Eliana felt breathless, light-headed. She was excited, but also anxious – her mother had died when she was five but she could still remember her voice, to read her words again, hear them in her head… Tears glistened in her eyes as she held the parchment with trembling hands.
Why had her father hidden it from her? Because in this dirty old box, buried under all the other crap in the chest – it had obviously been purposefully hidden.
But it was hers.
Eliana flicked a thumb and broke the wax seal. Slowly, hardly breathing, she unfurled the heavy paper.
The note was short.
To my daughter, Eliana.
My brightest light, my little ray of sunshine.
I will have already left when you read this. I am to be ripped from this world far too soon. You were too young to understand, but now you are ready. Hold the egg in your hands, he will answer to your touch. He will explain all the things I wish I’d had the time to teach you.
I love you, little star. I’ll see you in heaven.
Eliana wiped her snotty nose with the back of her hand, gulping back sobs. She had forgotten how her mother called her little star. Her father didn’t call her that anymore; perhaps her mother’s death was still too raw, even almost a decade later.
She read the note over and over, the strength of her emotions blurring the actual meaning of the words. Eventually her mind focused on one sentence.
Hold the egg in your hands, he will answer to your touch.
Tentatively, Eliana reached back into the leather pouch. Her fingers closed around something smooth and round, about the size of –
‘An egg,’ she whispered, gazing in wonder at the egg-shaped object she now held in her hands. It was smooth and white, like marble, with veins of grey and gold. It felt heavier than a normal chicken’s egg, more solid. She stared at it, beginning to feel impatient.
The note said just to hold it. But could she – should she – try and open it somehow?
She tapped it gently with a finger, feeling silly as she hesitantly said: ‘hello?’
The egg felt warmer, she realised. In fact, it was quickly getting hotter and hotter.
Eliana squealed as within just a few seconds it had become hot enough to burn her and she dropped it. The egg glowed bright, making the burning oil lamp by her side seem pitiful.
Eliana began to panic. What if it set the ship on fire? Could she stop it?
The light was getting brighter, blinding. She could feel white-hot heat radiating from the egg. She threw up an arm to shield her eyes. A tear escaped from a tightly closed eye.
Scared, she was so scared.
Then, the light stopped. Slowly, fearfully, Eliana lowered her arm.
The egg, the stone, whatever it had been – was gone.
In its place, floating above a patch of scorched wood, was – Eliana didn’t have words for what it was.
It was the size of a kitten, but it looked like a dragon. Yes, she remembered a stall at a bazaar perhaps two or three years ago. Merchants from the Far East selling paper lanterns, fragrant teas and figurines of this sort of long, serpentine dragon.
Unlike those dragons, however, the creature was not solid. It was translucent, glowing, as if it were made of pure light. Ghostly, but ethereally beautiful.
It hovered there, long tail coiling around its slender body and flickering playfully, looking at her curiously.
‘You look young.’ The voice was low and suspicious, and distinctly male.
Eliana jumped backwards – she hadn’t expected it to speak. ‘What are you?’
‘How rude!’ it said, ‘You’ve only just met me and before you even ask my name we’re getting into species politics, are we?’
Eliana crossed her arms indignantly and pouted. ‘You didn’t ask my name either, you just said I look young!’
‘Well you do, for eighteen.’
‘That’s because I’m only fourteen.‘
The thing floated up towards her face. In contrast to its luminescent body it’s eyes were deep blue and glittered with silver stars, as if they were made of the night sky itself. A warm glow radiated from it.
‘What did you say?’ it whispered, low and urgent.
Eliana gulped, ‘that I’m only fourteen.’
The dragon thing swiveled its head, taking in the ship’s underbelly, the upturned chest, the letter with the broken seal…
‘Oh no,’ it said to itself. ‘Your father didn’t give you the letter. You just found it… Oh no, oh no, oh no.’
‘What?’ Eliana whispered.
‘There’s not really time for introductions now,’ said the dragon. ‘I’m Indri, I’m a… friend… of your mother. And we need to go speak to your father.’
Eliana bit her lip, ‘am I in trouble?’
‘We’re all in trouble,’ Indri replied.