facade.
Burro was an interesting dragon. Large and empathetic and undeniably understanding. Their first encounter started off no different from the rest. During a free period, Maple had been found reading in the library alone, never once glancing up from her scroll until a sudden wave of heat overtook her right and a pale yellow shape sat comfortably beside her. Maple snarled for her to leave, which was politely ignored by the older dragon as she grabbed whatever scroll was closest to her on the shelf and read.
This carried on for days.
On the fifth day of their unspoken arrangement, Maple finally uttered a word.
Or four, to be more precise.
“Why are you here?”
Burro blinked in astonishment for a few quick moments before jokingly replying, “Well, I do go to school here. And the library is a public space so...”
She was rewarded with a glare.
The older SandWing ducked her head, trying (and failing) to hide her smile. “Maple, you’re lonely. You might not allow yourself to admit it, but it’s quite obvious to those around you. I just want to keep you company. Fill the void that plagues you. Lots of dragons do. Why don’t you let them in?”
The dragoness only narrowed her eyes in response and returned to reading her scroll, promptly ending the conversation there.
Soon, months passed and the two grew closer, even growing a sister-like bond. Maple continued her avoidance of everyone of course, despite Burro’s disapproval, but learned to regularly open up to her.
“It’s healthy,” the SandWing had pointed out after Maple had finally spilled out all her worries and fears and grief. “To talk to others, I mean. You can’t carry that all alone. No one can. No one should. I’m glad you talked to me.” She threw her wings around her in a heart-warming hug that lasted until the end of their break.
And for the first time in many years, Maple was content.
Unfortunately, good things never last.
At least, not for very long in her life.
The end of the school year was approaching, and that meant the seniors would be graduating in the next couple of weeks.
That meant Burro was leaving.
Burro immediately sought her out once the news was announced. Maple was there, of course, not finding any reason to attempt and hide when Burro somehow knew where she was at all times during her frequent periods of distress.
Even with that well established fact, she wasn’t the least bit pleased when she sat down beside her.
“We can still keep in touch.”
She was ignored, and it stayed that way for the remaining school days- to the point where Burro gave up trying. They still read together in the library, but any attempts at conversation were brought to an end.
The last day was quick to roll around the corner, and ended in a blur of congratulations and heartfelt goodbyes to the graduating students. Maple watched it all from shadowed corners with contempt and disdain, her eyes burning holes of hatred into the scales of someone she had once thought was her friend.
Her break was spent doing absolutely nothing. Burro kept true to her word and sent Maple letters from the SandWing Stronghold, but they were either violently shredded or carelessly tossed away. It wasn’t long before they stopped coming, too, when no replies were given.
Once her anger at Burro was over, things went back to the normal she was used to before she’d know the older SandWing. Fleeing from her mother and spending nights in an abandoned tavern grew more prominent, however, with Mist growing more stressed and frustrated at the fact the restaurant she cooked for was slowly starting to rouse less and less interest from the residents of Possibility, her shortening monthly pay being prime example of it.
And two years after Burro’s graduation, it finally closed down.
Mist was infuriated with the development, and rushed for months to acquire a new job, delaying their due rent to their landlord for as long as she could. But, unfortunately, no work opportunities became available. No matter how much the MudWing refused to admit it, Maple knew she was stuck and that the two of them were obviously struggling in the financial department.
So her mind formulated a plan.
It should have been simple, really. Break into Queen Andhi’s stronghold, knock out whoever stood in her way without being seen, grab a few bagfuls worth of jewels, and then return to the safety of her own home.
To say things didn’t go as easily as she would have liked was an understatement.
With cloth bags tied to her wings, tail, and neck, and a knife tucked away inconspicuously in one of them, Maple set off under the cover of night, her mother in too deep of a slumber to notice.
Her heist started exactly as to be expected. After locating the stronghold’s back entrance and swiftly taking care of the soldiers stationed there, she slithered onto cool marble tiles paired with sparkling silver walls and made her way to where she could only hope was the direction of the treasury.
Most of the SandWings she came across were dumped into the nearest empty rooms she could find. Her fifth or so victim was dragged to the courtyard, his body left to slump against one of the south walls. As she turned to leave for the continuation of her quest, her ears pricked at the sound of approaching footsteps. Without much thought, she dashed over a section of the courtyard most shrouded in darkness and crouched, waiting.
Her gaze was greeted with the sight of a typical SandWing, who mumbled nonsense to himself barely beneath his breath. He was anxious as he glared around the courtyard. When he finally caught sight of the unconscious guard and carefully made his way over to him, his anxiety only increased tenfold.
With the SandWing’s back to her, Maple it as an opportunity to creep from out of her shadows and towards the exit.
She came to a halt, however, when he suddenly turned around to face her.
His eyes flashed with pure terror as Maple took a fighting stance, conflicted between what action to take.
Let him live, she was sure to be imprisoned or dead.
Kill him and she’d be safe.
Ignoring whatever words he was stammering to her, Maple begun her attack.
The SandWing was able to stay alive for a good few moments (especially since he seemed to harbour little to no battle techniques), but not long enough to last against Maple’s determination and pent up fury.
And soon, her adversary lay, slain, beneath her feet.
Whatever trickle of guilt she may have felt was lost to her sea of triumph and thrill of her kill. She moved on.
A few more unconscious guards and several halls later, she’d finally stumbled upon the treasury, along with another guard who spotted her before she could retaliate.
And it was Burro.