This year, because I plan to use it for my nutcracker pictures, I'm setting it up early. And since it's for pictures, every branch must be perfect, every light precise, oh, here's a tiny nativity ornament! Perfect!
"Ah, so this is what you do when you're not working on my story," says a thick-accented voice behind me. "You have Christmas."
I turn around to see a girl who looks a lot like me, if it weren't for the fact that her amber-colored eyes aren't hidden behind a pair of glasses. I have three guesses as two who she is, and since she's dressed entirely in red and black, is wearing far too much jewelry, and based on her accent, the first two guesses don't count.
"Oh, hello Amber," I say, sweetly, turning back to my tree. "Nice to have you drop in."
"Come, come now, Kendra," she continues, slinking forward and resting her hand on my shoulder. "Aren't you even a little afraid of me, Queen Amber, the Lady Dragon. Your first and worst villain you ever created?"
I turn back around and meet her amber eyes, for which she was named. The only difference she has from my own sixteen-year-old self. For not only are they minus glasses and a different color, but they're far too old for the sixteen-year-old face. Staring into them, I find myself lost in thousands of years of history. Slowly, I shake my head. "You weren't a villain, once."
She breaks away, sneering. "I've always been a villain. That's why you created me. As a foil for your precious Petra. Ah, but what has become of Petra? You never talk about her. It's the Water Princess and Fire Prince now, isn't it?"
"Petra is not forgotten," I say, shaking my head. "Her story still burns close to my heart - as does yours. And they're intertwined. But I need to tell Water Princess and Fire Prince's first."
"Why not that of the Eight and the Ten?" she asks.
"Jeptha's Hill is a complicated story," I reply. "I'm not quite ready to untwist it. I tried once ... but I need to get a firmer hold on all twenty of the characters. Beyond you, Granite and Jeptha, of course. You three are already firm in my mind. But Amber, I know that you've always, plotting-wise, been the villain, but there was a time ... You were so good once."
Her eyes darken, and I suspect that I've pushed my authorly limits. "I was a fool."
"You'd be long dead, otherwise," I tell her. "You would never have become Queen of Lintooalintae."
"Have you been talking to Laura?" Her hands are in her pockets, and unlike Shira, this does not mean that she's trying to control her anger, but to seek out some sort of magic to use against me.
"I created Laura," I tell her. "And she loves you a lot, even though you've turned your back on all you once believed. As does Granite. And Jeptha. And ... there's one other person waiting for you to return."
I shake my head. "I can't tell you. I can only hope that you'll discover her before it's too late."
She stares at me long and hard, and I wonder if I've finally gotten through to her. But then she shakes it off, and glares down her nose at me. "It is too cold here in winter for a dragon," she says. "Even for a dragon trapped inside a human body."
"You were not always a dragon." I shake my head. "You let the dragon come into you, twist your soul. But someday ... I hope that ..." I take a deep breath. "You're my favorite villain, Amber. My best developed. I gave you my face. But I can't let the evil within you prevail."
"So that's it, I'm going to die?"
"If you can't get rid of the dragon, I'll have no choice." I take a brave step forward and rest a hand on her shoulder, staring deep into her eyes in hopes that I can find the girl she once was, the one trained by Laura the Doorkeeper in the right path, the one who led a revival and led a remnant of believers into a new world. "Fight the dragon, Amber."
She glares at me. "You're pathetic, Kendra. I don't know why I put up with all of the puny heroes you pitch at me. Petra is the worse." With that she breaks away and disappears in a cloud of black dust.
I swallow and shake my head as I turn back to the tree. "I hate the story I wrote for her ... and yet ... Oh, a snowflake, this should go here!"
2. Aoril was not part of the original band. I added him when I added Stardrana's POV, and he's something of a second father to her. He's not the oldest member of the band, but he's been Hidden the longest.