The Dragon's Willow

It is a dark age for the shapeshifters. Nerves are touchy, tempers are rising and greed is brewing among races. Aislinne Rosewood, the heir to the dragon throne, is soon to be the ruler of a people that are restless and suspicious, having been recovering from a major wound many, many years ago. Beginning with her father, the dragon race began a long process of healing, but just as it seems they might have some success, they recieve another blow, causing trouble for Aislinne. Now, she must pick up the pieces of her broken kingdom and gain their trust. But will it be another that she cannot trust? Or is Aislinne the biggest threat?

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1. Chapter One

Aislinne sighed as the bell rang, signaling the start of chemistry, her final class of the day. The memory of her best friend, who went by the nickname Ace, floated to the forefront of her mind. He had temporarily moved to Chicago for his father’s job, and would be back soon. She hoped anyways, because anything could have happened to him. They had kept up a long string of emails and texts going, but that never could quite replace direct contact. She happened to look up to see the teacher talking with a student she knew immediately. Ace was back.

 

Her first reaction was happiness, true pure joy at having her best friend returned to her safely. Then, as she observed him, her heart sank. He was different by a long shot. And it was obvious to her. His glamour was wavering back and forth between human and Versipellis. She narrowed her eyes, wondering why she’d never seen this change before, until her own father’s words dawned on her.

                                                            

“At seventeen, Versipellis draconis gains gifted sight, enabling them to see beyond glamours of other Versipellis draconis.”

 

Aislinne had just turned seventeen the last summer, and realized she was now “gifted”. She narrowed her eyes at her book, and then looked once more out of curiosity. For a fleeting moment, she panicked irrationally. What if this boy wasn’t actually Ace? Who was he really? Why did he look exactly like Ace? Adjusting her vision to zoom in on the boy’s face, she scrutinized his features. He certainly looked like Indy, perhaps a bit older than she remembered, but other than that, she couldn’t find any difference. She shifted her gaze to the spot she knew only he would have a tattoo. Few had tattoos of dragons curled around their ears.

 

The teacher gestured in her general direction, pointing at the seat next to her; Aislinne automatically scooted over slightly. When he began walking towards the desk, she let go of her breath, immensely relieved. She had Ace back, and he was for real. His messy dark hair fell into his eyes as he sat down but he brushed it away, subtly scooting his seat closer to hers. Their teacher, Mr. Lansing, looked up, but seemed to decide against reprimanding Ace. There was a reason for that.

 

Even before he had left, Ace had been something of a cool kid, always going with the flow. Yet despite being popular with everyone, he remained attached to his academic life, keeping up with his studies. Ace hadn’t been snobby either; he treated everyone equally, more or less. There was one more fact about him that most took for granted; he was the energy in the school. Whenever he was around, there was more life in the students, and none of the teachers dared ask. They never questioned him about anything either. Aislinne had seen him get away with missing three homework assignments in a row with no repercussions.

 

“We’ll be starting a lab tomorrow. Your lab partners will be the people sitting at your table with you. No questions.”

 

Suddenly overcome with uncharacteristic shyness, Aislinne hunched her shoulders, looking away from Ace. She stared at her hands, blushing slightly. It was either get it over now or let it stew overnight. Considering her current situation and the dangers that lay with it, she was most likely better off keeping it short.

 

“Ace? Do you remember me?”

 

“I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

 

His deep violet eyes shone with a draconis light only she could see, and their green flecks seemed to share an inside joke with her. Aislinne turned away, hurt and confused. After a long year of frustration, she’d gotten her best friend back only to have him not remember her. It was only then that she remembered he had told her to call him Alex, and only her. She sighed quietly, and then tried one more time.

 

“Alex.”

 

“Ah, yes. I do believe you are who I think you are. Hey, Ash.”

 

A second wave of relief washed over her. Aislinne smiled, understanding the joke in his flecked eyes. When his arm accidentally brushed hers, a shiver involuntarily ran down her spine. His touch still made her tingle all over, no matter how long she knew him or how close they were. Under the table, Ace slyly slid his hand into hers and held it tightly.

 

“Alex, now of all times?” Aislinne warned.

 

“Sh. He’s going over class procedures.”

 

Perplexed, she shook her head. Most times, he could switch conversations in a blink of an eye, leaving her without a clue. Even now as the minutes ticked by and he never let go of her hand, she had no idea what would happen next, if anything. She snuck a sideways glance at him through the corner of her eye just as Mr. Lansing dimmed the lights. Her classmates sighed in relief, and the movie began.

 

“So, how’s the year been?” Ace whispered.

 

“Honestly, terrible.” Her words were biting.

 

“Terrible?”

 

Aislinne returned his concerned look with a curt nod, not wanting to talk about it. When he’d moved, the girls who had fawned over him had immediately looked for someone to blame, and saw her fit. Thus, her life became a day-to-day torture with no one to turn to for help. She wanted him to feel her pain, as irrational as the thought was. The memories began resurfacing, bringing tears to her eyes. Ace wiped away a glistening droplet, but she pushed his hand off.

“Ash, I’m sorry. My dad wouldn’t let me stay.”

 

“I know.” She bit her lip.

 

Wordlessly, he hugged her, resting his cheek on her hair. At first, she stiffened, not ready to forgive just yet, but when he gave her an imploring look, widening his eyes just enough to irritate her, she returned the embrace. Aislinne sighed, leaning slightly on his shoulder, staring at the movie without really watching.

 

“They hated me.”

 

“I’ll talk with them later.”

 

“They’ll never stop.”

 

“I’ll make them.”

 

“You don’t understand them, do you?”

 

“Do I, Ash?”

 

“You are infuriatingly thick sometimes. They will never stop. The whole lot of them is bent on making me life hell.”

 

“Stop talking, whoever it is.” Mr. Lansing called out.

 

“They hang onto my every word.” Ace mumbled to her.

 

“Nothing stops hatred.” She shot back under her breath.

 

“Except perhaps love.”

 

“What?” Aislinne drew away from him.

 

“You heard me.” He smirked.

 

“You have got to be kidding me.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry. I am.”

 

Aislinne was silent for a long time. Then she gave him a long hard look, after which she rested her chin on her hands, closing her eyes. A tense moment of silence passed before she spoke again

 

“You never make it easy.”

 

“Easy? Ash, you’ve changed more than I thought.”

 

“Shut up. This is my favorite part of the movie.”

 

She stared straight ahead, glaring at the projector screen. Ace chuckled quietly, leaning back in his seat. The rest of class passed in stony silence, and Aislinne slowly unclenched her jaw. She’d completely forgotten how difficult things were with Ace around, and now it was slapping her in the face. Her lashes brushed her cheekbones as she blinked, casually switching from human eyes to dragon.

 

“You’re adorable, you know that?” Ace elbowed her.

 

“I’m not that much younger than you are.”

 

“A whole four months, Aislinne.”

 

“I might be younger, but who got the maturity?”

 

“Who has the experience?” He returned.

 

“Who suffered more?”

 

Ace had no answer for that. He fell silent, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. Aislinne was a stubborn one. She was fairly slow to anger, but that being said, she was slow to forgive also. Ace chewed on his bottom lip, thinking. Now he felt bad for ribbing her, but he’d felt worse when his father had announced the move.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Tell that to your fanclub.”

 

“Can you forgive me?”

 

His last question was hardly audible, even for her sharp senses. Aislinne closed her flecked dragon eyes, opened her human ones and gave him a tiny nod. This time, when he moved to wipe away her tears, she let him.

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