Book V Chapter 19: Q&A
"Just so you know, I'm not supposed to tell you this," Na'than began with more than a little guilt in his voice, pressing a hand against his face.
"Tell me... what, precisely?"
Gabriel didn't really want to ask.
Really, he didn't want to do anything but go back home, purchase a small lead box, find a scenic area in Dreamsong's countryside and lock himself within-- but that didn't seem terribly likely, considering he was sitting in the middle of Aensdoun with a burly engineer and a tree as the only thing between him and the threat of sudden, grisly death.
Twenty-foot carnivorous dinosaurs were one thing, but when you had seen a smiling octopus as tall as someone's thumb slay a man with a single nip, you stopped worrying about what looked threatening and started worrying about the fact that you were currently alive, and thus, eligible to die.
Possibly-- no, likely horribly.
And then there was the matter of the creepy headache thing. Maybe he hadn't had enough fiber in his diet.
Na'than glanced over his shoulder towards the camp; they were far enough away that no one should've been able to hear their conversation, but near enough to be in plain sight, and thus hopefully not seem suspicious.
"Right, so, um... When you found out about thevarworgnnearAxl, we-- we meaning theOrganization, not me, because I'm not a scientist-- well, not a biological scientist, anyway, I guess I'm a scientist but I do, like, robotics and stuff.
But anyway, we... they decided to put you on observation. Not that you did anything wrong! But just to, um... see if anything was off. Or something. You know. You don't know! But I'm telling you. Because you don't. Even though I shouldn't. Because you should," he gasped.
Gabe stared blankly at him. "...go on."
"Right, sorry. Uh.. so, anyway, you weren't sent here so you could study inAensdoun. I mean, you were, but that's not the main reason. Because, see, there's this, um--" Na'than turned to glance over his shoulder again, pricking his ears up-- "program. For people who..."
"Hold on a minute." Gabe narrowed his eyes. "You mean to tell me that I was sent here to die for my first mission as some kind of experiment? That's great, Na'th. That's really great. Why? Why me? Why in the hell couldn't I have just stayed home in Axl and felt sorry for myself and my shit luck until a freak lab accident had me beheaded by exploding beaker shrapnel? What in the fuck could I have possibly done to deserve my life? Tell me, huh? I'm dying to kn--"
An unearthly scream pierced their ears; in the distance, a large, green zemoira came thundering into view, a small figure perched upon its neck.
Na'than turned to watch them arrive, his ears laid back flat against the sides of his head.
"No. Don't you turn away from me! I don't care about Liam. Answer me, damnit! Like you said-- I have a right to know!"
A wide shadow flitted over the grasslands beyond the forest; closer now, Gabe could see Liam flatten himself against Alice's back as if in anticipation.
Suddenly, the sky exploded into flame; the dinosaur screamed again, hurling herself aside just as the fireball connected with the earth, searing the grasses into ash in an instant.
A sinuous, red monster the likes of which the Bio Doc had never seen dropped from the air, landing heavily where Alice and Liam had been just moments before, spreading enormous wings and raising its horned neck with a mighty hiss.
Clapping his hands over his mouth to stifle his scream, the scientist pressed himself against the tree as he watched, fear washing over him.
But the dragon paused. Slowly, it turned its head, eyes narrowing into slits as they met Gabriel's.
"... you have to be kidding me--"
Before he had time to react, Gabe felt Na'than's grip on his shoulders, dragging him upright, shoving him away.
In an instant, the thing launched itself towards them, eyes wild with ferocity, its previous target all but forgotten.
It slammed forcedfully into the trees, claws cleaving into the hard trunks as it curled around them, the smell of sulfur strong in the air behind them.
Na'than yelled ahead to the expedition members, but they had already seen the dragon's approach; belongings and precious tools and packages were grabbed as people fled the camp, scattering in all directions.
Desperate, Gabriel skirted around the camp, leaping over thick roots and ducking under low branches, Na'than running close beside him.
He heard the dragon's pounding feet not far behind him; he didn't dare to look back-- why couldn't he -see things- now, when it would've been useful?!-- certain the thing would gain on him just enough to open its mouth and...
"Why me?! Why in the hell is it chasing ME?!" he shrieked, trying to ignore the burning pain in his legs.
"Because," Na'than gasped, "you're a--"
With a warning scream, Alice burst headfirst out of the deep woods, plowing into the pursuing dragon with a sickening crunch. She dug her little claws into the monster's side, snapping her jaws at its throat as the two reptiles tumbled over the ground, tails and wings whipping in a fury.
Leaping down from a branch high above, Liam dropped onto his feet with a glaive in hand; he charged into the fray with a bellowing cry of his own, swinging the weapon forward in a wide arc. It cut a vicious gash across the dragon's chest.
Knocking Alice aside, the beast drew a breath, spewing a stream of fire that Liam nimbly dodged, momentarily bathing his scarred shoulder in golden light.
Na'than leapt into a nearby tree, dragging a protesting Gabe up after him.
"Son of a bitch... "Dinosaur eggs", huh? I knew something was off about him..."
Gabe just pursed his lips and made an angry little noise.
Alice and Liam circled the wounded dragon, wings still spread in a threat display, its jaws held wide open as it hissed and bellowed.
"This is between you and me," Liam rumbled, his tone even. "That's all it ever has been, and all it ever will be. I know you bastards can hold a grudge that would make a Flarion balk, but that doesn't phase me none."
The dragon narrowed its eyes, threw its head and shrieked.
"I can't hold that against you, no," Liam admitted. "You have your job to do as a parent, after all. But I've got my job to do, too, and as long as you're between me and it-- well. You're worth enough that I don't mind that, either!"
At his last word, the beast charged, diving in to swipe at the elf before peeling away just as he swung his weapon, the pair exchanging blows and dancing away from the other's strikes in a fatal dance.
Crouching low to the ground, Alice sprung forward, landing solidly atop the dragon's back just as it started to lunge again.
Pinned, it beat its wings against the ground and screamed in fury-- a sound that gurgled wetly in its throat as Liam thrust the blade of his glaive into the beast's neck.
It trembled violently, thrashed, and finally lay still, blood pooling beneath its monstrous head.
"Peace to you now, old woman," Liam said softly, wrenching his weapon free and wiping it clean on the scorched grass nearby.
Na'than dropped from his branch like a stone, striding slowly forward to confront the other Aeneski, his head raised high and eyes flashing.
"Now that you've finished with that, Liam... you can answer a few questions for me." The silver-haired elf growled low, a hint of threat in his voice Gabe had never heard before.
Liam rose to his feet, opening his mouth to casually reply; the words died on his lips as their eyes locked and he faltered, considering the shorter man with some concern.
"...what the hell are you," he breathed.
"I'm the one doing the asking," Na'th barked in sharp reply. "Why has that rampant been chasing you around? How were you speaking to it-- and what did it say to you?"
Liam frowned. "I didn't lie, I swear. I supply eggs to the Chimaera, and they distribute them--"
"What. Kind. Of eggs." Na'than arched his back slightly, baring his teeth; the simple motion sent a chill down Gabe's spine.
"Dinosaur eggs. Zemoira, thanatogon, drakes... and, uh. Dragon eggs." He admitted the last at a whisper.
Na'than folded his arms across his chest. "Mmhmm. Now--"
"They're intelligent. The... the rampants. Always have been, probably. I started collecting their eggs a few years ago, and I swear the entire population of Aensdoun knows about me now. They tell each other what's going on, I think they told each other what I fucking look like, that I have a dinosaur," Liam added.
"The Chimaera are fucking idiots, and so are the people who buy the things. But I make good money out here-- I'll be set for life when I go home, I already am-- so I stay, and I collect the eggs. They haven't killed me yet, it's good fun, and I'm out in my element."
Na'than cleared his throat; Liam swallowed, glancing away towards the dragon's corpse.
"That's a female; I found her nest a little while ago, and she's been after me. I don't "speak" their language, whatever the hell it is.
But the noises they make, the way they look at you... you can tell what they mean well enough. She hated me for taking her children away.
Could you blame her? I can't."
"You don't take all of the eggs from the nests, do you?"
"No, sir. I make sure to leave half; I don't visit the same nest twice in a year. No point in ruining the population and cutting my own operations short."
Na'than nodded slowly, appeased. "Mm. Does the Court know about this?"
"Not from me."
"...alright," Na'than said. "As far as we're concerned, we don't know you exist, and as far as you're concerned, we never wired any money to your bank account in Lassenbhurg."
Liam blinked, then grinned widely. "You got it. Oh-- what about the..." He made a gesture towards Na'th's face.
Na'than smirked. "I don't know about you, and you don't know about me."
The two elves shook hands; Na'than turned to make his way back to Gabriel in the tree, while Liam knelt to began dismantling his dragon.
"Now that you're done," Gabe snapped, "perhaps you'd like to answer my ques--"
"Gabe, you're what's called a psychic beacon," Na'than answered simply.
Next Chapter: Book V Chapter XX
Category: Book V | Story