42 – Memory and Mesmerism

Ezeas' soul felt like it was being torn to shreds and he could not recall the trip back to his home. It was habit for him to report to his grandmother before anything else, but he decided to seek out the Sethaernan manor first, intent on begging his parents' help.

It dawned on him how weird the notion seemed, and just how estranged he had become before Saelina's appearance.

His mother seemed to await his arrival, when he entered her office, her hands intertwined under her chin. The expression on Tiyala's face was a mix of apprehension, concern and interest.

"Is she...?"

"I let her go," he admitted and she sighed, though it was hard to tell whether from relief or resignation; quite possibly both.

"I don't know what made her leave, and I can't ever know."

Tiyala nodded.

"It's for the best. Besides, I couldn't tell you, even if I wanted to."

He paused and looked at her sharply. She took his meaning and leaned back in her chair, opening one of the drawers in her desk. The bottle she took out was placed on the desk and he recognized a couple of dried flower heads.

"There's exactly five missing," she informed him. "Enough to erase a few hours of the entire household, if used carefully."

He looked back at her, noting the lack of outrage. Rather, his mother seemed quite content with the entire situation.

"Is there enough to erase the last five days?"

She glanced at the bottle, her expression distant as she calculated.

"It shouldn't be a problem."

Ezeas nodded.

"Make it."

His mother sighed, then took forth a paper and quill.

"What should I write to you?"

He gave the instructions and she wrote it down, before sealing the letter. She paused, looking down at it.

"From the contents, it seems there was some progress between you. Are you sure-"

"It can't ever be. We both know that. I'm loathe to forget, but any starting point is too much of a lead to give them."

"And your teias is at peace with this?"

He hesitated.

"I...I don't know. Lately, the impressions have been...blurred. Uncertain."

"I'll have one of my shadows bring it, by the time you wake."

"Wouldn't it be less suspicious to use public delivery?"

Tiyala laughed.

"Niranne always has her nose in my business, so I never make it easy for her. Not taking precautions would be the most suspicious."

She stood and pulled a few vials from her personal cabinet and started her work.

"Since it's a large dose, take it before sleeping and once you wake up, you won't recall anything from the last five days."

"I remember."

"Well, that's what we're looking to change."

He chuckled.

"It's a shame, though," his mother lamented. "I like this version of you. He seems...happier."

Ezeas was quiet for a few seconds before replying: "I might be."

Do not get distracted.

Says the distracting dragon in my head.

She focused on the tree ahead of her, reaching out with her magic, exploring the rough bark, the deep roots and the soft leaves. However, try as she might, that was all she found.

You have to see beyond the tree itself.

Easy to say. Us humans are taught the opposite.

Your lack of understanding is the first issue to overcome.

Saelina rolled her eyes, behind the lids. She concentrated again but after a while, it became clear she would not unravel this problem, right away. Instead, she set off southward.

She had made use of her new connection to travel far and fast. Dhíanvhúr's power augmented her human form, giving her the energy to keep going and so far, her pace had kept her out of reach of any Nyxan patrols. She kept to the mountains, using the rocky paths to avoid leaving footprints. It was unlikely to help much but there was no reason to make it easy for them.

She had long ago sent the phu'ria off on its own, hoping to cause some confusion about her course. The lazier scouts would probably fall for it, though she knew Ezeas wouldn't be fooled. Her nights had been filled with dreams of their last meeting and the aching in her chest was still raw enough that she often woke with tears on her face.

The trip was long and though she still had Dhíanvhúr's voice, the dragon was not really open to chit-chat, simply to while the time away.

She stared up at black sky, musing over how nights and days had become meaningless, since her departure. She moved until she felt too tired to go any further and then she ate and slept, ate again when she woke and started the process over.

The powers of a dragon were something beyond her expectations. Saelina would often jump from branch to branch, when traversing through forests, or scale great heights, just to take a shortcut. Whenever she exerted herself to such an extent, her blood would sing with magic and she could sense a vague connection with her surroundings, with something deeper.

It was this connection she was currently trying to explore, but her efforts bore minimal fruit. Yet, she had the sense it was something important and that ignoring it would be a mistake. The dragon had voiced no opinion for or against her decision, but she caught glimpses of something like approval from time to time, when she trained this new sense.

It was during this period she noticed the strings moving, sometimes switching positions. She still tried to figure out who was at the end of each of them, but for the most part, she stuck to the one leading south.

What would happen to these if I just died? she wondered

Fate is not so easily circumvented.

But if I'm fated to die, my fate is done, right?

According to whom?

That's a...fair point, I suppose, she acknowledged, not willing to start a philosophic discussion with a being thousands of years older than herself. But how are these bonds created? Was I born with them?

Such ties cannot spring from nothing. Though some are formed from the faintest encounter, others need years to develop.

What about ours?

An encounter of the mind is still an encounter, red one.

Then how about yours and...

She paused, hesitant to speak the name.

It was our first meeting. I did not wish to be bonded to a mortal, but destiny finds a way to work its will.

The tone of melancholy clenched Saelina's heart and a wave of guilt washed over her. Despite not knowing, she had often imagined the feeling of losing a lover and immediately being tied to a stranger was anything but pleasant.

Rhahanándri, the dragon's voice suddenly sounded.

"What?" she asked out loud, pulled from her thoughts.

She suddenly noticed a listless energy, not coming from herself and wondered what had put the dragon on alert.

My kin is near.

Are they dangerous? Will they eat me?

Unlikely. Rhahanándri is sympathetic towards mortals.

You know them?

There are few of us, it would be strange if we were oblivious to one another.

There was a tension in the air and a gentle hum in her blood. She lifted her eyes to the night sky and smelled the rain in the air.

We might be in for a thunderstorm, she noted. That could explain why a dragon would be here, right?

It's the most common method to replenish magical energy for my kind, Dhíanvhúr agreed.

And last I checked, there weren't any active volcanoes in the area, she added, trying to seem lighthearted, though a small part of her was worried about the possibility.

In the ensuing silence, she noticed a subtle pull, something familiar, and she looked in the direction the sensation was coming from. She could sense the storm coming and with it something more significant. She looked around and her night-vision allowed her to make out the top of the slope she was on; it was close and seemed to afford a decent view of the surrounding area.

She reached the summit as the first drops of rain could be felt on her skin. The rumble of thunder echoed against the mountainside and when a flash of lightning streaked across the sky, a deep restlessness once again took hold within Saelina. Her blood surged and it was a struggle to stand still as the urge to join the storm flooded through her.

However, perhaps due to having tried it before, perhaps due to being rested and aware, for whatever reason, she managed to keep herself in place, waiting for something far bigger.

The seconds ticked by, becoming minutes, and water poured down her face as she kept her gaze towards the pull and the center of the storm.

The lightning flashed again, glinting off something red and moving. It did not take long before she received another impression of something long and twisting, slick from the rain. Mere minutes later, she could see the dragon, dancing and swirling in the air, dipping in and out of the layer of clouds.

Unlike Dhíanvhúr, its body was long and flexible, twisting in on itself in elegant contortions. Saelina eventually counted three pairs of wings, placed along the body, but it seemed their function was limited, considering the precise aerial acrobatics of the large body. Lightning would occasionally strike the dragon, dancing along its body in flashing arcs, leaving a faint glowing trail along its path.

Saelina felt like she could observe the dance forever, following every twist and dip as the dragon came ever closer. Never in her life could she recall having witnessed something so awe inspiring and powerful.

As the mystical being was almost above where she stood, its massive size truly hit her and she stared as the enormous body lowered itself to the ground, in an elegant descent, landing with almost impossible lightness, its body surrounded her and its head came to rest on the ground, right in front of the small human.

Golden eyes with a vertical pupil observed her, the intelligence within them pouring forth, piercing her, as if the beast was learning everything about her through a single glance.

"Hello, red one."