Shooting Star – A Dragonson Tale
By: Walter G. Esselman

A dragon suddenly thrust their head into the waiter's path. The waiter just managed to keep his tray upright.

Admittedly, the dragon was only fifteen—and therefore his head only reached the six foot mark—but that was of little consolation to the poor waiter.

"Give me all your pigs in blankets, and no one gets hurt," growled Pavataro the dragon.

A sharp jab to the ribs made the dragon turn back to his friend, Gideon.

"What?" snapped Pavataro.

"You can't eat Private Pavataro, we're on guard duty," said Gideon patiently, and he motioned towards his own army uniform.

"But I'm hungry Private Lunchmeat," said Pavataro using his old schoolyard nickname for Gideon. He turned back to the waiter, but the man had already legged it away.

"Great," grumbled the dragon.

Pavataro pulled his head back and sat heavily on his butt.

"Now I'm bored," pouted Pavataro. "It wouldn't be so bad if we had gotten to mingle like Brianna. I think she got a pig in a blanket."

"Yeah! Why doesn't she have to wear an itchy uniform? She's a private in the Bon Su Pear army too," whined Gideon as he scratched at his collar. Worse, his uniform was too large since he was short for fifteen.

Of course, what Gideon really wanted was to be on the dance floor with Brianna. Not that he could dance, but he figured that he could at least shuffle rhythmically.

Currently, Brianna was dancing with her father Elmajian; her red hair was spilling over her shoulders.

Pavataro burped a ball of fire at Gideon. It floated next to the boy's head, and then popped against his mop of hair, like a mini supernova. Gideon jumped at the flash of fire and quickly beat out the flames. Luckily—having been accidentally weaned on dragon's milk—fire was only something that would ruin his clothes.

"Stop that!" hissed Gideon. "I gotta give this uniform back!"

"What?" asked Pavataro innocently. "Hunger burp."

"I'll give you a hunger burp," growled Gideon.

The boy turned to square off with Pavataro when another dragon dropped their head between the two. But this time it was a full size dragon who just happened to be Gideon's adoptive mother, Miravalla. She eyeballed the boys fiercely.

"Boys," hissed Miravalla. "Behave!"

"He started it!" said Gideon.

"I don't care who started it, I will end it," said Miravalla.

"But Mom…," whined Gideon, but his mother just gave him a Warning Look.

"What were Regent's instructions?" asked his mother.

"Stand here, no food, only water and keep guests away from the beast in the cage," repeated Gideon.

"And?" prompted Miravalla.

"And above all, shut up," mumbled Gideon.

"But…?" started Pavataro.

Gideon's mother just gave him a Warning Look too.

The boys shrunk down and returned to their guard duties.

"Miravalla?" called out a voice.

The red dragon's triangular ears perked up as she looked around.

"Oh Rathmont, it's been ages!" said Miravalla brightly. She walked away, carefully navigating the crowd.

"Good job," hissed Gideon once she was gone.

"Still hungry," moaned Pavataro. The dragon looked behind them. They stood in front of a large cage with a canvas tarp over it. They had not heard any noises from inside.

"Don't even think about it," hissed Gideon. "Whatever's in there is Dame Jai Bailovich's secret thing. And we gotta make sure that it isn't bothered during the party. So don't mess with it!"

"Why?" asked Pavataro.

"What do you mean �Why'?" asked Gideon.

"We're not getting paid for this shindig," said Pavataro. "And Brianna's getting pigs in blankets."

"We get paid by the city," said Gideon.

Pavataro sniffed dismissively. "Not enough to even cover my grocery bills."

"You live in the castle," said Gideon. "Practically in the kitchen."

"Still," said Pavataro. "What if I had to buy my own groceries? Where would I be then?"

"Just saying, our butts will be fricasseed if we mess this up," hissed Gideon.

"Your butt maybe, but I…," started Pavataro.

"Quiet you two," snapped a tall, thin man who descended upon them. The man named Huffler jogged around a metal sculpture to stand over them.

"See, butts, fricasseed," moaned Gideon.

"I'm not the one who…," started Pavataro.

"Will you two be quiet," hissed Huffler with a growl. "As Dame Bailovich's Major Domo, I must insist…"

"What's a Major Domo?" asked Pavataro.

"Butler, I think," said Gideon.

"I am not a butler!" hissed Huffler. "I help Dame Bailovich with all aspects of her life."

"Which does sounds a lot like a butler," suggested Gideon carefully.

"But it's not!" inisted Huffler. "And you two need to be quiet!"

"Why?" asked Gideon.

Huffler pointed to the covered wooden cage. "Dame Bailovich has a rescue animal in there, and it has special needs."

"Like what?" asked Gideon curiously.

"Don't you mind," said Huffler. "Just know that it hates loud noises."

"So you brought it to a party?" asked Pavataro incredulously.

"It was delivered early, and we can't keep it in the main house. Its room is not yet ready. So, here we are," shrugged Huffler. "Now just keep the guests away, and above all, be quiet!"

Huffler swung around and collided with a waiter who was carrying two trays of sparkling wine. The trays went sailing into the metal statue and produced an enormous cacophony.

Huffler's eyes grew wide.

Miravalla's head shot up and over the crowd. "Boys!"

"We didn't do it Mom!" insisted Gideon. "Honest."

Suddenly, there was a cry from the cage and the whole thing lifted up. Gideon turned and grabbed the bars through the tarp but the whole thing lifted up even higher next time. Another side effect of Gideon being weaned on dragon's milk was that he could alter his gravity to become lighter—or as is the case now—heavier. The cage barely made it an inch off the ground on the next bounce.

"I think that's got it!" grinned Gideon in relief.

The cage bounced off the ground and tipped away carrying Gideon with it. He landed on top of the cage, but still held on.

"Will you stop messing around," said Pavataro.

"I just…," started Gideon. A blast came out of the bottom of the wooden cage as if there were a rocket inside. The whole thing shot up high into the air.

"Snail burgers," sighed Pavataro.

The dragon bounded in Huffler's direction. The Major Domo raised his hands defensively.

"Wait!" started Huffler when Pavataro dropped his own gravity and leapt high into the air after his friend. Over the crowd, the dragon's wings snapped open.

Above, Gideon was pressed against the cage by the G-Forces. Once the cage reached the top of its impromptu flight though, the pressure lessened on the boy.

Underneath, Gideon heard Pavataro calling out to him. "Lunchmeat?"

The young dragon was winging towards the cage.

"I'm okay," said Gideon as he dropped his own gravity.

A shockwave burst out of the cage hitting him like a brick wall. He shot straight up, over the winking city of Bon Su Pear. For a moment, he saw the cage beneath him, splintering apart.

Pavataro—who had almost been knocked out of the sky by the shockwave—winged higher around the cage trying to find the boy.

"Gideon?" called out the dragon in genuine concern.

A bright spark appeared inside the cage. With a fiery whoosh, the tarp and cage instantly vaporized. Something burst out of the fireball. Its feathers were wreathed in a halo of fire and it shot towards Gideon.

"Wow," breathed Gideon, who had started to slowly descend, thanks to his magic.

The phoenix flew right past Gideon and, for a minute breath of time, they regarded each other. He had expected a bird, but it was more like a mammal with large eyes. Its long, sleek body was topped by fiery wings. Two big ears, like small fins, turned to guide the phoenix's flight.

Then the moment was gone, and the creature blasted past Gideon.

Suddenly it erupted into flame, its feathers lit like fireworks. Gideon had to close his eyes for a moment, but the brilliance still glared through his eyelids. Carefully, he opened his eyes as tongues of fire trailed across the sky like ribbons.

Something caught his eye. An object was falling towards him.

Reaching out as far as he could, Gideon just caught the little baby phoenix. Pulling it in close, he held it to his chest. The phoenix was very warm in his hands, and he soon noticed—where it touched his uniform—that his clothes had begun to smolder.

The phoenix peeped.

"I got you," whispered Gideon.

"You dead Lunchmeat?" asked Pavataro. He eyeballed Gideon while the boy drifted down towards the party.

"Yah man," replied Gideon. "But our charge is doing just fine."

"No kidding," said Pavataro as he winged around them. "Maybe we'll live through the night after all."

They settled into the courtyard. Soon, they realized that the entire party was staring at them; not the least of which was Gideon's Mom, who did not look pleased.

"Or not," said Pavataro cheerily.

"Um, we can explain?" suggested Gideon.

Miravalla moved her head over the crowd.

"Are you okay?" she asked her son.

"I don't think the uniform survived, but yeah, I'm good," said Gideon.

"Thank the Goddess for that," said his mother as Brianna ducked under her chin.

"I didn't think there were that many phoenix's left," said Brianna.

"There aren't," said Dame Jai Bailovich as she appeared at Gideon's side.

"Um h…hi," stuttered Gideon.

"It wasn't our fault," said Pavataro.

"My Major Domo explained everything," said Dame Jai Bailovich sternly as Huffler hovered on the edge of the crowd with a pained look on his face. Then Dame Jai leaned down so that only Gideon, Pavataro and Brianna could hear.

And Dame Jai's voice was suddenly coated in mirth. "Are you kidding? The party ate it up. They'll talk about this soiree for months, if not years. And thank you for saving him."

Dame Jai kissed Gideon on the cheek and fifteen year old boy instantly blushed, which made Brianna frown. Reaching for the Phoenix, Dame Jai almost touched it when Gideon's head came out of the fog and he pulled away.

"What?" asked Dame Jai sternly.

"He's hot," said Gideon. "You'll burn your fingers."

"Oh," said Dame Jai, and her smile returned.

"I have an idea," said Brianna and she ran over to a fountain. She came back, water cupped in her hands. She held up the water and blew on it. A cool fine spray drifted onto the Phoenix and it raised its head happily reveling in the feel.

"Has he opened his eyes yet?" asked Dame Jai suddenly.

"I don't think so. What's wrong?" asked Gideon.

"Actually, we'd know because he'd sing," said Dame Jai. "Phoenixes imprint on the first person they see."

"Oh, I read about that in Galdikas's �Oook: Living with some fine hairy fellows'," said Gideon. "She said that…"

"Eyes!" said Brianna as she was spritzing the phoenix.

Gideon looked down and saw that the phoenix was trying to open its eyes.

"Oh well," said Dame Jai. "Dame Madrial made me take this one as part of my work for the Phoenix Rescue Foundation. I can always ask for…"

Suddenly, Gideon contorted into an awkward pose and lifted up the phoenix. Almost nose to nose with Dame Jai, the little phoenix opened its eyes. Dame Jai's breath caught in wonder as she made eye contact.

"Hello little one," she whispered in awe.

The phoenix gave a little grin, and then the phoenix started moving towards her.

"Make sure he's not too hot," warned Gideon as he gently fought the phoenix's progress.

Dami Jai reached out carefully.

"He's warm," she said with relief. "But manageable."

Gideon let go of the phoenix who immediately climbed into Dame Jai's arms, and snuggled into her.

"Gideon!" said Miravalla as she moved her head over the crowd to glare at the boy. "What were you up to?"

Before Gideon could answer his mother, Dame Jai interjected.

"It's okay Miravalla," she insisted gently. "Really, it is. We were actually really, really worried about tonight."

"Why?" asked Miravalla carefully. She was not ready to let her son and Pavataro off the hook that easy.

"I'm thrilled that your boy caught him. In the wild, so many phoenixes die from their first fall. You have to build special room for them to explode safely, and ours was still under construction," said Dame Jai. "So tonight, we were worried that he'd...well, he'd do just he did and fall to his…" But she could not finish the sentence.

"So, we did a good thing?" asked Pavataro cautiously.

"Let's not push our luck," hissed Gideon.

"It was your fault anyhow," murmured Pavataro.

"My fault?" demanded Gideon

And Dame Jai was chuckling at the boy's banter when the phoenix began to sing, high and sweet, for all to enjoy.



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