The water splashed against his oar as Torgh paddled toward the island, the setting sun dusting the lake with sparkling gold. He had always enjoyed the scene, but now his mind was on fetching his sister. There would always be other sunsets to admire. Helping their mother make the evening meal could not wait. As the duckbilled reptile drew up alongside the pier, he spotted his sister’s canoe tied there, and caught the faint thud of an arrow hitting its target. Protector Island was where the Hadrosian elite warrior-guardians of his village came to sharpen their physical strength and fighting skills. Crossbows and regular bows were the main weapons and all Protectors were proficient with them. But the Masters always insisted on versatility, so swords, spears, staves, sling-shots, and boomerangs were added to the repertoire. The Masters also knew there was more to a Protector than sheer physical strength; strength of mind was just as vital, so meditation huts had been built on the island. In truth, all Hadrosians were encouraged to learn combat and centering skills, and any villager could come to the designated part of Protector Island to work on them. Torgh knew his sister frequently did. But he also knew that for her the island was more than a place for diligent practice; it was a private world where she could think, reflect, and dream. He stopped paddling, his canoe bobbing gently on the water. “Teerah!” he called. “Teerah!” “Torgh?” answered a young female voice. “Is that you?” “Yes. Mother wants you to return home to help with supper.” Teerah appeared and hurried toward him, gripping her crossbow. “I didn’t know it was so late! Is she angry?” “No, but she suspected you might forget the time. Now get your things and let’s go home.” She nodded and ran back to the target range to get her arrows and quiver. Torgh waited until she had them as well as herself in her canoe, then turned his own around and paddled back to the lakeside, with Teerah closely following. “I’m sorry, Mother”, Teerah apologized immediately after following Torgh into the large circular hut that was her family’s home. “I got so busy with target practice that --“ “You didn’t notice the sun setting,” said Zhurina. A smile of amusement tugged at the corners of her duckbilled mouth as she stood at the wooden table with the fruits, vegetables, and legumes that would make up the evening meal. “Every Protector knows he or she must eat so they can stay strong enough to keep their skills up. Therefore, it’s good I sent your brother to remind you of that.” The girl felt her face grow warm. “I’m sorry,” she said self-consciously. “I should have paid closer attention to the time.” The female Hadrosian chuckled. “No harm done, child, but next time be mindful of the sun when you’re at practice.” “Yes, Mother,” Teerah said obediently. “Well, you’re now here, and it’s still early enough before your father comes home from the groves. So put your things away and help me get dinner ready.” The girl nodded and went to store her archery equipment. Teerah lay on her back, under her cover, and gazed at the thatched roof of the hut, the rushes underneath her rustling softly whenever she moved. Usually supper made her feel so relaxed that she had no problem falling asleep, but tonight she could not keep her eyes closed. The symbol had kept popping into her mind of late, which surprised her. She hadn’t thought about it for the longest time. She turned toward the small wooden chest within arm’s reach. She heaved a quiet sigh, glanced over at her sleeping family and, moving so not to awaken them, crept over to the chest. She slowly raised the lid and peered inside at the private treasure that she had collected or made herself over the summers -- colored stones, a necklace of dried flowers strung together, and small wooden carvings. But among them were two items she had neither made nor collected, the ones that she treasured most of all. She took them out of the chest, silently closed the lid, and tiptoed out into bright moonlight. Once outside, Teerah spotted Protectors stationed atop the tall wood palisade encircling her village, their alert forms gazing out over the terrain. They always worked in shifts, but they would be too absorbed in their watch to notice her. She slipped around to the back of the hut and sat down on the ground to examine her possessions. The tiny necklace, with its non-Hadrosian beads strung together, intrigued her; her family said she had been wearing it when the Protectors had first found her. She had always wondered who made it. Certainly not the owner of the odd-looking head decorating the necklace, a head with two long pointed ears, a flat red nose, amber-colored button eyes, and a face that bristled with white hair. The thought amused her, as the face itself always did, and she smiled to herself as she held the necklace in her hands. But it was the second object that she had spent the most time wondering about, the one her eyes drifted to as she put down the necklace. Teerah reached over and picked up the lavender-pink blanket, somewhat worn and faded with age, with the symbol placed at its center, a circle with a sleek silhouette of an animal’s head with its ear flattened, its eye narrowed in a menacing look, and its mouth fixed in a roar that exposed two fangs, a long one in the upper jaw and a much shorter one in the lower jaw. How often have I looked at this? Teerah asked herself as she held the blanket in front of her. And how often have I wished it could speak to me and tell me about the people I never knew? Who are they, where do they live, what do they do? Do they all look like me? She remembered the first time, when she was very young, she had seen her reflection in a pool of rainwater and knew she didn’t look anything like the other Hadrosians. The shock had sent her running to her family, who had calmed her and answered her questions as best they could. Though she had been grateful for their effort, it had been a life-changing moment, and afterward not a day had gone by that she hadn’t wondered about it. Not a day when, while doing her chores, she didn’t find a moment to stop at a nearby water trough to gaze at the slightly rippling image looking back up at her: The image of a young being without a tail, scales or a duckbilled mouth. A being with clawed hands and feet, a wiry tan body, long reddish-brown hair, pointed ears, and slanted brown eyes. Who am I? she thought. What am I really? “And still you wonder, little sister?” She started slightly and turned to see Torgh standing behind her, dressed as she was in a sleeveless night tunic. “How long have you been standing there?” she asked, rising to her feet. “Only a few moments. I woke to see your bed empty.” He smiled as his eyes went over the blanket and the necklace. “I thought you might be here.” Teerah followed his gaze and gave a little smile herself. “I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been thinking about the symbol a lot lately and I haven’t for a long time.” “It is obvious. You still wish to know about the race you came from.” She gave him an honest look. “Wouldn’t you, if you were me?” “Yes, I would,” Torgh replied, nodding. “Anyone in your position would.” He added gently, “But you may have to accept that you will never get to know them, no matter how much you may want it.” A shadow flitted across Teerah’s face. “I thought I had,” she confessed, “and that’s why I didn’t think about it until now.” She held up the blanket and looked at the symbol on it, her expression becoming resolute. “I do know this about them. They’re strong, brave, and special.” Torgh came up beside her and looked at the emblem knowingly. “Strong and brave, of that I have no doubt. A symbol like this would mean a race that’s a force to be reckoned with.” Teerah grinned. “They’d give the Carnallians something to think about.” “Indeed. And you say they’re special.” He smiled at his sister. “As special as you?” She sighed in exasperation. “I’m not special! How many times do I have to say that?” “Our people see you that way because you have gifts we don’t have,” Torgh pointed out. “You have greater strength, speed, and agility than the other children. You jump and leap higher and farther than any of us. Your sight, hearing, reflexes, even your sense of smell, surpass ours, day or night.” He shook his head wonderingly. “And there’s that other gift of yours.” Teerah sighed again. “I know,” she commented wryly, “the one that makes me sense trouble before anybody else knows it’s there. I wish everyone in the village would stop thinking I’m magical because I can somehow do that.” Her eyes met Torgh’s. “Remember when I asked Mother and Father about it? They said I was simply better at being aware of my surroundings. You agreed with them, and it made sense after I thought about it. But you and they are the only ones who see it like that. No one else does.” Her brother gave a small shrug. “We can’t control what others think, little sister. We can only accept it and go on from there.” He eyed the symbol again, a smile gently touching the corners of his mouth. “And it probably wouldn’t be too hard to imagine the race you came from as having that belief as well.” She smiled as her eyes followed his. “Do you think they might also have a code of honor like ours?” “Honor?” Torgh said. “I would say they have a code, but as to what kind…” He paused for a few moments before continuing, “Well, it could be the Carnallians’ idea of it for all we know.” Her head jerked up and she glared at him. “No!” she exclaimed. “I don’t believe that, Torgh. I won’t believe it. They can’t be anything like the Carnallians. They can’t!” Torgh raised a finger to his lips, glancing at the guardians on patrol atop the palisade. “Lower your voice, Teerah,” he whispered. “You’ll distract the Protectors.” Her eyes flicked in their direction and she winced. Her brother was right. The guardians’ attention to their duties could not be diverted under any circumstances; the Carnallians had conducted too many raids on her village in the past to risk it. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, “but I don’t believe my birthpeople are anything like the Carnallians.” “How do you know that?” Torgh asked. Teerah thought hard for a minute and raised her hands in a helpless gesture. “I don’t,” she admitted. “I just…feel it.” “You feel it?” said Torgh, and his sister nodded. “What makes you say that?” “I don’t know. The blanket and the necklace, I guess.” She held them up. “I mean, how can my birth-people be like the Carnallians if they can make things like these?” Torgh heaved a quiet sigh and nodded. “You have a point, Teerah. Whoever your true people are, their culture has to be far superior to the Carnallians’ -- and to ours -- to make what you’re holding.” He eyed the necklace meaningfully. “But the Carnallians would certainly not create a necklace like this one.” His sister’s face darkened. “No,” she said. “They’d make it from our people’s bones.” They would indeed, thought Torgh, to show their children that sometimes we’re the prey. The Hadrosians’ ancestral enemies, the Carnallians lived in the high countries hunting wild plant-eating reptiles, and at times stealing Hadrosian mounts when their natural food supply was scarce. But it was never enough for them; the ruthless flesh-eaters considered themselves born conquerors and dominators. They had overrun the highlands and the lesser tribes of fellow reptilian carnivores, using the later as expendable slave labor and foot soldiers, eating them when they had outlived their usefulness or failed in their duties. And Hadrosian villagers had been snatched in past Carnallian raids to become an extra food source when other prey was sparse. Torgh sighed, remembering past victims who had been male and female, young and old…and never seen again. “Torgh,” came Teerah’s voice, arousing her brother from his sad thoughts. “What?” “Am I wrong to guess what my birth-people may be like on just the basis of the necklace and the blanket?” she asked, looking at him cautiously. He shook his head with a gentle smile. “No. Who knows, your speculation may very well be correct. But speculation is not fact, little sister. I’m only saying you should temper your assumptions about a race you have never met, and not get your hopes up too high that you’ll ever meet them.” His sister hung her head. Torgh was about to say something to soothe her when he suddenly gave a yawn. “And it’s getting late, Teerah. A lot of work is waiting for us tomorrow, so let’s return to bed.” She nodded. “I’m getting tired too,” she said, and followed him back into the hut.