If Jeremy could be anything, she’d be a dragon. Since that was implausible, she settled on herself; hair dyed bright, tight curls styled to a ridge, and a constant trail of smoke seeping out from the back of her mouth. It blended with her hot breath on the morning chill, making her fog trail distinct from the other joggers.
Sunmi was shorter by a foot and a half; taking the hazardous, bush-filled side of the paved path. She neatly ducked under some rhododendrum, not at all wishing she were taller or a mythical beast. Mostly, she wished she could keep up with the sixty-something woman beside her, and that Mugsly wouldn’t roll in mud this time.
Bi-weekly runs continued as scheduled provided Sunmi took responsibility for whatever trouble the Boston Terrier-ish dog could get into. Sunmi needed to keep her joints active and really, any excuse to relate with an elder queer individual was fine by her. Including Mugsly’s muddy interludes.
“Another K?” Jeremy asked, issuing smoke freely.
Sunmi flicked up her wrist. Her knees and hip were free of their craft residue, but judging her endurance another kilometre was tolerable. She shot a look back to Mugsly, who was panting and beginning to lope.
Jeremy did the same. “Better part of a K?”
“And pace down,” Sunmi suggested.
They ended at Stippling Rock – the boulder’s embedded tree in full bloom.
Sunmi doused herself with the remainder of her water while Jeremy wrassled with Mugsly. Now that they’d stopped moving, Sunmi’s knees and right hip glowed a soft, effervescent purple.
“And then the goal is to run past diffusing the craft accumulation, so I have the endurance to do the maintenance run easily.”
Jeremy was nodding her head deeply, though face forward on the tumbling Mugsly. “Your progress is fantastic.”
Over the ridge and rocky beach, Sunmi aggressively breathed clouds of fog at the ocean. “Two months?”
“Ha, two weeks.“
Sunmi was just smiling over her shoulder when an uproar of brush snapping crashed from the wooded tip of Stippling Point’s peninsula.
Jeremy’s scarred hands held Mugsly in place, her breathing instantly stilled with the barest whisper of smoke hanging from her nostrils. Sunmi was uncertain and with her heart in her throat, Jeremy knew as much with with a look that Sunmi in turn regarded as steadfast and cautious.
Sharp cracks of branches continued in the wood. No one had seen a Brachen in years, Sunmi had been living in the city just two months when one last appeared.
Twenty thousand dollars of land damage, three serious injuries, eighteen casters hospitalized, and five teams of mages were sent to comb the woods.
But Brachen wouldn’t be found unless they wanted to be, and didn’t make an appearance unless there was something to consume – something unnatural, harmful.
In her throat, Sunmi’s heart did jumping jacks. She flicked her wrist over, her gauge read 0.01% accumulate, and not the sort of thing a Bracken consumed to the best of anyone’s knowledge. Her joints, 80% synthetic as they were, ached at the creature’s presence as though that negligibly full. She looked back to Jeremy who looked as though she might have swallowed a fly.
One hand holding the increasingly wriggly Mugsly, Jeremy pointed a scarred finger at her throat and its tumid shape.
Sunmi frowned, until Jeremy gave a sardonic sigh – a massive issue of pent up smoke illustrating her concern.
After recovering, Sunmi gave a doubtful look.
A massive crack sounded, close and shaking the earth.
The impatient Mugsly was now borderline vibrating.
Gesturing packed with adrenaline, Sunmi suggested getting out of the way.
But what if they were the target? Jeremy responded.
The preceding haze of the Brachen creeped its way from the forest, Jeremy moved to suggest something. Mugsly took the opportunity to break free of the steady hand, in a skittering of short limbs. He bounded off, tail flying out at the speed of his gait, towards the dark of the forest where the colossal creature picked its way through the tree towards them. His uneven sprint left his associate humans far behind, standing by the tree sprung forth from Stippling Rock.
The Brachen was hunched with the weight of its head – knotted curls of maybe hair, over a caricature of cheekbones and a disturbingly wide mouth – though proportionate to its body of rolling limbs. A roiling mass of extremities wrestling for ambulation.
Its pronounced jaw opened with a creak audible far across the water.
Sunmi and Jeremy choked on their terrified gasps as Mugsley leapt his best leap with his short legs into the wide mouth of glistening black, now open to disfiguring proportions for his landing.
Intent on the point of her dog’s disappearance, Jeremy wavered. Her face was conflicted more than confused.
The chill of the ocean fed its way into Jeremy and Sunmi’s bones, synthetic or not.
After silent, still moments, the Brachen moved again. Its expression shifting slowly, until it opened its mouth and protruded its tongue. Riding on its forked tip, Mugsly returned to the fresh ocean air standing tall with chest on proud display. And maybe sparkling as if he’d rolled in glitter – he was quite prone to rolling in things.
He jumped away from the great creature onto solid ground, now undoubtedly sparkling as he sauntered instead of loped towards his running partners.
Because Mugsly liked glitter. Mugsly wanted to be glittery. And Mugsly wanted to keep up with his running partners. He didn’t want to hinder their pace or Sunmi’s needs.
More relieved than bemused, Sunmi breathed easy. More bemused than relieved, Jeremy nodded her thanks to the Brachen.
As it moved away back into the woods to its untraceable origins, the Brachen paused to accept the gesture.
And to smile at the dragon.