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Chapter 1

"What the hell?" I murmured, setting my paper coffee cup down on the bench beside me. I gazed out across Lake Como's tranquil water, my brow furrowed with confusion. 

The calm lake was shrouded in early morning mist, and the bitter, cold breeze only added to the serene atmosphere. A flock of pale birds was airborne above the water, dipping and dancing through the clouds. The winter sun was shining through the clouds, and throwing the bird's shadows onto the surface of the water as they chased each other through the air. 

I tucked a long strand of red hair behind my ear and stood up, suddenly deaf to the hustle and bustle of the vintage cafe behind me. I squinted up at the birds flocking above, and then down at their reflections on the rippling water, perplexed.

A massive shadow was cast on the water below the flock, but it wasn't what you'd expect. It was not the shadow cast by a collective group of birds. It was one shadow - the kind of shadow cast by an aeroplane. It was enormous, and dwarfed the boats that clustered below. It had... two wings, and a long, spiny tail. I glanced up at the flock of birds again, and for a brief moment, the illusion fell away. I saw the flock of birds for what it really was. 

Its restless amber eyes sat lightly within the creature's scaled, hard skull, curving up into several horns, just above its narrow, curved ears. Several huge teeth poked out from the sides of its mouth. Its streamlined body was covered in black reptilian skin and rows of spikes ran down its spine. Enormous wings grew from its shoulder-blades. The wings were angular and widespread - I couldn't even begin to describe their size, but we'll settle on 'colossal' -  and black crystal tips protruded from the end of the wing bones like massive spears. Before the creature flickered away, I glimpsed colossal claws on each foot, seemingly made in an iridescent crystal.

Dragons were real, after all.

I let out the breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding, and relaxed back into my chair. Struck with sudden inspiration, I reached down into my bag and dug around for my sketchpad and supplies. I closed my eyes in concentration, and began to draw.

I spent the rest of the morning in that chair, shutting out reality and dwelling in my own fantasies, letting my thoughts guide the pencil in my hand. 

It was at noon that I was torn from my thoughts, when I noticed a waitress gazing over my shoulder at my art, her long brown hair falling across my shoulder. I turned around in my seat and smiled at her inquiringly. She smiled back and said to me in broken English, "That is beautiful. It looks almost real."

"Yes, it does." I looked down at the beast on the paper. It snarled back at me, ready to leap out and attack in a whirlwind of divine power and fury.

You have no idea, I thought to myself, and smiled.

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