Chapter 34- Trepidation
It is impressive what these two can do together. Not only did they shape a cave for us to hide in, they managed to make it large enough for me in dragon form to stretch out, and yet the roof is secure enough to not collapse. If only that confidence could spill over to the task at hand. Defeat Harogbas. Ideally without dying by his hand. Because we do not know for sure if he really needs Novayar or not.
I still regret asking them to wrestle. I suspect Novayar's training was not focused on defense as much as offense. Regardless, it brought up the reality, in all its ugly glory, that any or all of us could die in a real fight, but him especially. And he has not been the same ever since.
Even Oculeera has developed some doubts about the future. And I do not know how to comfort either of them. How do I tell Novayar that he will be fine when his lack of full training has already reared its head? How do I tell Oculeera not to worry when her closest friend will be the target of a deadly dragon? How do I tell them I can keep them safe if Harogbas could subdue me, without magic, in many of our bouts?
How can I comfort them when I am the reason Novayar is not trained enough?
Because it was when he stormed off, running into the shield bubble, that I realized just what I have deprived him and the rest of my nest. It always annoyed me that they were more human than dragon. I never gave them a chance to be a dragon by ignoring them, not finding them, and then lashing out at them. Not new realizations, not truly, but here is the effect. And with Novayar, it truly matters, not just to me, not just to him, but also to anyone Harogbas targets.
Both lay curled together, Oculeera covering them both with a wing. I sit nearby, open for them to lay against me but not expecting it. They lay together for comfort, not for warmth. It is already too hot in here.
But I also know they know there is little I can do for them. In the past week, since Novayar's outburst, we all have been silent, except for evenings when I try to bounce ideas off them about how to proceed. It would not take much more convincing for either of them to just fly away, to ignore the reason we are here. They would falter, and I believe the prophecy warns of that very thing.
Novayar's eyes opened and locked on me. But he did not say anything. His eyes said enough. He is scared. We are at our destination and are far from prepared.
"Get some sleep," I tell him.
"I can't," he mumbled.
"Try to. You'll need it."
"I know. Can I ask you something?"
He looked away, and patiently I waited. "When you were my age, were you a good fighter? Did you like fighting?"
"Good? Not as good as I am now. Maybe not good by strength dragon standards. But I could defend myself."
"But I am not a strength dragon."
"No. I know that. You are strong in magic, though."
"And Harogbas could negate that. He could negate the spell I have to cast."
"I'll try to distract him then."
Slowly, the conjurer slipped out from under Oculeera's wing. She did not move; she must already be sound asleep.
"The prophecy details that Oculeera will find someone stronger than her. We always assumed it meant magical strength. But what if it means physical strength? She is a good fighter for what she is, and we stumbled upon you, an even better fighter."
Eyes do not lie. He wants to believe anything that saves him from wanting to fight.
"Plenty of dragons along the way are stronger in that regard," I say carefully. "But there may be truth to that."
"But we met them under normal circumstances. We weren't supposed to meet you. The prophecy mentioned that she stumbles upon one more powerful."
I look at the sleeping spirit dragon. Strong in magic, I am told. Adequate in fighting. Full of inner fire, I have seen myself. Anything could be the power the prophecy details. But magic is needed to fight the inverse magic Harogbas is harboring. Magic is Novayar's strength, undertrained as he is. Not mine.
"We must proceed as if you are the one of the prophecy, but remain open to other options," I tell him. "I cannot do your spell. But I can fight. I haven't heard the words of the prophecy in a while. Is there any mention of help?"
He shook his head.
"Any mention that you two must act alone?"
Again, a shake.
"So, we can act as if we both are the one."
"I don't want to fight."
He said this so many times. I dip my snout to be level with his. He is so small, a youngling in so many ways. "I know."
"But that's the thing, I have to. You know that."
Wisely I stay silent. The words I have in mind might set him off. They already have.
"I have to do something. I just, I don't know."
His eyes stared into mine, and I can see the tears welling up. "Novayar."
My old Master told me something once, something I did not believe at the time but never forgot. I was reminded of those words after the bomb killed my nest, when I felt the need to make a difference. "One does not need to banish all fear in order to act, as my Master imparted to me so long ago. She said that fear could be transformed into a tool, a way to achieve the otherwise impossible. Words I used once."
"But what if the fear makes me unable to act?"
"Let it guide you until you are comfortable enough to act. Use it to keep yourself alive. It may be that- "
My ball of light winked out of existence. I tried to make another, but my magic would not cooperate. I snorted a few flames at the ceiling, and they worked.
"What's going on?" Novayar asked.
"Wake Oculeera. Be ready to fly. Create a new exit if necessary."
The entrance is blocked off, but I can break through it with my bulk. They left it thin for that purpose. I feel around for the presence of magic and I feel a single source. A large source, a familiar one.
I growl, but at that moment the molded rock crumbles under the claws of a massive black dragon. Harogbas. And his face looked half melted from our last encounter.
"Ah, Jheecu hides in a little rabbit hole. How far you have fallen."
I growl again. "Alone, I see. Not willing to show your minions your defeat?"
Harogbas laughed. "You can't anger me like I can to you. Oh, Jheecu, we could have been the rulers of this planet combining our strengths." His voice turned serious. "However, you refuse to aid me anymore."
"I refuse to be used anymore."
"You blame me for your own blindness and morals. I have found the answers to the questions I had, and you realized that you didn't like them. It's not my fault that you changed your mind with everything."
I take one step forward, but he does not take a step back. "There are lines that should not be crossed, Harogbas. Mass killings are way past those lines."
"It is nothing more than what they have done to themselves, and you. Have you forgotten?"
"An eye for an eye breeds more violence. Otherwise I would have killed rather than protested. Or have you forgotten?"
He snorted and shook his head. "It seems as though I have lost you forever. Is our love not as deep as we thought?"
"It used to be," I say quietly. "But no more."
I raise one paw in an attempt to make him flinch. Harogbas jerked his head back, and I took the opportunity to pounce.
An invisible force grabs a hold of me before I can land. I grit my teeth, wanting to wipe that smug grin off his face if it was the last thing I do.
"Novayar has such potential within him if he is my equal. It's a shame he lacks the confidence and vision to fully tap into it. Him and me, we could reshape the world, not just rule it."
"Novayar is going to kill you," I growl.
"Ah, you forget I had access to every lesson and observation while he was in Oita. It is not within him to do as you say, or to aid me. It was a mistake to separate him from you in Kucho, I think. One that I will not make again."
I roar and billow tongues of flame, putting the pieces of what he said together quickly in my mind. "You made the Elders do that!"
"Of course. Do you really think those cowards could come up with a plan that had a half chance of succeeding? They wanted to, don't get me wrong. But I had to nudge them."
"So that's why you and Hernat dragged your feet along that whole time. You wouldn't punish the tools that helped you."
"Ah, you still have so much intelligence. Yes, and despite your intelligence, you are as blind as ever. Hatchlings under your care would grow up to be rebellious and independent, much like yourself. I couldn't have that in potential conjurers who have no real attachment to me, but while Novayar can still be shaped a little, he is useless as well."
"So, you kill us all."
He nodded, and for a moment, sadness flashed on his face. "I wish it weren't so. Jheecu, I may have done things to hurt and deceive you in order to achieve my goals. Maybe I don't love you as much as I should. But some things are more important than love, and fighting the humans is one of those things."
I tried to flame him again, but this time he took precautions, and my flames flow harmlessly to either side of his face.
"Don't try to fool me with that kind of tone. You've succumbed to the evil forces around you. You just want to kill the humans, not introduce us to them."
"If that were true, Jheecu, then you would be dead right now. All humans would be dead by now. Fly with me, and if I can convince you to join me, then I shall let you live."
If I take his bait, then I can get him to get away from the duo, and they can sneak out of the cave. Maybe if I can keep Harogbas distracted enough, they can begin their spell without him knowing. But only if I can keep his attention, and only if those two can come to the same conclusion and act upon it.
But by taking his bait, I am partially at his mercy, and I am acknowledging legitimacy to an argument I do not agree with.
Some things are more important than others. He has that right.
"And where would we be flying to?" I asked, squinting at him. I still must be weary of any traps he has for me. He is a known liar, and his words could very well be a façade to fool me into a situation where he has total control.
But he has total control right now, holding me in the air with magic. What choice do I have? I must do what works best for my son and Oculeera.
"Just around. Up, above, visible, somewhere. I know that look. You haven't totally given up on loving me. Perhaps we can mend things."
Just as he is a good actor, I too must keep up appearances. "It will take a lot to do that. I'm not forgetting what happened to Karomba."
"I don't expect that to change."
I still could not move as he took to the skies. The invisible force holding me lifted me and kept me by his side.
"Let go of me," I growled. "I can fly."
"And give you the opportunity to slash me in the back?" he calmly replied. "No. Until I can trust you, you fly like this."
"And how do you expect to convince me of anything if you hold me like this?"
"With words. I know you, Jheecu. You have something going on in your mind. I want things to stay peaceful."
Lazily he looked higher into the air, pulling me with magic in his gentle circles. Minutes passed. We went higher, to cloud level if there was enough moisture here to form clouds. To thin air levels. No problem for two strong dragons like us. But an issue for the duo, whose wings and lungs are not as strong as ours.
"Somewhere in that rabbit hole you hid in, the duo hides. I want us to settle our differences before involving them," he said.
I snarl a little. "How do I know this isn't just a death trap?"
"If I wanted you dead, Jheecu, you would have already taken your last breath. Deep down, a part of me still likes you and wants you to help me see my visions. You shared them too. The path isn't pretty, but necessary. Do you know what kind of death the Laku all face if we don't fight back?"
"Yes. And the solution is complex. Dragons like me, capable and able to use inverse magic, can strike back directly to send a message. When two sides of a war both have the ability to annihilate the other, neither side is willing to strike. History teaches that. Of course, we must demonstrate we have that power first, since the humans know nothing of our abilities. Setting off a volcano can do that, along with produce other benefits, as we discussed once."
I shake my head. "Basically, we all live in fear that the other side might have a death wish and actually strike."
"Perhaps, but that is not the most likely scenario. Of course, then we gather our defenders. Ideally we would have conjurers because of their prowess, but Novayar could falter under such pressure. We can't risk that. Many spirit dragons and other Laku are capable enough and exist in far larger numbers. Plus, Novayar's been taught to fight the shadows, and believes the shadow is me. And likely it is, but are shadows really a bad thing? Scientifically it is just the absence of light and any further meanings are tacked on by thinkers."
"So why do you need to kill him and me?"
"Sometimes death is the only way to prevent future problems. Novayar will live on in the spirit world, and he can do just as much for dragon kind there as here. It will save him of the experiments and chains he must bear for the rest of his life. Because that's all he's good for to the dragons who lead."
"He'll never have freedom then."
"He never will, period. Never has had freedom. Honestly, if it makes you happy, I'll keep him around so long as he doesn't cause trouble. Maybe something of him is redeemable. But I doubt it. I believed in him once, but no more."
Harogbas' eyes looked away, towards the ground. He bared his teeth. "Fools…"
"Minions," I almost spat at him.
"Not mine," he said, and a shiver went down my spine. "Yours. I feel Novayar approaching."
The magic holding me let go, but my wings were already stretched out from my attempted leap and easily supported my weight. Never mind trying to reason with Harogbas. It is time to attack. Fast reflexes allow me to land on his back and try to bite through his shield bubble. It stopped me, but it made Harogbas roar and turn his head back at me.
No longer did he look like he wanted to make amends with me. His face was one of fury and murder. A look that made my blood go cold and made fear try to grab a hold of me.