Ally blinked. “This isn’t my home!”
“No, it is not.” Joel put his hand out. “It is my home.”
Before Ally stood a house glowing with light, and beside it a garden along with a “gardener.” At least, that is what Ally assumed he was, bent over and shuffling among the plants.
Ally realized her mouth hung open and shut it. “Everything is so bright and beautiful here. The kind of place you’d love to stay and never leave.”
“It should. It is Paradise, after all.”
“You can say that again.”
Joel laughed. “I mean, the real Paradise. You know, the one the thief on the cross went to.”
Ally’s mouth hung open again, and she made no attempt to shut it. “Seriously. The Paradise?”
“Yep. Sure enough. Where else did you think angels lived?”
“Does this mean I’m dead?”
Joel chuckled. “Not hardly. You’re here because I brought you here, not because you died.”
Ally scanned the area again. “So, I’ll be able to go back?” Though the thought didn’t sound too appealing.
“Of course. You don’t belong here. You could only stay if the Big Boss says you could. And He’s not likely to do so until you’ve actually, you know, died.”
Ally nodded. “What is growing in the garden?”
Joel eyed Ally with wide eyes. “Tea leaves. What else?”
Ally gazed at the garden. “Ah, so that’s why your tea tastes so heavenly, because it is grown in Paradise itself.”
Joel simply smiled big and nodded. “And now, it is time to head out.”
“What? You’re not going to invite me into your house?” She wanted to hang out here longer. “At least introduce me to your gardener.”
“Well . . . I suppose we could let you meet the gardener. Can’t stay long, though. Not without you encountering a test and a dragon.” Joel started walking toward the garden.
Ally followed and shook her head. “Seriously? Dragons? In Paradise?”
“I suppose you expected only cats and dogs to come here?”
They stopped at the garden’s edge. Waist-high green and narrow leafy plants covered the area. Little white flowers budded on the stems with a yellow pistil in the center. They all appeared to be healthy and vibrant.
Joel called out, “Kaylee, we have company.”
A young girl, with brown shoulder-length hair stood up, dusting her hands on her britches, and turned their way. “Oh, didn’t see you pop in, Joel. As usual.”
Kaylee looked Ally over. “I don’t suspect she’s staying?”
Joel averted his eyes. “Not exactly. At least, not yet. This is Ally.”
Kaylee shook her head. “You know the rules! What if, what if . . .”
Joel held up his hand. “Yes, I know the rules. I’m bending them in this case. Special case, sort of like you were.”
Kaylee stared at Joel with narrowed eyes.
“I know, I know. I’ve already warned her about bonding with a dragon.”
Ally jumped. “Bond? You didn’t say anything about bonding with a dragon.”
“I implied it.”
Kaylee laughed. “He’s sort of that way, Ally. At any rate, welcome.”
Ally bowed. “It is a great honor to actually meet the renown Kaylee of Reol.”
Kaylee curtsied as best she could, considering she wasn’t wearing a dress. “Are you from Reol too?”
She nodded. “Yes, I am.” Ally gazed over the tea plants. “How come these plants are all so healthy?”
Kaylee threw her arms wide. “Because we’re in Paradise. No bugs that eat them, no weeds to pull up. All I do is plant and harvest them.”
Joel fidgeted. “I think we need to be going, before you-know-who shows up.”
Kaylee laughed. “Yeah, you don’t want to be chained to a bell again.”
“Hey, who do you think sent me on this mission. If she’s going to know I’m an angel and all, it is the least I can do to show her where I live.” Joel took Ally’s hand to lead her out. “See you later, Kaylee.”
“Bye.” Kaylee waved as a bright white light engulfed the pair.
The light dimmed, and a strange sight appeared. A dense jungle stretched for miles, but they found themselves on the outskirts of a massive walled city. Strange new noises echoed among the trees.
Ally shook her head. “This definitely isn’t home. Where are we?”
Joel examined the area with a scrunched up face. “According to what I’m told, we’ve appeared in a parallel world by the city of an ancient race: the Yanomami. In some worlds, they are much less developed, but in this one, they became the dominate tribe of the Brazilian rainforest.”
Ally stared at Joel. “What? What is a parallel world? What is Brazilian? What is Yanomami?”
Joel rolled his eyes. “If you must know, the Yanomami are exactly what I said, an ancient race; actually, a tribe of a race. Brazil is a country on the continent of South America. A parallel world is a world like ours in some ways, but unlike ours in other ways due to the different ways it would have developed.”
“So what is a country, or a continent? “
Joel huffed. “I forget you don’t have such concepts in your world. Suffice it to say, those are geographical areas, a country usually involves a single government.”
Ally smiled. “Oh, you mean it is like our city governments.”
“Only expand that to a size like of the whole area north of the Dessert Sea.”
“Wow, that big?”
“Yes, Brazil is even bigger than that.”
Ally scanned the area again. “So, is there another me in this world?”
Joel laughed. “Heaven’s no. While there are fixed events in all the worlds, thus the likenesses, the combinations of who marries who and which seed makes it to the egg first is so large as to make that a near impossibility. As a matter of fact, you would have very few, if any, identicals in each world save for at the very beginning.”
Ally sighed. “That’s good.”
Joel glanced around. “Indeed, it is. Now, who are we here to help this time?”
Ally shut her eyes. “I’ll see if my emotions can connect with anyone who might need help.”
Ally allowed her emotions to open up to those around her. A new “muscle” she’d only found when Joel gave her the ability to shut off the flow. Now the various emotions of those around her sank into her psyche. “There are plenty of sad people around, but too many to narrow it down to who we are here to help.”
“We’d best meet some people then.” Joel strolled around the wall until they came to the city gate. A wide, paved, rock-road lead to the gate. Plenty of traffic ran along it—trade, travelers, and one person dressed like some type of government official, purely based upon the long row of feathers he wore on his head. Otherwise, the people were dressed as Joel and Ally were, in britches, shirts, blouses, and shoes.
Ally scratched her head. “Funny, they don’t appear all that ancient.”
“You should see the ones on Earth, in another parallel world.”
“Wow, you mean that world has a name?”
Joel nodded. “Of course. Most worlds do that are fairly developed. Your world is an exception in that regard. For whatever reason, no one has given it a name.”
Ally thought for a minute, strange that. But it did seem time to give her world a name, now that she’d become aware of others that it needed distinguishing from. “I’ll have to give that some thought.”
A group of men stood by the gate, pointing at them. “I think we’ve been noticed.” Joel waved at the men and smiled.
One of the men waved back. He walked toward them. “Huk, spinits doggery pillu pu?”
Ally glanced at Joel. “I can’t understand him.”
Joel waved his hand. “I forgot to initiate the translating matrix.” He watched the man. “Would you please repeat that?”
“Sure.” The man huffed. “Are you two the pair that was coming to rescue our chief?”
“Rescue? From who?”
“’What’ is more like it.” The man glanced up in the air. “From a dragon, of course.”
“A dragon, hum.” Joel tapped his right index finger on his cheek.
Ally nodded. “Yep, that’s what we’re here to do.”
Joel swung his head to face Ally. “Are you sure? Dragons in other worlds are not always as nice as the ones in ours.”
“Why?” Ally gazed at Joel.
“Why? Because they’ll eat you as soon as shake hands with you.”
Ally thought for a moment. “Yes, I do feel that is what we are to do here.”
Joel turned his attention back to the man. “Looks like we’re your rescuers, then.”
Ally had only seen a dragon a couple of times before, and those were flying through the air. Now she peered through the leaves at the dragon’s cave, wondering just what type of dragon they would meet.
She felt the chief’s emotions bubble through her before shutting off the flow of thoughts. “Yep, the chief is still alive. Though surprisingly he doesn’t appear fearful.”
“Amazingly enough. I wonder then why the dragon has captured him?” Joel tapped his right index finger on his cheek. “I would assume for food, but if he hasn’t eaten him yet, not sure if that’s the reason.”
Ally stared at Joel. “So, how do we proceed?”
“Guess the first thing is to talk to the beast. Best way is mentally, of course.”
What did Ally know of the best ways to talk to a dragon? She jumped when she heard the whole conversation in her head.
Hey, Mr. Dragon, this is Joel. How are you doing today?
Howdy, Joel. My name is Shanana. I’m doing fine. Are you here to serve as desert?
Funny! No, I’m here to find out what you’re going to do with the chief you’ve captured.
Captured! Joel and Ally heard the dragon laugh. And who is the one I sense with you?
Joel motioned for Ally to answer. Hi, Shanana, my name is Ally. Why don’t I sense fear from the chief?
I suppose he’s become used to being around a dragon. But I’m having the chief for dinner.
Joel said, That’s what we were afraid of.
Afraid? Of dinner? Don’t you eat?
Well, I don’t need to myself, but I do at times for enjoyment.
What an odd man you are. But you two can join us if you wish. Today’s menu is roasted rabbit in mole sauce, along with steamed broccoli and dinner rolls.
Joel smiled. Oh, you don’t mean you’re having the chief for dinner. Sure, we’ll join you. He motioned for Ally to follow him.
Ally hesitated. “I sense deception from the dragon.”
“I know dragons. This world’s dragons appear to be more friendly than most. Come on.”
She thought for a few seconds, then decided she would be safe with an angel. So why not? May be her only chance to get a close up look at a dragon. She followed Joel into the cave.
The cave quickly grew dark. Joel lit up the way with light emanating from himself. The interior of the cave shifted from rough rock to a smooth polished surface. The opening grew to a large room in which sat a dragon and the chief at an old, oak table. A fire roared at one end of the room, while meat cooked on a spit over the fire.
Joel nodded toward the chief. “He certainly appears captured to me.”
Ally watched as the massive dragon, with wings folded against its body, sparkled as firelight echoed from the dragon’s scales. His front paws weren’t that long, but its hind legs stretched outward as the dragon yawned. A puff of smoke and fire rose from its mouth. The dragon’s teeth appeared razor-sharp. Long canines lined the edges of its mouth. Ally shivered at the sight.
“Not really captured. More like united. But it is the only way he’ll sit here with me.”
Joel turned to the chief. “Is this correct, Mr. Chief?”
“My name is Umma.” He tossed an indignant stare at Joel. “Of course Shanana is correct. You think I would sit here without fear otherwise?”
“So you are held against your will, then?” Joel asked.
“No, not in the least. Don’t you know?”
Ally met Joel’s eyes. She whispered, “I still sense some deception coming from the dragon. All is not as it seems.”
Joel nodded. He then returned his attention to the dragon and the chief. “Good thing I’ve arrived. Just in the nick of time.”
“Why?” the dragon asked.
Joel pulled out a bag. “Because I brought tea.”
The dragon’s face lit up. “Great, because though I have some, I enjoy exploring new tea flavors.”
“I think you’ll like this one.” Joel sat at the table with the dragon. Ally reluctantly followed Joel’s lead. Joel pulled out four cups and a pot. He waved his hand over it and a steam rose from the pot. He placed the tea leaves in the pot to steep. A wonderful smell flooded the area.
The dragon towered over them. Ally cringed at being so close to a dragon. She kept waiting for him to reach his long neck down and snap at her. She didn’t like the way his tongue kept licking its lips. She hoped it was for the tea and not herself.
Joel turned to the chief. “So, what is it we don’t know?”
Umma’s eyes grew wide. “Where are you from, man?”
Joel smiled. “Neither of us are from this world. That’s for sure.”
The dragon cocked its head. “Really? What world are you from, then?”
Ally jumped into the conversation. “I”m from Reol.”
“Reol, huh? Not familiar with it.”
Joel smiled. “Not likely you would be. Myself, I’m from somewhere totally familiar to you, but I can’t say at the moment.”
“Oh? Why not.”
Joel jumped up. “Tea’s done.” He poured some into the cups. The dragon had a bigger cup than the rest. More like a bowl. The dragon and the chief drank, but Joel stopped Ally from taking a sip from her mug.
After licking it up for a few seconds, the dragon said, “Do you have more of this wonderful tea? I could do with another cup.”
Joel nodded and he poured more into the dragon’s bowl. “So, what is really going on here?”
The dragon roared. “What do you mean. I mean, I’m from another planet.” The dragon appeared surprised he had said that.
“You are? What are you here for?”
“We’re making plans for guiding this world’s people.” The dragon frowned. “What did you put in this tea anyway?”
“So where are you from, really?”
“I’m really an alien from the planet Zyto. I chose to appear as a dragon so I could bond with this chief to take over his body and guide these people in the right way.” The dragon-alien shook its head. “Why did I say that?”
Joel smiled. “Because, dear Zytoian, I put a spell of sorts over my tea, which made it into a truth serum.” Joel waved his hand in the air. “I knew you wouldn’t tell me willingly. But, I’m confused. Why did you use the Yanomami to gain conquest of this world?”
The dragon-alien struggled to not say. Then it spewed out the answer. “Darn this tea! Because, my research showed that this tribe was the most powerful in this world.”
Joel gazed at Ally. “We’ll, what should we do then?”
“You’re asking me?”
“I’m not staring at anyone else.”
Ally thought for a moment. “Shanana, why do you want to conquer this world?”
The dragon gazed upward at the ceiling as if thinking. “You know, I’m not sure.”
Shanana froze. “What?”
“Loneliness. I sense loneliness from you. Now that you can no longer be deceptive.”
“But, how can that be? I’ve never minded being alone.”
Ally closed her eyes and focused before opening them up again. “You’ve kept it hidden, even from yourself. But that is the source of your desire to conquer this world.”
The dragon stared at her. “How can you know this?”
She shrugged. “It’s a gift.”
“So,” Joel said, “what should we do with this dragon?”
Ally stared at him. “Why should I decide that? You’re in charge, are you not?”
Joel chuckled. “Since when does my kind make such decisions. It is yours and the Big Boss’s upstairs decision to make. Not mine.”
Ally pursed her lips. What did the Big Boss, as Joel kept calling him, want her to decide? Then it came to her, as if He had answered. She asked the dragon, “Why did you leave your world?”
Shanana bowed his head. “I was lost. I took a wrong turn on my way to a particular planet and ended up here instead. I don’t know how to get back.”
“Then we’ll send you back home.”
“You can do that?” The dragon expressed hope to Ally.
Ally shook her head. “Not me.”
Joel raised his hand. “I can. To be truthful, the Big Boss can. I just . . . you know . . . comply.” He turned to Ally and whispered to her, “Good choice.”
The dragon smiled. ‘Well, that would be just peachy.”
Ally giggled at the dragon’s use of “peachy.” Just didn’t sound like something a dragon would say at all.
Joel stood. “Done.” He waved his hand toward the dragon, and Shanana disappeared into a flash of light.
Umma stood. “Hey, what about me. Now that he’s gone, my bond with him still remains. I hurt inside.”
Ally wrinkled her forehead. “Why would a bond do that?”
Joel nodded and placed his hand on Umma’s chest. “It is a result of being away from a dragon one is bonded to. But also a bond that needs to be removed before the chief can return to himself.”
Joel sighed. “To long a story to go into now. Just know that is what happens.” He concentrated on Umma for a while. “There you go. Good as new.”
The chief shook his head, then let out a big sigh. “That’s better. Thank you for releasing me.” He glanced around. “Where am I?”
Joel smiled. “You’re in an abandoned dragon’s cave just a few miles from your town.”
The man threw his hands up and examined his palms. “Yes, I remember now. I was going to bond with a dragon, but then instead I was thrown into a dark place.”
Joel nodded. “That means the dragon you tried to bond with was already bonded to another.”
“Glad that’s over. I’d best get back to my city. No telling what crazy things the dragon had me put into place over the last few days.” Umma rose, bowed, and departed.
“Bye,” Ally said as he left the cave.
“Thanks,” came his reply.
Ally glanced at Joel. “I suppose now I’ve got to go back home?”
Joel shrugged. “You don’t sound like you want to.”
Ally gazed about her. “This isn’t what I expected. I’ve learned a lot. Still a lot of questions, mind you. But I’m not sure I can go back to sitting in my house, strolling through the forest for entertainment.” Her eyes grew big. “What is a tea plant called officially?”
“You mean, like the Latin name? That would be Camellia. At least that is its genus. Its full name is—”
“Camellia. I like it. But why is it a genus?”
Joel shook his head. “Never mind. But why did you want to know?”
She smiled. “You know, it’s my new name for my world.” She rolled it off her tongue. “Reol in Camellia.”
Joel laughed at her. “Now there is pretty picture. A city covered in tea plants.”
“Must be why you return there so often.” She grinned big.
Joel nodded. “Maybe. Maybe. I like the name too. So Camellia it is!” He said with a flair as they vanished into a bright flash of light.