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The Oncoming Swarm

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Gran'ma Ben knew there was something out there. The cows were avoiding one corner of the pasture and nothing she could say to them would get them to move that way. Rat creatures were the most obvious explanation, but most rat creatures weren't smart enough to stay hidden and wait. Bandits were possible, but most of them only stole from her once before realizing the error of their ways. And the cows wouldn't stay away from humans. Something bigger, then.

Her attempt at deducing the visitor's identity became moot as a large red head became visible in the moonlight.

"You," she said, narrowing her eyes.

The dragon's expression didn't change.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "You're scaring my cows."

The dragon found that amusing, with a chuckle that could have been mistaken for a quiet roll of thunder.

"Your cows are safe, Rose Harvestar," the dragon said.

"Quiet," she snapped. "Thorn doesn't know that, and she shouldn't, either."

"My apologies," rumbled the dragon sardonically. "Far be it from me to remind you of who you are, with destiny knocking so loudly on your door."

"Destiny?" Gran'ma Ben snarled. "My destiny is to win the cow race again this year."

The dragon looked thoughtful. "Yes," he said, nodding, "you are going to win the race this year. This will be the last year, though, unless you allow Thorn to embrace her destiny."

"What do you mean?" Gran'ma Ben said.

The dragon looked her in the eyes. "What does it matter to you, Rose, if your destiny is only to those cows? Maybe I should just visit Thorn directly."

"No. Please," Gran'ma Ben said, softening her voice. "Keep Thorn out of this. For as long as possible."

"It is because we have been keeping Thorn ignorant that this situation is developing. You already know that she is starting to dream."

Gran'ma Ben clenched her fists. She didn't want to admit it, but Thorn was already starting to tell her about the vividness of her dreams recently. She had hoped that part would never awaken, but it was becoming clear that she would need to find a way to control it, instead.

"Why? Why are you so sure we have to do this to her?"

The dragon considered her for a long time before speaking again.

"Locusts."

Gran'ma Ben's heart froze.

"Briar...?" she ventured.

"Yes. Your sister is stirring, Rose, and she believes she has found the key to her desires."

"Why are you here, then?" Gran'ma Ben did not trust dragons. They tended to forget promises of aid and support when they were most needed.

"Despite what you think of me, Rose Harvestar, I have no love for your sister. If she reigned, she would wake the one who should stay asleep."

"Hmph." That was the other thing Gran'ma Ben didn't like about dragons: they spoke riddles that left you more confused.

The dragon's had began to restart back into the forest, leaving one last piece of advice behind.

"If you want to defeat your sister, you must start preparing now. If you are not ready by when the snows come, you will not have enough time to win."

Gran'ma Ben waited until the dragon seemed to be gone, then separated the cows so that they were no longer huddled together in fear. Could she ask Thorn to do this? Could she tell Thorn the truth about who she was, and what that meant?

Rose Harvestar felt the weight of a crown that she no longer had, and made a decision.

Training for the Great Cow Race would start tomorrow.