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Rated: E · Fiction · Fantasy · #1903715
Prewriting/character development; Eppi and Mac take a break from their journey to talk.
"What is it about your name that you do not like?"

Eppi gave the man-dragon walking beside her a sideways glance that could rightfully be called a glare. It was not the first time he had asked her, and he knew perfectly well why she didn't like her name.

"How many times have you asked me that? You already know the answer."

"I know the answers you have given me in the past. They were not always the same answer. When you were five you said it was stupid. When you were fourteen you said it sucked. I would like to hear what you have to say today."

"I think I said it was a doo-doo head name when I was five."

"Yes, but when I asked you what that meant you said it meant the name was stupid. You are stalling."

As she was stalling, she didn't argue. She didn't answer either. She walked in silence instead, counting each step in her head as she went, trying to keep her mind off of her companion and his damn question. After a hundred steps the silence grew heavy. She was sure she was the only one bearing the weight. Mac's indifference to her silence reminded her what what he had told her about the stubbornness of dragons, especially old dragons. There was no doubt that he could wait out the silence easily, and with more grace than she could muster.

Eppi watched the city move as people flowed around them and around each other, arranging themselves into the lines and groups that made up crowds everywhere. It was more crowded here than she was used to, but there was a life to the city that she had not expected to find. She watched the street around her and she felt as if she were traveling through an artery of a great beast, driven by the beat of an unseen heart, pushing them all toward their different destinations. She could imagine the beast breathing, too, gulping in the fresh air from above the towering buildings and spewing out the toxic smog fumes of the city; the reek of too much garbage, too many cars and buses, too many people living in too small of a space. Even as she felt that living, breathing beast, she knew that she was separate from it. She was an intruder, and she thought maybe it was as obvious to everyone else as it was to her.

They approached an alcove set between two squat buildings. It was a small courtyard, but small in the way that made it cozy and inviting instead of shadowy and cramped. She veered off toward the park benches that were artfully arranged around a small fountain in the middle of the grassy yard. Her draconian shadow followed as if the detour had been part of the plan all along and not a split decision on her part.

She sat heavily on a bench, pulling her bag around to her lap, opening it and digging around until she found a bag of chips. Still stalling, she tilted the open bag of chips toward Mac in invitation, which he declined with a glare of his own. For his part, Mac failed to notice Eppi's delay in answering his question just as he failed to notice her crunching and the rattling of the foil bag. If anyone cared to watch them, it would look like they were enjoying each other's company. Just two people sitting on a bench on a nice, normal afternoon.

Except it wasn't a normal afternoon. She shot another sideways look at Mac and considered for a moment what might qualify as patience if you had forever to wait. They didn't have forever, or at least she didn't have forever. Not if they were going to get to the Fae Court in time to make a difference. Not if she wanted to live long enough to be annoyed by his damn question the next time he asked it.

"Why is it so important?" Her voice was rough, she cleared her throat and tried again. "You've known me my whole life, it's not like I've kept it a secret. Why do you even need to ask?"

"Names are always important. Because I have known you your whole life, I know that your name has been important to you, even if only because you feel it is a burden to you. I ask because I wish to hear your answer."

"And now I know that I'm not who I always thought I was. That you're not who I thought you were, either, for that matter. You think my answer will be different?"

"Your answer is your answer. It would be a different answer now than the answers of the past, whether or not you had learned the truth about either of us. You change as you grow, as all children do, and your answers have always reflected those changes. You are no longer a child. Barely."

"It's weird. My name, that is." she said at last, ignoring her irritation over that last part. Well, trying to ignore it, anyway. "It's not just unusual, it's, I don't know, out of place. No one has named their kid Euphemia in at least a hundred years, and it was probably weird then. It sets me apart from the rest of the world, it makes me different. Or at least it makes me feel different, which is almost the same. Eppi sounds like an infomercial product, or a medical procedure. It's a kind of burden, like you said, and one that I have to constantly revisit. Every time someone gives me that confused look when I introduce myself, every time a date asks me what Eppi is short for. Every damn time I have to give my name to a stranger and correct them when they try to figure out if I said something else. I just don't like it. But I live with it, if that makes a difference."

"You are an adult now, at least where the law is concerned. You could have changed your name to one you would prefer. What stops you from doing so?"

This is where it got tricky, and truthfully she had not expected him to take the conversation in this direction, as obvious as it was. In the past he had simply accepted her answer, whether she offered him a rant or a single word in response, and gone about his business. She pulled the bottle of water from the side of her bag and sipped it, stalling again, but this time she stalled so she could organize her thoughts.

She considered her words as she replaced the cap on the bottle and shoved it back into the pocket on the side of her bag. It wasn't something she wanted to talk about. She had threatened, over and over again, to change her name to something normal the minute she turned eighteen. She had begged, and cried, and shouted, and tried to reason with her mom so many times, trying to get her to have it changed before she was eighteen. It was something her mom had never budged on, never even acknowledged that it was a weird name, much less that the weirdness was a hardship for the girl that had to bear it. It was the only thing, the only important thing, she and her mother ever really fought about.

Her mother was gone now. She passed away so soon after Eppi's eighteenth birthday that there had been no time to carry out the threat to change her name. Afterward, there had been no one to fight with about it, and no one to stop her from marching down to the courthouse and filing the paperwork that would free her from what she had once considered the bane of her existence.

"You mean, why haven't I changed it yet?" It was a false bravado, and a thin one, which made it beneath the notice of the dragon. Mac sat in silence, waiting.

"It was important to my mom. My name," she said at last. "I don't understand why, but she thought it was important. She never once admitted it was awful, and it is awful. It wasn't like her. She was always willing to consider other people's opinions and feelings, especially mine. Except when it came to my stupid, awkward, sucky name. She never gave an inch."

"And you think she had a reason for this? Could it not be that she liked the name, even if you did not?"

"I honestly don't know. Sometimes I wish I didn't care, but I do. I'll never be able to ask her, now, so I'll never know."

Mac didn't respond, didn't acknowledge the awkward silence that allowed her last word to echo in their temporary sanctuary. Eppi watched the water trickle down the fountain and into the small concrete pool, trying very hard not to think the thoughts that were creeping into her consciousness. It was too much to hope that her ghosts would stay at bay, though, and that made it much harder for her to deceive herself.

"It's just, I don't know, like a connection to her. I can't talk to her, I can't listen to her voice, but I can still feel her, sometimes. Maybe if I change my name now it would be like breaking that connection. Maybe I wouldn't be able to feel her anymore. If I decided to make myself into an "Anne" or a "Jane", maybe there'd be nothing left to say that I was ever hers, her daughter, and then she'd really be gone."

The world was suddenly a lot blurrier, and Eppi willed herself not to cry. She knew from experience that tears were a Mac repellent, which makes sense now, seeing as how he's a dragon and reptiles don't have a reputation for being warm and fuzzy. The dragon thing also explained Mac's loose interpretation of time. She had spent her childhood learning that "a moment" to someone who has lived for a couple millennia passes much slower for any mortals awaiting his attention. If only she had known about the immortal thing at the time, it would have saved her much frustration and no little heartbreak. She didn't think she had a chance of finding her way without him if he suddenly excused himself now and wandered off.

"Is it just me, or is this little garden kind of weird?" She asked suddenly. It didn't occur to her until now, but the little courtyard was out of place. The rest of the street was lined with brick buildings, mostly offices as far as she could tell. Here and there were little cafes and small stores, some of which had small tables in front of their large windows, but this courtyard wasn't near anything like that. It was well-maintained and clean, unlike the buildings that bordered it on either side, which had both seen better days.

Mac considered her for a moment before giving her a lopsided grin.

"We are closer to the Court of the Fae now," he said.

She wondered if that was supposed to make sense. He must have seen that she didn't understand, because he gave a little head shake before continuing.

"You are of the Fae, and their world is opening up to you. This alcove would not be accessible to someone who was unwelcome at Court."

"And I summoned a secret Fairy park how, exactly?"

"The "Fairy park"," he began, trying to keep his amusement off of his face, "granted you access, you did not summon it. You were near and you were in need of a respite, so you were granted one. This place, in its way, exists between worlds. To someone who is not welcomed in the Court of the Fae no alcove would be visible, and these two buildings would be seen side by side. As we approach the Realm of the Fae, there will be other places that are in-between. Not all of them are safe. You would be wise to guard your desires more carefully from now on. The Fae are fond of exploiting the desires of their guests, and some of the Fae can be quite cruel."

"So I should be careful what I wish for?"

"You should be careful, yes. It would be better if you did not wish at all. And better still if your deeper desires were not so near the surface. There are many who would rather you never reached the Queen of the Fae, and none of the Fae are without power."

"Well, on that cheery note, what d'ya say we get moving?"

"Levity will not be disguise enough. But for now, yes, I think it is past time we move on."

Mac was first to cross the line between courtyard and sidewalk, with Eppi a few steps behind him, adjusting her bag across her shoulders as she walked. Her right heel had only barely crossed the threshold when the courtyard disappeared, the buildings pushing together with a rush of air that sent her hair flying forward. She turned, stunned into silence, to find a grimy brick wall inches from her nose.

It was a warning, or a demonstration of power. As far as warnings went, it was effective. She turned back toward Mac, resolving to learn to keep her desires, and her fears and stray thoughts for that matter, to herself.

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