Raka was deep in thought, speculating on what he had heard when he saw the younger man reach into his pocket and pull out his money clip along with a round, brass device. Raka held his breath. There it was, his treasure! He wanted to jump up and grab it but had enough presence of mind to know that was not the way to achieve his objective. In the excitement of seeing the Shamir, Raka’s concentration weakened, and the illusion of his human form began to fade. Scales began to appear on his face. He rubbed his hands over his cheeks quickly, and his soft, human complexion returned. Shaking with anticipation, Raka was overwhelmed by his proximity to the prize he had sought for millennia. As Albert and Max stood up and made their way to the front door, neither noticed the blond gentleman at the table behind them.
Raka waited until Max and Albert had left the alehouse before he tossed a few coins on the table and followed. As he exited the building, he saw Max walking to the left and Albert going right to fetch his bicycle at the library. Raka grinned and moved along the cobblestone street toward Albert, melting into the pitch-black night. Albert rounded the corner of the now-dark library and walked to where he had parked his bike. Lost in thoughts of his future, he was unaware of Raka approaching him from behind. Panting in anticipation, Raka prepared to strike, cosmic law be damned. He readied his weapon by pressing the dragon’s ruby eyes and exposing the toxic steel needle. Just as he began to aim, out of nowhere, the hoopoe bird flew straight into the evil lizard, its pointed bill piercing his left eye. Raka stifled a cry and crouched to the ground in pain as the swift bird flew away.
Pulled from his musing by the muffled sound, Albert looked around. But the night was dark, and he saw neither Raka nor the weapon, which fell from his grasp as the lizard covered his wounded eye. The walking stick tumbled to the cobblestone pavement, and the poisoned needle tip broke with a snap, bouncing onto a squirrel nearby, causing it to chatter angrily. As he was placing his leg over his bicycle, Albert heard the noise and saw the little rodent scurry past him. Because it was so dark, Albert did not believe his eyes as the creature’s fur began to smoke and the animal appeared to disintegrate into a puddle of ooze. Albert shook his head, chiding himself for the way his eyes deceived him. He pulled the collar of his coat tighter around him to protect himself from the cutting wind.
Muttering soundless curses at the hoopoe bird, Raka skulked in the darkness, attempting to tend his wound. Far from fatal for the changeling, it was painful enough to demand his attention. He cursed himself soundly for his over-eagerness and realized what he had nearly done. The price he would have paid, he realized, would have been too high, even for the Shamir. He would not make that mistake again.
Walking in the dark, cold night, Raka vowed to lay a far more foolproof plan. Yes, it would take time. Yes, he would have to be patient. But he would not let the Shamir slip through his clutches again. A plan began to form in his mind—one that involved other humans. Like a precious seed, he would nurture it until it blossomed and bore fruit.
Astride his bicycle, Albert pedaled toward his aunt’s house, his mind filled with thoughts of a much brighter future. Not far behind, the hoopoe flew, ever vigilant, watching for the potential dangers of which Albert was blissfully unaware.
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