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Thursday, January 14, 2021

To Be or Not to Be . . . an Angel

This is the third installment on this particular story arc, which ended up going to a place I had not planned, but I went with. If you've not done so yet, it would be best to read the previous two stories or you'll feel like you're jumping into the middle of a story . . . because you will be!

An Angelic Poker Party

Angles and Dragons

Enjoy!

=====================================================

Joel’s house appeared before Ally. She ran for the door. The angel couldn’t be far behind. She scampered up to the door, and opened it. There Joel sat at his table, sipping a cup of tea with Kaylee.

Ally put her fists on her hips and stared at Joel.

Joel winked at her. “You know, just some timey-stuff.”

Kaylee rose and asked, “Do you want some tea, Ally?”

She nodded, then sat in a chair next to Kaylee as Kaylee poured her a cup of tea.

Ally thanked Kaylee for the tea, then said, “I’ll remember that next time, fellow angel.”

Kaylee reseated herself. “Joel here has just finished filling me in on what happened, in as much as he knows. What happened at the dragon testing?”

Ally’s eyes darted between the two. “Well, here’s the short version. After talking to Doodle for a bit, I went where he showed me to go, which was a lake that the stream emptied into. I sat there waiting for what felt like an eternity, but when it happened, it didn’t seem like any time at all had past.”

Kaylee nodded. “I know the feeling very well.”

Ally smiled at Kaylee. “Then, the water started bubbling. I sort of expected a dragon to burst out of the water. Instead, the water shot up into a column and atop the column stood a lady all dressed in white, holding aloft a flaming sword. She shined as bright as any sun, so much so I could barely look at her. Then without a word, she threw the sword toward me—it plunged into the ground next to me—and then she disappeared back into the water.”

Joel’s and Kaylee’s eyes stared hard at Ally as she spoke. As much as they had both seen in their lifetimes, Ally could tell this was something both of them had never heard before.

Ally swallowed another gulp of tea. “After examining the sword stuck in the ground, I figured I was meant to pick it up. So I started to reach for the sword, when a voice rang in my head to stop. It was a dragon, and he said I had a choice. A choice between bonding with him, or picking up the sword and going with you.”

Joel huffed. “And you didn’t ask him what picking up the sword would mean?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t. Guess I just figured picking up the sword meant picking up the sword. I didn’t have any idea that I would end up with it coming out of Paradise, or that it was anything more than a way for me to make my decision concrete to either bond with a dragon or continue on with you as we have been.”

Joel rose and paced the floor. “Boy, oh boy. This could change everything if it means what I think it means.”

Both Kaylee and Ally said, “What?”

“I’ll need to verify it with the Boss, but I also need to know more. How did you decide?”

Ally, unsure what was going on in that crazy mind of his . . . oh wait! She possibly could now. She focused on him, but could hear only Kaylee’s thoughts. “What? You mean we can’t communicate mentally anymore?”

Joel shook his head. “No. The only people angles can talk to mentally is the Boss and other humans, ‘dead’ or alive. Anyway, continue, please.”

Ally took another sip of tea. It helped her to focus. “So, I was thinking about what the dragon said when I audibly heard a different voice behind me. It was Timothy.”

Kaylee held up a finger. “And who is he?”

“Oh, he’s the other candidate for Shushuma.”

“That’s unusual.” Kaylee scratched her head.

“Yes, but God had a reason, as he made sure I would go before he did.”

Joel nodded and said with some impatience, “Okay, but how did you decide?”

Ally frowned. “I’m getting there if you can have a little patience.” When the angel didn’t say another word, but simply stared at her . . . intensely, she said, “I had earlier sensed some self-doubt and lack of confidence in Timothy at the dinner the night before, and he had worked himself into needing a great power from bonding with a dragon to feel important enough to matter. So I simply related to him what I had just learned from the dragon about my purpose in life, that it isn’t so much what you do that gives you purpose, but who you are and love, to fulfill the greatest commandments in Scripture. That’s our purpose. That’s when I realized that I was already fulfilling my purpose, and that God had put me there at that time to help Timothy get his dragon. Not me. So I knew that my path lay with you.” Ally scrunched her forehead. “Why is that a bad thing? I thought that’s what you wanted? Granted, me having angelic powers changes how we might operate together, but what is so ‘this-could-change-everything’ about anyway?”

Joel paced the floor for a while before he said, “Let’s just pray I’m wrong. But I need to check with the Big Boss. Be right back.” Then a light enveloped him, and he disappeared into the light.”

Ally sunk her head. “I didn’t think he’d be like this. I thought he’d be happy for me, for us. Maybe he’s jealous of my new powers?”

Kaylee started cleaning up the cups from the table. “Normally, I would say you could be right. But for some reason, this has him stumped. Granted, nothing like this has ever happened in the angelic world before, but he fears something significant has changed. Not sure what myself.”

Ally stepped toward the couch. “Guess there’s not much to do but wait until he returns and tells us what’s up.” Ally slumped into the couch. She kept thinking about all that had happened, and the sword she now wore on her hip, and what it might all mean.

# # #

Joel paced back and forth across the floor. “You may want to sit down for this.”

Kaylee sat at the table, listening in on the discussion.

Ally frowned. “I am sitting down.”

“Oh. Maybe I had better sit down then.” He plopped onto the couch, close to Ally.

Ally examined Joel’s face closely. “So, what’s so bad about me becoming an angel?”

“Well, let’s see. How do I begin?”

“Uh, at the beginning?” Ally gave Joel a slight smile.

Joel cleared his throat. “First off, it isn’t that it necessarily is ‘bad’ as such. More like it was a big, shall we say, shock.” Joel displayed a weak smile.

Ally huffed. “Out with it angel. You’ve been beating around the bush long enough.”

Joel breathed deep. “Okay. I’ve been trying to decide the best route for this. Maybe coming right out with it is best.” Joel swallowed. “That lady on top of the column of water? She was my wife.”

“Your wife!” Ally’s jaw dropped open.

“Yep, and that sword she threw at you, that you picked up? That was to bond with me. To become my . . . uh, wife.”

Kaylee fell out of her chair, but quickly scrambled back up. “She was your wife? How come I didn’t know this?”

Joel shrugged. “Guess it never came up.”

Ally shook her head. “I’m your wife?”

“Pledged to be.”

“But . . . I thought angles couldn’t marry? That there was no marriage in the afterlife.”

Joel breathed deep again. “That is true, for humans. For angels, what we call marriage isn’t the same thing as what you would call it. In other words, there isn’t any mating or children, just very good friendships. In all other ways, it is like human marriage.”

Ally thought for a few seconds. “So, angels can divorce?”

Joel twisted his mouth. “In a manner of speaking. Not like humans do, since we don’t bond so intimately, there is no physical bond to break. More an emotional and spiritual bond. Much like a rider’s bond with his dragon.”

“So, is there a ritual that I, or rather, we would need to go through to be ‘angel-married’?”

“You can if you want to, but it isn’t required.”

“What is required, then?”

“That both parties agree.” Joel watched Ally’s reactions. “No, there’s no sticking of my ‘claws’ into your hands like during the dragon ceremony.”

“That’s good. Guess I’ve already agreed. Crazy system.”

“No, you’ve accepted the pledge to marry me. However, one of the reasons I wanted to know how you decided was to know whether you were ever aware of what picking up the sword meant. I’ve talked it over with the Big Boss, and he agreed. While you are currently pledged to marry me, you can still back out if you wish. The only thing you need to know is that if we don’t bond, that you will lose your angel powers and . . .” Joel cleared his throat. “You’ll no longer come with me to help people, nor will you even remember me or the journeys that we’ve taken together.”

“What!” Ally’s jaw dropped again. “Why?”

Joel mumbled something.

“What did you say?”

Joel blurted out, “Because we’ve been acting as if we were married.”

“We have?” Ally’s jaw dropped yet again.

“You have?” Kaylee blurted out from the kitchen area.

“Yes, and I took full responsibility for it. I know you had no idea, Ally. It’s just, one thing led to another. Next thing you know, we were a team.”

Ally held her head down, without saying a word. Then, she started with a restrained chuckle, which soon turned into laughing.

“What’s so funny about that?” Joel asked.

“Because, that’s what human’s say about love, that ‘one thing led to another.’ The thought of an angel like yourself sinning in that way just struck me funny.”

“Sinning. Me? I mean, it is possible for an angel to get things wrong on rare occasion, but sin? Never. Now, if we had physically bonded, that could get me tossed out of the ranks of angel and listed among the demons.”

“Is it possible for an angel to physically bond? I mean, if one was evil and wanted to?”

“Not since the great apostasy happened. The Big Boss changed us so we could no longer bond in that way. That’s why I said it could never happen. The only way an angel could really sin now is to intentionally go to the other side.”

Ally let our a sigh of relief. “That’s good.”

“Why?” Joel asked. “Am I really that bad looking?”

Both Kaylee and Ally laughed at him.

“No, you’re not bad looking at all. It’s just if I did decide to bond with you, and it tempted you to really sin, I’d hate to be the cause of your downfall. So I would opt to not bond with you. But, why erase all my memories of our time together and that you exist?”

Joel raised an eyebrow while staring at Ally. “You should know the answer to that. Who was the impatient one who drug me away from my poker game?”

Ally nodded. “Oh, yeah. I guess the pull to see you and return would be too great otherwise.”

Joel pulled Ally into a hug. “I’m sorry I ended up putting you through this. My main mission to you was to help you get your emotional connection under control. Beyond that, I should have left you and never told you who I was.”

After a moment, Ally extracted herself from his arms and stood up. “This has been a bit much to take in and process all at once.”

“Understandable,” Joel agreed. “Take all the time you want to decide. We are in Paradise, after all.”

“Three things, one a question, the other two are statements.”

“Go ahead. I can take it, I’m a big angel.”

“First, I need to go somewhere that I can be alone for a while, or at least with some people who could help me think this through.”

Kaylee entered the living room area. “I can come with you, if you’d think it would help.”

Ally smiled. “Sure. The second thing, Joel, is . . .” She waited until she had his full attention. “I forgive you.”

A huge smile crept across his face. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. The one question I have for you is what do you want?”

“Why, I don’t know whether anyone has asked me that before. What do I want? But, I didn’t discuss with the Big Boss whether I had an ‘out’ too.”

Ally stepped over to Kaylee. “But you didn’t have a say in the arrangement either.”

He nodded. “True, but I did treat you as if we were married, justifying it that you didn’t view it that way or know enough that I was viewing it that way, so I convinced myself it was okay. At any rate, it was my fault that you ended up in this situation, so I figured I didn’t have a choice in the matter, I had been acting married to you already. My former wife simply attempted to make it official.”

“Well, you have a choice now. If you don’t want to go through with this, then I don’t want to either.”

Joel smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Ally. I’ll give this some thought myself while you are gone.”

“Good enough.” She and Kaylee disappeared in a flash of light.

# # #

Ally and Kelly sat at a table, at a tavern in Jerole. They had appeared just outside of town, walked into town, and to the tavern. Now they sat at a big round oak table, Kaylee apparently waited for Ally to speak.

She grabbed a gulp of ale in a fancy goblet that they had been served. “Crazy, isn’t it.”

“Which part?”

“Well, I was referring to the whole marrying Joel thing, specifically, but yeah. All of it is crazy. Ever since Joel has come into my life, it has been crazy and surreal.”

Kaylee nodded. “Tell me about it.”

Ally’s head shot up. “Oh yeah. You had some dealings with him too. Tell me about them if you don’t mind.”

“Sure.” Kaylee took a gulp from her goblet. “Joel was our family’s guardian angel, though I didn’t know that part until I arrived in Paradise. The first time I met him was on the sky island. He helped us get down by turning our horses into flying horses. I originally thought he was this ultra-annoying boy full of hormones. What he was attempting to do, I found out after I died, was to help me get over my fear of men, so that I could eventually find a real mate. The only problem was, that it worked so well, that I fell in love with him, but that’s when he began distancing himself from me, because he was an angel and couldn’t marry me in the way he knew I would expect to be married, though I had no clue at the time. All I knew was that he stopped being around me, which ultimately drove me into the arms of another man: Cole Sr. It all turned out good in the end.” Kaylee held up a hand with her thumb and index finger around a quarter-inch apart. “Though I came this close to sinning with Cole. Mentally, I did, so taken with him as I was.”

Ally’s eyes widened. “Wow. That’s awesome.”

She nodded. “Awesome and crazy all at the same time.”

“Yeah, like my current situation.” She thought how to phrase the following, just in case he was listening in. “I’m not sure what to do. It’s just that, I have never thought of Joel in that way.”

“But you love him, don’t you? I’ve seen it in him and you both.”

“But not in that way.”

Kaylee shook her head. “You’re thinking about it as if it was an equivalence to human marriage. Angel’s cannot have passion-like love.”

“So what type of love do they have?” Ally listened carefully.

“They have the love of friends, the love of selflessness, and the love of familiarity.”

“The first two I recognize, but I’ve not heard of the last one.”

“Think of a favorite shirt or pet who you love primarily because they are familiar, comfortable, and you’ve had a good experience with them. Over time, they become so much a part of your life that you can’t imagine being away from whatever it is. Though people are more complex than a thing, the love still applies. The more time you spend with someone, the more that type of familiarity-love grows.”

Ally nodded. “I see, it makes sense now.”

“That’s the way that Joel looks at you. It is the only way he is able to love you as an angel—as a friend, as a companion.”

“That’s good, because it is the only way I love him.”

Kaylee smiled. “Us humans always think things won’t change. What if some day you do want passion-love from him?”

Ally shrugged. “I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it.”

Kaylee sighed. “But, will you cross the correct bridge? There are wrong bridges you could cross to ‘solve’ that problem.”

“True.” Ally focused on nothing for a moment. “Of course, I won’t know what bridges there will be until I get there.” She focused on Kaylee. “And, does the threat of temptation ever justify the deciding against a course of action?”

Kaylee shook her head. “No, not by itself.”

“So, as I see it, I have two options. Option one is to decline the offer, go back to the way of life I had before I met Joel, I would forget all about him and the adventures we’ve gone on. Which means I wouldn’t be longing for this way of life. I wouldn’t know it even existed.

“Sounds about right.”

Alley took another gulp. “Option two is to accept his offer, angel-marry him, and we would continue to go on journeys together save that now we would be on equal footing as far as ability goes, save for experience.”

“Yep”

“There is one more factor to add into this. If I don’t accept his offer, I will live, hopefully, happily ever after since I will be unaware of this life, however, Joel will not. He will live with the knowledge of what could have been all his ‘life,’ however long that is.”

“Definitely something to consider. Though I’m sure he would bare it well, knowing it was his own fault.”

Ally nodded. “Bare it well? I’m sure I would have him spying on me and observing me from afar for some time.”

Kaylee chuckled. “Or, you’ll regularly be supplied with his tea, which you will ‘mysteriously’ find on your windowsill whenever you’re running low.”

Ally grinned. “Really? He did that?”

Kaylee nodded with a big smile.

Ally’s somber down-turned mouth returned. “I guess God has erased all the other possible options as real potentials to choose.” Ally stood, tossed some money that she had appear within her tunic’s pockets onto the table to pay for the drinks. “Okay, I’ve made my decision. Let’s go. We’ve got work to do.”

# # #

Ally stood before Joel, a frown graced her face, along with a hung head. She stared up at Joel. “So, what is your decision before I tell you mine.”

He sat on the couch. “I feared this day might come. Ever since you agreed to come with me.” He swallowed. “If you’ll have me, I’d be graced to have you continue to travel by my side as my angel-wife.”

Ally allowed her head to sink down. “That’s all well and good, but I’m thinking a few things. One, you took advantage of me when I didn’t know any better.” Joel started to talk but Ally held her hand up. “I did forgive you for that, still, it has to be an indicator of how I could expect our future relationship to go.”

Joel nodded unenthusiastically.

“Two, you’ve kept information hidden from me, like the fact that you’ve had a wife, why you didn’t want me to go to discover whether I should be a dragon-rider or not, the information of what my consequences would be by going with you, the list could go on and on.”

Joel nodded. “Though in my defense, I do have a long history. It would be hard to reveal the last three to four thousand years of my history to you adequately.”

“Naturally. But I would expect important things to be related to me, like that you had a wife, and that I was fulfilling her role, unknown to me. I would think those are two key bits of information you would convey up front, don’t you agree?”

His head sank. “Yeah. I should have told you about those things.”

“And probably some other things that I’m still oblivious to.” Joel raised his hand and started to speak. Ally cut him off. “It’s a little bit late to enter in new evidence of your guilt, don’t you think?”

He nodded his head to the side. “Eh? Probably.”

“Third and finally,” she paused for effect. She could see that Joel was bracing himself for the coming decision. She glanced at Kaylee, who stood there stoically. “Because of those reasons, and the fact you are a pitiful example of an angel . . . “

Ally walked over to the bedroom door and flung it open. “I’ve moved it to help your sorry excuse for being an angel.”

Joel fell the floor and banged on it, crying and lamenting. “Woe is me, for I am undone!” Then he stopped, looked up at Ally, who now grinned as big of a grin as she could. “What did you just say?”

“I essentially said despite your faults, I do love you, as an angel, and my answer is yes.”

Kaylee clapped her hands gleefully. “I do love a happy ending!”

Joel rose to his feet, still not fully taking everything in. “You said ‘yes’?”

Ally pointed at Joel. “Gotcha!”

Joel examined his, that is, now their, bedroom. It was fuller than it had been, with an additional twin bed, dresser with a mirror, and a nightstand. “When did you have time to move all this?”

Joel knew the answer as he said it, because he said in unison with Ally, “Timey stuff!”

Ally giggled. “Yeah, Kaylee and I did it while we were at the dragon’s testing thing.”

“Ah, so that’s why the world was so strange back then. For a while, there were three of you in the world at the same time. One in paradise, one in the Dragon’s Hall, and one at my house.”

Kaylee pulled out a cup and a pot of tea. “I suggested, for witnesses sake, that we solidify this agreement with drinking from a common cup of tea.”

Joel smiled. “Sounds perfect. The only problem is, we would need more than one witness.”

Ally said, “Will around fifty or so do?”

A rap on the door sounded through the house. Joel opened the door to find a small crowd outside his front door.

Ally greeted them, then said to Joel, “It was hard to hide that I was moving in, so by the time we finished moving in, we had a large crew helping us from Paradise.”

Ally and Joel stood by the table as Kaylee poured tea in the cup. Joel took the cup and said, “I promise to do my best to no longer deceive you, but to treat you as the true angel you are. I pledge my life and my undying support and love to you, Ally of Reol.” He took a sip from the cup and passed it onto Ally.

Ally, having a hard time keeping from crying, said, “I promise not to pull another deceptive trick on you like I just did—though you deserved it—and I pledge my life for yours, my heart for yours, my so that we may be one soul and one team, even if there are two of us. I love you as the angel I am and you are. I pray that I can be a true help-meet in your journeys to help other people. We’ll do it together, Angle Joel of Paradise.” Ally gladly took a sip of the tea to a crowd clapping and cheering.

It was the sweetest and best tasting tea she had ever tasted.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Angels and Dragons

To not feel as if you're jumping into the middle of the story (this story arc has three parts, of which this one is part two), it would be best if you read the story before this one: An Angelic Poker Party

Enjoy!

======================================================

Ally gazed around, awed by her surroundings. She and Joel walked through an about 50 yard hall, filled with pillars on the left and right. Beyond the pillars were areas where lower ceilings extended, mostly containing tables, which she figured were for big feasts and such. They made their way down the long walkway toward a dais, with seven chairs on it, apparently for a meeting of the council that governed this community. Light shown especially bright, centered on a chair in the middle carved with special designs that Ally had never seen before. She swung her head up—light poured in from outside through holes in the high ceiling. No doubt directed into the hall using polished metal. A wall rose behind the chairs, stopped halfway to the ceiling, before heading into a loft as its floor. Ally saw a couple of dragons sleeping in the loft. She smiled when one of them snored.

Joel turned his head toward her. “What’s so funny?”

“I had no idea that dragons snored like my grandmother.”

Joel chuckled. “Dragons do snore. Usually much louder than people do.”

Ally pointed at the woman who had just seated herself in the center chair. “What is her name again?”

“Kathryn, but everyone calls her Kelly.”

As they drew closer, Kelly’s features came into view. Long, black hair had been tied into a ponytail. Her high cheekbones and narrow but squared jaw gave her the air of a leader. Then Ally saw her piercing, green eyes. They seemed to see right through her.

Joel whispered to Ally, “Follow my lead.” He formed a fist with his right hand and put it to his chest, then bowed. “Greetings, President of the Dragon Council. It is good to see you again.”

Ally did what Joel did, but didn’t say anything, hoping her actions would be sufficient.

Kelly grinned. “It is good to see you again as well, Joel. So reports of a companion in your wanderings are accurate.”

Joel swung his left arm toward Ally.  “This is Ally, Ally of Reol. She has a request to make of you.” Joel motioned for her to go ahead and speak.”

Ally cleared her throat. “I’m interested in finding out whether I should bond with a dragon or not. I want to go through whatever test to discover that.”

Kelly nodded. “Let’s talk about this over some coffee and tea.”

Joel winked at Ally. See, I told you she was wise.



# # #



Once they had received some tea or coffee, depending on the preference of each, Kelly moved from small-talk with Joel to why Ally had come.

Kelly took a sip of her coffee. “First, I should tell you that the life of a guardian or rider is a difficult one, full of danger, lots of traveling, working to find and prevent attacks not only upon us, but also our allies. It can also be a great benefit and the rewards are, as one rider of old put it, ‘out of this world.’”

Kelly smiled and Ally smiled back. Kelly took another sip of her coffee. “Going through the testing used to be much more secretive than it is today. With Cole and Grinoth’s work in opening up the outside world to our existence here—may God have mercy upon their souls—we normally have people come here to go through Shushuma all the time. As a matter of fact, we have one other candidate ready to go through it as well. 

Ally asked, “What exactly is Shushuma?”

“Oh, that’s a fancy word for the testing one goes through to be bonded with their dragon.”

“Got it.” Ally smiled real big. “And I’ve recently talked to Co—“

Ally, don’t tell her about chatting with Cole. Don’t you dare!  Joel glared at her.

Ally’s mouth hung open for a second before she continued. “That is, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Cole, being that we were from the same town and all.”

“You’ll find some things you’ve been told are accurate, while most are not. Best not to rely upon them.”

Ally opened her mouth, but Joel broke in before Ally could defend herself. “Yes, Kelly is right. You really shouldn’t rely upon old wife's tales.” Joel turned to face Kelly. “Now why don’t you tell her more about Shushuma? I’m . . . I mean, we’re busy people.”

“Joel, you of all people should know how important this is. It should not be rushed.” Kelly stared Joel.

He sighed. “I know, I know. Please, go on.”

“Okay.” Kelly glanced at Ally, then to Joel, then she focused on Ally. “Anyway, the testing is more open than it used to be, so now we go straight to wearing the gloves, as that presents the real test anyway. Once you’ve gone through that, you’ll either come back with a dragon or not, as the case may be.”

Ally nodded with a curl of her lips. “Cool. When do we start?”

Tomorrow morning. Timothy will be going through this with you. Also, it is traditional to have a feast the night before Shushuma. I hope you both can make it.
Alley grinned. “I would love to attend.” She turned to face Joel. “We can be there. Right?”

He smiled. “I love the feasts. Of course we’ll be there.”



# # #



The smell of a multitude of foods filled the air. The tables bulged with meats, various side dishes, and deserts. 

Ally breathed in deep to take in all the flavors through her nose. “Wow! This is what I call a feast.”

Joel, who walked into the Great Hall with her nodded. “The guardians are well known for their feasting, that is true.” He pointed to a couple of empty chairs toward the front of the head table. “I believe that is where we are supposed to sit.” 

As they approached, Kelly, who sat at the head of the table stood and motioned to the chairs. “Welcome, our treasured guests.”

Joel bowed to her, so Ally followed Joel’s lead. She said I was a treasured guest!

That’s because all who seek a dragon to bond with are extra special breed of human.

Ally jerked her head toward Joel. “That wasn’t your voice in my head!”

Joel nodded toward the loft where several dragons sat, having their own feast. “That was one of them.”

“Dragons can mind speak?”

“Sure, though they often don’t intrude on other’s thoughts without permission, save for their own bondling. But I imagine they are just as interested in you as you are in them.”

Ally stole a look at the loft. She mouth dropped when a rather bulky dragon winked at her. “Joel, is that my dragon?”

He laughed. “No telling at this point. That will be decided tomorrow—if you do end up with one.”

She frowned at Joel as she seated herself. “You would have to add that thought.”

He smiled. “Are you that desperate to get away from me? How quickly you change my dear. One hour you are forcing me away from my vacation to be with you, only to seek to leave me once you’ve got me?”

Ally refused to smile back at the angel’s jab. “No, it’s not that. It’s just I need to find out if I’m supposed to be here at all.” 

“Me too.” 

Ally swung around to the guy who sat next to her. A black, short-cut haired young man greeted her. A lanky, but otherwise muscular arm reached out to shake her hand. She took his hand and gave him a firm handshake. “I assume you must be Timothy?”

“Yes. I am.” He swept the room with his eyes. “This is all so exciting, isn’t it?” His eyes stopped moving when he saw the dragons in the loft.

She also gazed at the dragons. “Yes, it is. To think we could be riding one of those fine dragons tomorrow.” The thought was enough to take her heart away to thoughts of flying through the clouds. In her peripheral vision she could see Joel’s frown. He quickly cleared his throat and started chatting with Kelly about something.-

Ally wished she could console the angel, but what if she did end up staying here and he was to go his own way? She shoved such thoughts out of her mind. After all, they would know tomorrow the outcome and she would have to deal with it then. Not now. 

She returned her attention to Timothy. “My name is Ally from Reol. Good to meet you.”

His eyes grew wide. “You’re from Reol? That is where Cole is from. Wow! What’s it like living there?”

“Well, there is a big forest surrounding it—very pretty in the fall—and during winter—“

“No, no. I mean what is it like living there in the shadow of such great men like Sikso and Cole?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. What is it like not living with such a history in your town of . . . ?”

“I’m from Dragon’s Inn.”

She chuckled. “And your asking me what it is like?”

He laughed. “I see what you mean. But all my life I’ve felt the pull to be a dragon rider like Cole. I’ve studied him and tried to emulate his life.”

“That’s pretty hard to do, considering the unusual way he started out and the power he had.”

.“I know. Tell me about it. I’ve tried to at least find a wizard that I could study under, but all I’ve got for the effort are a few parlor tricks, not real magic.” Then a big smile crept across his face. “But I’m sure to get a dragon and a power with it. Then I’ll be something.”

Ally nodded, but she turned on her own power of feeling other people’s emotions. Happiness and joy filled soul from all the people in the building, save one. Timothy. From him she felt a lack of confidence. Strange since he came across as a confident man. But she had realized a long time ago the mask people attempt to put on when in public.

Before she could say anything more, Kelly rose and banged an empty cup on the table. She gave an introductory speech to the people seated in the hall. Both her and Timothy stood when requested and someone even sang a song in their honor. Then she ate and chatted some more with Timothy. It was a magical night, especially watching the dragons celebrating in their own unique manner of roaring on occasion and blasting fire into the air. The sight was so powerful that it sent chills up her spine every time they did it.

But the evening eventually wound down and Ally retired for the night, dreaming of riding in the clouds with her own dragon.



# # #



The next morning, they sat at one of the tables, eating some type of hash browns with vegetables for breakfast. Surprisingly, they tasted pretty good. Better than she expected. She ate the whole plate. Not only because they were delicious, but because she couldn’t wait to put on those gloves.

Soon, Kelly showed up with a fairly plain box made of some type of wood, Ally wasn’t sure what kind. Kelly opened the box, pulled out a pair of woven metallic gloves. She held them up and said, “Who’s first?”

Timothy’s hand shot up. “I’ll go!”

Ally’s heart bubbled with joy for Timothy, knowing how long he’d waited for this day. She prayed he would get a dragon.

Kelly pointed to a small wooden bench next to her. “Lay here and put your hands up.”

Timothy laid down, quickly but resolutely as if suddenly recognizing the importance of this moment. He stuck his hands into the air. “I’m ready.”

Kelly moved the gloves toward his hands, but stopped short of putting them on. She wrinkled her forehead. “Strange, but something isn’t right here.”

Timothy’s mouth fell open. “You mean, I don’t even get a chance to find out whether I get a dragon?”

Kelly shook her head. “No, you’ll get your chance.” She turned her gaze toward Ally. “It’s just that I’m getting the strong impression that Ally should go first.”

Ally shrugged. “I don’t mind if Timothy goes first.”

Kelly sighed. “It’s not that I think girls should go first, rather I’m getting a strong impression that the, as Joel would say, Big Boss wants you to go first.” Kelly motioned for Ally to lay on the bench.

Ally shifted her view to Joel. He nodded. “I’m getting the same info from upstairs.”

Timothy rose, then sat at the table. His mouth wore a frown while his eyes communicated confusion. “I suppose I’ve waited this long, what is another few minutes?”

Ally stood while mouthing “Sorry” to Timothy, who cracked  a small smile in response. She lay on the bench and put her hands into the air. This was it. Now maybe she would discover her purpose in life. The gloves slipped onto her hands, and the room with Joel, Kelly, and Timothy faded into black.

As the world came back into view, she lay in a meadow. She rose and did a 360 to view the area. On the edge of the meadow stood a forest, and a babbling brook ran along the other side, entering the forest at a ninety-degree angle to the line of trees. The surreal glow of the area told her where she now stood: Paradise. “I’ve been here before!” 

“Yes, you have,” a familiar voice said. She spun around to see Doodle’s distressed face. “And we need to get you back to Kaylee’s house before you know who realizes you’re here. Why did you wander away again? Do you want Joel to no longer be with you?”

Ally held out her palms toward Doodle. “No, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. I did put on the gloves this time.”

His mouth formed the shape of an “O.” “So you are here to find a dragon?”

Ally smiled and nodded.

“Well, what do you know? I didn’t think you would convince Joel to let you go through with it.”

Ally shrugged. “He wasn’t too hard to convince. Why do you think that?”

“He, ah . . . he, well, he sort of talked about you a lot.”

“What do you mean that he ‘talked about me a lot’? What did he say?”

Doodle’s face flushed. “I’ve already said too much. But it was all positive. The way he went on about you at the poker game before you whisked him away, I just didn’t think he would be so keen on you getting a dragon, is all.” After a moment of silence, Doodle said, “If you’re here to get a dragon, then follow  me to the stream.”

Ally went with Doodle while wondering at the words he’d spoken about what Joel had said. So, all the while I fretted over whether the angel had forgotten me or not, he was talking about me! No wonder he acted the way he did when I mentioned coming here.

Once they reached the brook, Doodle stopped and pointed downstream. “You follow the river to a small lake. Then wait there, and eventually you’ll meet your dragon.”

“How long is ‘eventually’?”

Doodle shrugged. “How long is eventually in Paradise? Who knows, there’s no time here. Just wait there,  someone will be along . . . eventually.”

Ally nodded. “See you later.”

“I certainly hope so.”

She smiled, then turned to head downstream. As she entered the forest, she marveled at how the light didn’t change. In her world, trees offered shade from the sun in a forest. Here, however, everything gave off light—plants, rocks, the ground, all animals, even herself—so that there was no need for a sun. She strolled through tall trees that reminded her of Brownwood trees back home.  They towered, she figured, about 75 yards into the air. Finally, she came to a lake. A distant shore in the background indicated, at least to her, that this wasn’t a “small” lake. She sat on a log by the shore and watched the water lap onto the shoreline.

Ally waited for eventually to arrive, and it eventually did in the form of bubbling waters. The bubbles grew to a gush of bubbles, then a water column shot into the air. On the top of the column stood a lady dressed in dazzling light. She held aloft a sword, a flaming sword, much like Joel’s. Then she tossed the sword toward Ally. Ally ducked to form a ball. The sword stabbed into the ground beside her.

Then the water column started sinking. Ally stood up and said, “Wait, don’t go. Someone has to tell me what this means!” Despite her pleas, the angelic creature sank into the waters until the lake swished with the small waves of water washing over the shoreline. 

Ally huffed, then stepped around the flaming sword in a circle. After a moment, she decided she was intended to pick up the sword. She reached her hand out grab the hilt.

Wait! Echoed inside her head. You have a choice.

She jerked her hand back and scanned the area. A dragon stood before her, about twenty feet high. Fat body, small head, the classical fire-breathing dragon type. He—assuming it was a he—had folded his wings up alongside his body. He was definitely intimidating.

“Are you my dragon?” Ally sat back down on the log.

The dragon sat on his haunches. “Maybe, maybe not. That depends on what you choose.” He pointed his tale at the sword. “If you pick up the sword, you’ll stay with the angel. If you do not, you’ll stay with me.”

Ally stood and started pacing back and forth as she talked. “But I came here so I wouldn’t have to choose. I wanted to know what God wants me to do. I wanted to know my purpose in life.”

“Those are two different questions. What God wants you to do has nothing to do with it. It is what God wants you to be, and who you are to affect in your doing that gives one purpose. You could serve God and others equally either way, by staying with Joel or going with me. There is only one catch if you go with me, you will lose your ability to sense what others are feeling.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ll get a new ability when you join with me.”

“Oh? What?”

The dragon laughed, sort of. “If I knew that, I would be God.”

Ally huffed. “So I’m supposed to make a decision here without all the facts. A decision I had hoped to avoid.”

“That is your decision as to what you should do with your life. It is God’s decision as to how you fulfill his plan by what you do.”

Ally thought for a second. “But for God to be able to do that, he would have to know what I’m going to choose? Even before I know what I will choose.”

“Exactly.”

A lot of help he is.

I heard that. The dragon smiled.

“So, you are saying that God knows what I am going to choose, and based on what I choose, he predestines me to a certain purpose?”

The dragon nodded. “You’ve got it. Though, in reality, we all have the same basic purpose.”

Another voice sounded behind Ally. “Hey, what are you doing here? I just left you in the Great Hall.”

She turned to spot Timothy standing by the shore. “I don’t know. We can’t be wearing the same pair of gloves at the same time, can we?” She turned back toward the  dragon.

The dragon roared with laughter. “You of all people, Ally of Reol, should know that time is mutable in Paradise.”

She examined the dragon. “I suppose so. It was just so unexpected.” Her eyes grew wide. “I know what I should do!”

The dragon smiled as only a dragon can do. “I knew you’d figure it out.”

Timothy glanced between them. “What are you two talking about? I don’t even know where here is?”

She had been brought here to help Timothy, more than herself.  That’s why she had to go first. Ally turned on her emotional connection and focused on Timothy. “You’re not looking at this correctly. It isn’t what great power one has or what great accomplishments you can do that gives one purpose, rather it is following the first and second greatest commandment in Scriptures: to love God and to love each other as yourself. That is what God’s purpose and plan is for each of us. We choose what we will do . . . ” She reached over and grabbed the hilt of the sword and pulled it into the air. “But God works through us and what we do to help us fulfill the greatest commandments.”

Timothy stared in awe at Ally as the flaming sword lit up the area even more, if possible, than it already was. “Wow, you’re right!”

“And now that Ally has made her choice, you also have a choice, Timothy.” The dragon shot flames into the air with a great roar. “If you choose to bond with me, you will serve in the kitchen and cleanup maintenance for the rest of your days. If you don’t, then you don’t. However, you will become an apprentice to a wizard and become a great wizard much like Josh. But, you will not have a dragon with you. What do you choose?”

Timothy’s head bowed as he mumbled, “The kitchen? Cleanup? I could have done that at home.” Then he raised his head. “But then, I would not be bound to a dragon either. And I’ve dreamed about that, have planned for it.” Timothy walked to the shore and stared out across the water for about a minute or two. Then he turned around and walked up to the dragon. “What is your name?”

“I thought you’d never ask. But before I tell you, what is your decision?”

Timothy smiled. “I choose bonding with you.”

The dragon roared. “I’m glad you have chosen me. You will not regret it.”

Timothy cocked his head to the side. “Why?”

“Because, my name is Grinoth.”

Timothy’s eyes grew wide. “Grinoth! Cole’s dragon! But I thought he had gone onto a different world?”

“He did.” The dragon smiled. “I am Grinoth, Jr.”

Timothy shook his head. “I can’t believe it!” Then Timothy dashed to the dragon and hugged his leg.

Grinoth caught Ally’s eye as she stared at them and winked  at her. She winked back.

All went black, to be followed by a return of the Great Hall, and an astonished angel’s wide eyes staring at her.

She rose to a sitting position and took off the gloves, handing them to Kelly. She scanned the area, but saw no dragon. Timothy still sat where he’s sat when she went to Paradise. Apparently for him, what she’d experienced was still in his future. “Joel, why are you staring at me like that?”

Joel pointed at her. “You came back with something.”

“What?” She stood and a rattling noise came from her left. She glanced around until her eyes saw what made the noise: a sheath with a sword in it. She reached for the hilt.

Joel held out a hand. “Don’t remove it. We need to discuss this in private.”

“Okay, let’s go now.”

Timothy lay down on the bench, the gloves slid on him and he appeared to become unconscious. 

Joel nodded toward Timothy. “Don’t you want to find out how Timothy fairs?”

She stepped toward the door. “I already know how he fairs.” She glanced up at Joel. “Timey-shifting stuff, you know.”

Once they were outside, and strolling among the trees Joel said, “Does that sword, perchance, burst into flames when you pull it out?”

“Why yes it does. Hey, you want to see?” She reached for the hilt.

Joel held up a hand. “No. I know what a flaming sword looks like.” He firmly grabbed Ally by her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “Only angels carry flaming swords.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m an angel now?”

“Either that, or someone in inventory is out of a job today.”

“Well, I did have a watery tot throw the sword at me.”

Joel cracked a smile.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“It’s from another world. You wouldn’t understand.” Joel mouth changed from a smile to a more serious demeanor. “You are now, an angel for sure, with angel powers. Though I don’t know if you are human or not still. This is a first, an unprecedented move.”

Ally smiled. “So I can go to Paradise whenever I want?”

“You could live there.”

“And I can go anywhere and anytime like you can?”

“I would believe so.”

“Race you to your house!” Then Ally disappeared in a flash of light.

Joel shook his head as he gazed into the sky. “Are you sure this was a good move? Really?” He, likewise, disappeared in a flash of light.