Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Chapter Three

Speaking of Babies

(I can’t believe you just called me an ogress! I’m the queen of Harrowbeth and you’re making fun of me? How improper is that?)
Eena had come to a halt in the corridor, pausing mere feet from the elevator so she could berate her reinstated protector. Ian excused his behavior in a cavalier fashion, his eyes glinting with amusement.
(Technically, no words actually crossed my lips.)
(I still heard them.)
(But no one else did, so you have no witness by which to hang me, Queenie.)
Eena busted out laughing; she couldn’t help it. Her loud amusement sounded out of place in the midst of their telepathic conversation. Scanning her handprint for access to the elevator, she waited for the doors to part.
(I really missed you yesterday, Ian.)
(You didn’t miss me much,) he disagreed. (You had Jinatta and Leisha to keep you company.)
(Yes, that’s true.) Eena twisted her neck to look straight into her protector’s eyes. Proudly she told him, (I figured out your baby-blue secret. Leisha is going to have a baby boy.)
(What? Are you serious?) Ian overexaggerated a look of surprise, generating more loud laughter from his queen.
(You knew.)
Ian smirked, guilty as charged, and stepped past her onto the elevator. She followed him inside.
(How could I not know after listening to you three women chatter on and on for two agonizing hours about the inherent cuteness of every male name in the universe.)
His words made her smile wide. (You were keeping tabs on me.) The thought warmed her heart.
Ian shrugged like it was no big deal. (I always do.)
After pressing a button for the deck to the medical bay, they waited for the elevator to move. (So…where did you spend your time yesterday?) she asked.
(In engineering.)
(Engineering?) That was a surprise. She had imagined him alone in his quarters.
(Millian was showing me how the new engines work. It’s incredibly interesting.) Eena snuck a side-glance at Ian to see if he was serious or joking. It was hard to tell.
(Millian is here aboard the Kemeniroc?)
(Of course. He’s the genius behind the rebuilt quarrin engines.)
(I thought Leisha and Marguay were responsible for that.)
Ian nodded as he explained, (They came up with the original proposal and have been overseeing the whole project, but Millian worked out the final design. Apparently, his model proved more stable. He’s still working out a few bugs, though, trying to improve the heat absorption rate.)
(But the quarrin engines are working alright?) Eena asked the question with a note of concern.
(Yes. Like any new prototype, the design needs some tweaking.)
(You must have learned a lot from your day with Millian.)
Ian gave a considerable nod as he admitted, (I sure did. I learned that the guy is way smarter than I am.)
Eena didn’t pass up the opportunity to get in a good ribbing. (Millian is more respectful toward his tyrannical, ogress queen too.)
At first, it bothered her when Ian’s laughter cut short. She wondered if her teasing had hurt his feelings. When she turned to apologize, two things indicated that her assumption was wrong: first, the elevator had come to an unexpected stop, and second, her best friend was wearing a frozen smile. There was only one explanation. Her head snapped in the opposite direction, and every facial muscle twisted into a scowl.
“Edgar,” she groaned.
“Amora,” he cooed.
The redhaired immortal reached out as if he meant to cup her face. Eena swatted at his hands and retreated into the wall.
“Go away,” she growled, glaring at a point below his hypnotic blue eyes.
Edgar stuck out a pouty lower lip, acting wounded. “Oh, Amora,” he sulked. His hands dropped to his sides like heavy weights.
Rolling her eyes at his childish behavior, she tried shooing him off with a flick of the wrist. “Just go away, will you? Why are you even here?”
Edgar’s pitiful pout vanished in an instant. “Because I understand you’ve chosen to visit Laradine after all. I’m so proud of you for listening to that wise, albeit terribly gullible, Viidun. I knew the bulky browbeater could get you to move. After all, he was the one to convince you to give him the precious dragon’s heart—not one of your wiser decisions, Amora.”
“Neither is talking to you,” she retorted.
Edgar slapped a hand against his chest, mocking a broken heart. Swifter than lightning, he hugged the young queen, keeping her hostage in his arms. Eena gasped at the speed of his movements. She stiffened every muscle.
“Let go of me, Edgar!”
“There, there,” he cooed, hugging her tighter. Locking her wrists together in one hand, he used the other to caress her silky strands of hair. “I understand how hurt you are right now. You need a shoulder to lean on—use mine.” Edgar forced her head against him. She made a sound of disgust and raised her head the instant he went back to petting her hair.
“I noticed that Ian has been awfully cold toward you lately,” Edgar went on. “The guy hardly speaks a word to you anymore. Such a pity, really. I thought you two would make the perfect pair. Do you suppose his silence has anything to do with the callous way you shattered his fragile, mortal heart?”
Edgar went out of his way to catch the expression on Eena’s face. Her eyes, dark slits of anger, darted between his entrancing gaze and the taunting grin on his lips. He mouthed a sentence without making a sound.
“What did you say?”
Again, he mouthed a few silent words. Eena dared a look in his eyes for a split second, finding only humor in his face.
“What is wrong with you, Edgar?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you hear me?”
“I can’t hear words you mouth in silence.”
“Really?” It was obvious his surprise was overacted. “I assumed you read lips, Amora.”
“Well, I don’t.” She struggled to free her wrists, still trapped in his grasp. His hold was unbreakable.
“Ah-hah!” he hummed, acting as if he had just made sense of a puzzling riddle. “It’s not lips you read—it’s minds!”
“Wh..what?” Her face tangled up incredulously as she zeroed in on his blue eyes again. “What are you talking about? I can’t read minds.”
“But I saw you, Amora, laughing in the hallway, facing Ian, no words spoken between the two of you yet some sort of communication clearly transpiring.”
Eena stopped struggling against her captor’s hold. She could feel the blood drain from her face, so she lowered her head, hoping to hide the alarm that swept through her. Edgar voiced his thoughts aloud, trying to make sense of what he had witnessed earlier.
“Both of you were laughing, yet nothing was said. And the expressions on your faces suggested an exchange of words, yet neither of you were talking—not verbally. So the only reasonable alternative is that a nonverbal conversation was taking place.” Edgar raised a conclusive finger, realizing the truth. “But it wasn’t you; it was him! Your protector has broadened his abilities! He speaks to you like the dragons do!”
Edgar jerked on the delicate wrists still in his hold, making his captive look up at him. “Ian has enhanced his powers, hasn’t he? Ishtura told me such a thing could happen if he were to push himself. Your protector speaks to you telepathically now, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Amora?”
Eena refused an answer, but her excited watchdog grinned so devilishly she knew it was pointless to deny it.
“Can he do more? Can your protector communicate with anyone else? Can he read the minds of others?” Edgar stared at her, anxious for an answer. He watched the young queen scrunch up her features and gawk at him as if the idea were nothing short of insanity.
“What in the...?” she said. “Ian is my protector, no one else’s.”
“So he can’t,” Edgar assumed.
Eena breathed a silent sigh of relief that he believed her lie, but she wondered about the dragons. “Can Naga and the others read minds?”
Edgar shook his head. “The dragons only communicate mind to mind, they can’t read thoughts. It’s the same ability your protector has apparently developed.” Edgar looked at her again, searching for confirmation in her expression.
“Yes,” she grudgingly admitted. “Ian can speak to me telepathically. I don’t think he speaks to others that way.”
Edgar tapped the tip of her nose with his finger. “That doesn’t mean he can’t.”
“Whether he can or not, you have to keep this to yourself. It’s a secret; you can’t tell anyone about this.”
“Oh, but Ishtura would love to know. She does have a soft spot for your protector, Amora.”
 “No, you can’t tell anyone!”
Eena swallowed hard. She feared that this knowledge, if it leaked out, could potentially put Ian in danger.
“Please don’t say anything,” she pleaded. “Please, Edgar.”
“Why should I bite my tongue?”
“Because it’s not normal for a mortal to be telepathic.”
“It’s not normal for immortals either, Amora—with the exception of dragons, of course.”
“Ian is my best friend, and I don’t want him singled out. I have to protect him.”
“Protect your own protector?” Edgar laughed aloud, amused by the irony.
“Yes.” With pretended optimism, she suggested, “We could make this our special secret. Something shared just between the two of us.”
“The three of us,” he corrected, flickering a resentful glance at Ian who still appeared frozen in time. He paused to consider her request, his contemplative stare directed right at her.
Desperate for his agreement to keep her secret, Eena made the mistake of looking straight at his unblinking gaze for too long. She was drawn into a glimmering pool of swirling blue, unable to turn away. His beautiful eyes twinkled like starry constellations, a universe of heavenly lights suspended over deep ocean waters. The illusion put her in a dreamy daze where dark eyelashes curled like feathered fans around gaping windows to the immortal soul. The sight was breathtaking and impossible to turn away from.
When Edgar’s cherry lips curved into a decisive grin, he announced, “I will keep your secret if you agree to keep mine.” As soon as he blinked, Eena tore her eyes away. She sucked in an inhale, only then realizing she had been holding her breath.
“What secret? What are you talking about?”
“A wonderful secret, Amora. Come with me and I’ll show you.”
His hand pressed flat against her upper chest before she could object. Within a white flash of light, the dragon’s soul slid off her neck and fell limp into his waiting fingers. Without it, Eena was immortal. She yanked her wrists free from his hold without any trouble and braced herself for the wild release of emotions that accompanied the loss of the necklace. She hated the restless unrestraint, and yet at the same time it was exhilarating to experience an intensity of power course through her veins, ready to be wielded into action.
“Why did you do that, Edgar?” she asked, backing away. Her desire to put some distance between them was not only to protest his forced closeness but to prevent herself from physically laying into the scoundrel.
“It’s necessary, Amora. You need to be yourself so we can travel outside this ship.” With a critical eye he scanned the interior walls and remarked, “These mechanical contraptions are much too slow and confining. It would take forever in one of these starships to travel to where we need to go.”
Anxiously, Eena creased her brow. “Where do we need to go?”
When the immortal signaled for her to come to him, she refused and stole a glimpse at Ian’s motionless form. Edgar rolled his eyes with annoyance.
“He’ll be fine, Amora. Believe me, you want to see what I have to show you. It’s a secret unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed.”
Again, she flickered a glance at her best friend, wishing he was in her pocket of time so he could fill her in on whatever devious plan Edgar was brewing.
“Amora, trust me,” her tempter cooed.
“You are bringing me back to the Kemeniroc after this, right?”
Edgar frowned his disappointment but agreed. “If that is what you wish, I will return you to this archaic vessel, though I don’t understand why you insist on wasting your time. You and I could be on Laradine in the blink of an eye if you were to agree to it.”
“Except I prefer to travel in scrupulous company,” she said. After one last glance at her motionless protector, Eena moved to Edgar’s side and accepted his offered hand. “This better not be a trick,” she warned.
He flashed a broad grin, which she found less than comforting, and then all at once they were outside the ship, racing hand-in-hand past millions of stars. Eena recalled a previous spree through space in Edgar’s company where her lungs had burned at the first inhale. She learned to hold her breath after that. Breathing was not a necessity in an immortal state; her body would suffer nothing from lack of air.
Being free and unbounded with no need for protection from the elements of the universe was nothing short of exhilarating. Eena imagined herself as a fish no longer confined to the ocean. Every inch of the universe was accessible to her now, down to the very last corner of space. From the deepest, darkest reaches of watery pits to the brightest blazing infernos of life-giving suns, nothing was impossible for her to explore. There were no limits.
They crossed the entire Milky Way in a flash, keeping on a straight course. Their speed made them a blur to anyone without immortal vision. Despite a ridiculously swift rate of travel, Eena was able to focus on passing anomalies, distinguishing every detail with accuracy. She awed at the merging of two nebulas and their gaseous hues of pink, blue, and violet. She noticed the contortion of planetary shapes as they orbited a red, burning sun. A vivid range of textures—from smooth, slick, icy masses to rough, pocked and craggy scabs—tempted her to reach out with the intent of stroking the smooth and coarse surfaces.
Eena allowed herself to be pulled along, guided to an unknown destination, until a sense of something familiar made her tug against Edgar’s grip. He slowed their flight but continued toward a planetary system where an enormous star shone as white as snow. Light appeared to dance like the fronds of snowy feathers along the sun’s curvature. Three planets orbited the star, two so small in comparison as to look like pimples on a pale face. The third planet, one-hundred times the mass of the others, glowed as red as blood. It was surrounded by golden coils of misty gas. These gold rings are what gave away the planet’s identity.
Eena yanked free from her guide, causing him to turn a quizzical expression on her. She glared at him and pointed a rigid finger at the immortal home world. A moment later, the red planet called Laradine vanished, gold rings and all.
Unable to speak in the vacuum of space, Eena attempted to nonverbally express her anger at Edgar’s trickery. She turned around to retrace her journey back to Ian, but was caught by the wrist, prevented from departing. Her head snapped around to glower at the scoundrel holding onto her, only to find disappointment etched in his features. Edgar shook his head as if to say “Trust me, it’s not what you think.” When his eyebrows inclined in a pitiful slant, a gentle tug urged her forward. Eena gave in and followed him nearer to the Dranobbi Solar System. Out of the darkness, the red planet called Laradine reappeared. Eena wondered how a world could manipulate its visibility. How was it possible for such a peculiar condition to exist?
Closing in on Laradine, it became obvious that the immortal home world was not Edgar’s destination. Eena watched it fade into nothingness again before her attention was drawn to a tinier planet nearest the sun. This pimple of a world was nothing more than a black marble. Its atmosphere consisted of grey clouds that swirled in thick masses above the darker crust. The cloudiness thinned at the surface, misting over a bleak stretch of scenery. There was nothing colorful nor lively to view.
Eena looked in every direction as soon as her feet hit the rocky surface. Flat fields of black soil ran on for miles, marked here and there by a boulder jetting out of the ground. In the distance she could make out the lower portion of a jagged mountain range. Its high peaks seemed to dissolve in a hovering layer of angry clouds.
The air was hot, not sunny. The cloudy sky kept visible light to a gloomy minimum. No trees. No flowers. No evidence of life existed. The only sound was a continual whistle that rose and fell as wind fought to squeeze between rocky crevices.
Eena turned to her guide when she heard the cracking of gravel beneath his footsteps. Curiously, she tested the composition of scattered stones with her own feet. It took a simple press to crush the rock into grains of sand. Interesting.
“Are you coming?”
Eena looked up from the ground to see Edgar stick his head inside a darkened hole in the rock. She assumed the atmosphere, though thick and murky, was breathable. At least for immortals. When Edgar slipped through the hole and vanished, Eena called after him.
“Hey, wait up!”
Her eyes went blind inside the cavernous opening but adjusted to the darkness soon enough. She could see things in shades of gray, as if her sight were being filtered through a pair of night goggles. Edgar had gone a few yards ahead where he disappeared down a declining stone pathway. The extended walls created a natural foyer. Eena imagined it as a fitting entrance to a troll’s cavernous castle. She remembered calling Ian a troll during their playful squabble earlier and wished he could see the place she would deem his trollish home. He would surely have a wise crack to make about it.
Her imagination was rewarded a few yards further in when the foyer opened up to a spacious circular room. It was enormous. The ceiling rose and arched like a domed mallawum stadium. Ian would love it.
After scanning the stone ceiling, her eyes dropped to the circular wall that appeared to be a solid slab of rock. There were no striations or weathered cracks running through it whatsoever. Her attention shifted when Edgar stumbled on a pile of boulders the size of miganmelons. He was headed for the rear of the cavern. Eena went after him.
As hard as she tried, it was impossible not to step on the scattering of small rocks that covered the ground like candy sprinkles on iced cookies. It was strange how the pebbles crushed beneath her weight like dried clods of mud that held the appearance of rocks but disintegrated with the slightest application of pressure. The only difference was in the smooth, concrete look of the rocks.
Continuing forward, Eena glanced up to find Edgar grinning at her, watching her progress towards him. He rolled on his heels to the balls of his feet, back and forth, anxious for her to get to him. When she finally managed to maneuver through the graveled cavern, she stood in front of her guide and looked at him expectantly. His grin crooked to one side, and his eyes, grayed by darkness, grew wide with excitement. Edgar gestured with his head off to the side, prompting the curious queen to look in the signaled direction.
More black rocks covered the ground, leading to a pile of larger stones all grouped together. The cluster formed some kind of mound. It had the appearance of a crioness nest, only bigger and made entirely of stones. The structure came to slightly above neck height and was wide in the very center. There, propped on every side, sat the largest stone of the entire pile. Only the top portion was visible. It had a unique appearance. Unlike the dark, jagged nest, this unusual rock was glass-smooth in texture, colored gold with amber and purplish veins running crisscross over the surface.
The sight of it sparked a recent memory. A story. A narrative pulled from Viidun literature that Derian had shared with her months earlier. She moved in closer and climbed up on a knee-high boulder to get a better look. Leaning over the jagged edges of the nest she pressed her palm against the smooth, marbled stone.
It felt warm. Very warm.
“Oh my gosh,” Eena breathed. Her mind raced back to the recorded account read to her by Derian in which a similar find from thousands of years prior had been described. An unknown race of people, plagued by attacking dragons, had made an unusual discovery in the process of attempting to fight them off. They had stumbled upon a round, gold, marbled stone too large and heavy to carry. It was situated inside a dark cave. Upon further examination the author had declared the warm, rumbling stone to be a guised dragon’s egg.
“This is a dragon’s egg,” Eena uttered to herself. Her astonishment came out whispered, despite how her heartbeat accelerated with a thunderous pounding. “Oh my gosh, this is a genuine dragon’s egg!”
Her wide eyes turned to her immortal companion. Edgar climbed up beside her, his countenance beaming with pride at how he had made an impression. Eena positioned her other palm beside the first, feeling at the warm egg. She waited, her heart drumming with anticipation, hopeful to catch some sign of life. She sucked in a breath of amazement when her touch was rewarded with the unmistakable vibrations of internal stirring.
“There’s a real, live baby dragon in there!” she exclaimed. “Edgar, there’s a baby dragon inside this egg!”
“I know,” Edgar chuckled. “It’s Naga’s egg.”
“Naga?” Her muscles tensed, suddenly wary. She recalled how in the ancient account there was a slew of dragons guarding the unhatched young. “Where are all the other dragons?”
Edgar brushed aside any fears with a wave of his hand. “Don’t worry, Amora, only Naga and I are aware of this egg. Well…and now you,” he added.
Her wariness turned curious. “Why only Naga and us? Is he keeping it a secret for some reason? I thought the dragons protected their young in packs.” She assumed as much, having read about a similar case in Viidun literature.
With a smug undertone, Edgar announced, “I forbid Naga to tell anyone of this.”
“You forbid him?”
“Yes, Amora.”
Her expression wilted. Her voice fell disapproving. “Why are you even involved? Why are you ordering your father around? Oh no, don’t tell me you have one of his dragon stones.”
“Of course I do.” Edgar rolled his eyes as if the girl lacked common sense. “Naga’s gemstones were the first discovered. A great number of them remain in the hands of immortals. Those Pallador hasn’t confiscated, anyway.”
Eena seared her fists to her hips. “And so you use Naga’s gemstone to boss your poor father around. That is awful.”
“He’s a dragon,” Edgar said, as if that fact excused his actions.
“He’s your father,” Eena insisted.
“Well he doesn’t much look like my father anymore.”
“His appearance doesn’t change anything, Edgarmetheus.”
“Don’t use that horrid name.”
“Then don’t disrespect your father.”
Edgar scrunched his eyes at the woman who stared back boldly at him. He sighed a sound of acquiescence. “Oh, Amora,” he breathed as if seeking forgiveness. He reached to touch her cheek, but she swatted his hand away, unwilling to grant him clemency.
Turning her back on him, she sought another look at the egg. Her fingers traced the irregular trail of a thin purple vein on the shell.
“Why are you keeping this a secret anyway, Edgar? What are you planning to do with this baby dragon?”
Eena sensed the formation of a conniving smile on Edgar’s lips long before her peripheral vision caught sight of it. A touch of mystery and excitement enlivened his tone as he delved into an explanation.
“Do you realize, Amora, that an event like this only happens every few thousand years? The birth of a new dragon is a rare occurrence. If this discovery were made known, the news would spread like a plague. Everyone would be talking about it.” Edgar’s voice lowered into a nasty grumble as he added, “And Pallador would no doubt send his mindless minions to guard the egg until it hatched so he could swipe another valuable set of dragon stones for himself.”
“Is that what you’re after? You want the gemstones that are forming inside this egg?” All at once she understood. “You don’t even care about this baby dragon; you just want his stones! You’re planning to use him, aren’t you? You’re going to create another charmed gadget! Edgar, why? What sort of heinous scheme are you concocting now?”
“No, no, no, no, Amora, you have it all wrong. For me to perform such an act would be an outright violation of Pallador’s immortal decree. It’s against every law the governing body has established for dealing with dragon stones. Any immortal caught creating items powered by dragon stones is to be tried and severely sentenced. Believe me, Amora, I have no intention of breaking that law.”
Edgar paused before cautiously continuing along a new train of thought. He spoke as if struck by a flash of inspiration. “However…one can’t help but wonder about the sort of feats one might accomplish with the help of such a powerful tool. Someone might reasonably justify their actions if they were for a greater purpose. Perhaps a charitable act of compassion like…. oh, I don’t know…. rescuing innocent mortals victimized by a controlling group of callous, conceited, corrupted immortals?”
Eena scowled at the suggestion. “You and I both could free Derian and the others without the need of some charmed gadget.”
“Of course we could,” Edgar agreed, “but could we do it without Pallador and his followers realizing what had been done? Could we undo the mortal tragedy that the governing body blatantly refuses to repair and then walk away without blame? Could we make things right without being forced to endure a terribly unfair trial? These are things to consider, wouldn’t you say?”
Eena caught onto the idea. Even though she had no intention of deceiving the immortals, it was tempting to imagine what she might accomplish with the aid of charmed dragon stones. “What are you suggesting?” she asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” Edgar said with an innocent shrug. “You are the one with the creative imagination. I’m sure you could come up with a handful of interesting ideas. Inventions as impressive as the dragon’s touch or the dragon’s heart or the dragon’s soul or the dragon’s blood.”
“The dragon’s blood?” That was one she had not heard.
“That was my creation,” Edgar bragged, “before Pallador went and declared further experiments with dragon stones unlawful. He has since collected each and every gem discovered. He hordes them all.”
“To protect people from scoundrels like you, no doubt.”
Edgar rolled his eyes at the cavernous ceiling. “If you’re gullible enough to believe that.”
Eena ignored his snide remark and focused on the item Edgar had mentioned. She recalled him saying something awhile back about a charmed belt he invented, refusing then to tell her what it was used for.
“Where is this ‘dragon’s blood,’ Edgar? What does it do?”
“Something entirely amazing.”
“Really? So amazing you’re embarrassed to tell me what it does?”
“Hah! I’m not embarrassed in the least! It’s an extraordinary invention. Better than anything my sisters every came up with.”
“I’m sure you’re right. So tell me what it does.”
Edgar was hesitant for only a moment. “Fine,” he agreed, and then he disappeared.
Eena could only assume the showoff had gone to retrieve his charmed possession and would return; however, being abandoned in the deep recesses of a dark and dismal cave on an uninhabited planet left her feeling uneasy. Even if she was technically immortal and hence indestructible, that did nothing to suppress her overactive imagination.
“He’ll be right back,” she assured herself, glancing about nervously at the many hiding places that existed inside the cavern. She then raised her skirts to climb a little higher onto the stony nest in order to be nearer the egg.
Taking a seat on a flatter area of rock, she twisted at the waist to face the massive egg. She caressed its warm exterior, admiring marbled veins of purple and amber that weaved across the surface. When she felt a stirring inside, she pressed both palms flat against the egg.
Closing her eyelids, she concentrated on seeing more of what lay behind the protective shell. Images attacked her thoughts, paired with sensations that could only be explained as coming from the youthful dragon. He was restful and content, but physically uncomfortable. His growing body took up most of the available room inside, curled up tight in a fetal position. Moldable wings, thin and pliable, curved around the dragon’s squatty trunk, acting as a protective layer between him and an abrasive inner lining of crystals. The dragon’s developing skin lacked overlapping scales typical of older dragons. Instead, the fetus was entirely textured with thick bumps. He existed in a sticky fluid that filled the small amount of leftover space inside. His squat snout hung open, showing a full set of razor-sharp teeth, shorter than the natural daggers Eena had witnessed close up on Ascultone.
Eena’s heartbeat faltered when the egg rocked, but her hands remained firm against the shell. The baby dragon was kicking his clawed feet, searching for stretching room. His talons scratched against the inner lining of gemstones. They were an unclear dark shade. It was hard to tell exactly what color. Maybe brown or a deep green or rich purple. They were definitely not white or any light color. Eena was certain it would not be long before the creature forced its way out.
Sensing Edgar’s presence, she opened her eyes and watched him look into the nest.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I was taking a closer look. Your baby dragon is getting big.”
Edgar smiled his approval and offered her a helping hand down from the nest. She accepted and then found herself whisked into his arms. Edgar tried to hold her against him; however, being matched in strength now, Eena easily freed herself from his unwanted embrace. The dejected man pouted—an overdramatized and pitiful display.
“Knock it off, Edgar. Where’s the dragon’s blood?”
He instinctively gripped at a large, silver belt buckle at his waist. It was shaped in the spitting image of Naga’s muzzle. What truly gave the similarity away was one green gemstone and one yellow gemstone set in place on the buckle as dragon eyes.
“Those are Naga’s stones,” Eena noted.
Edgar pulled on the silver buckle and whipped off the belt. He then handed it over to the immortal queen. “This is the dragon’s blood,” he announced proudly. “It is incomparable to any other charm.”
Eena slid her fingers along the slick, shiny belt. The look and feel reminded her of a dragon’s armored coat.
“What does it do?” she asked, looking intently at the maker.
Edgar held out a hand to reclaim his possession. When Eena returned it, Edgar wrapped the belt around his waist and gave away its purpose.
“The dragon’s blood was created to allow the wearer to take on anyone’s image. It grants me the appearance of any being I wish to impersonate.”
“Humanoid or otherwise?”
“Male or female?”
“Do you sound like them too?”
“And no one can tell the difference?”
“No.” Edgar grinned smugly. “Not even Pallador.”
“You’ve used the dragon’s blood on Pallador?”
“Oh yes.”
She was stunned.
Eena thought for a moment and then asked the next obvious question. “If this dragon’s blood gives you the ability to look and speak like anyone at all, why haven’t you used it to disguise yourself and free your sisters?”
Edgar leaned back against the stony nest and folded his arms across his chest before answering the question. “Because I don’t wish to get caught.”
She slanted her eyebrows, not following his fears. “But if your charmed belt works as well as you say it does, you wouldn’t get caught.”
“Maybe,” Edgar said, tilting his head the slightest bit.
“Maybe?” Eena repeated.
“Amora, it is true that I could change my outward appearance and disguise myself as Eurodite or Ishlyanna or Wennergren or even Pallador himself. I could fool witnesses into believing it was someone other than myself who freed my sisters from their eternal prison. But—” He raised a finger at the same time his eyebrows perked. “—if any of my fellow immortals chose to, they could check the signature of the spell that was used to break open the scarlet gem. That signature, being unique to me, would prove without a shadow of doubt that I was the culprit who committed the crime. Such undeniable evidence would earn me an eternal sentence, something I don’t care to face.”
“Explain,” Eena demanded. “What is a signature?”
Edgar twirled his finger in tiny circles as he tried to think of a comparison. “It’s like an immortal fingerprint of sorts. It’s a personalized mark or impression left behind on matter that is touched by immortal powers. It lingers, and it is traceable for a long period of time after a spell is cast.”
“For how long?”
“Oh, maybe a couple of Harrowbethian centuries.”
“Wow, that is a long time.”
“It’s not a simple thing to check for, but if the governing body wants to be certain whose mischief is at work, they’ll go to any length to find out.”
“If I were to free Derian when I thought no one was looking, they could check for my signature and prove that it was me?”
“And yet you seem to have no problem urging me to free Derian and your sisters. Not to mention how you just tried tempting me to use an illegal dragon stone to deceive Pallador. If I were caught, I might receive an eternal sentence, Edgar.”
“Oh no, not necessarily,” he argued as if he had already thought it through. “You have the capacity for mortality. You could always die and get out of it.”
Stunned, horrified, and greatly insulted, Eena wasn’t quite sure what to say, so she slugged him. Hard. It was a challenge for her to swallow back a violent swell of anger.
“You are absolutely loathsome, Edgarmetheus! I can’t believe you would say such a terrible thing. Do you really want to see me die?”
“Of course not,” he insisted, rubbing at his sore arm. He stared at the angry woman as if she had lost her mind completely. “I have no desire to see you die. You’re taking this all wrong, Amora.”
She repeated his callous statement so he could hear it aloud for himself. “You could always die and get out of it?
He rolled his eyes at the dramatic way she replayed his words. “I was merely pointing out that you have the option of succumbing to the natural effects of mortality. That’s an option I don’t have.” He pursed his lips together before quickly adding, “And besides, you’re the one who insists on living out a mortal life. I honestly prefer that you remain as you are right now.”
He stepped up to her, cautious of where her hands were, and dared to steal a soft caress at her silky hair. “Amora, an eternity with you would be enough to make me forget about everything else.”
Instead of swatting his hand away, she moved out of reach. “That’s never going to happen, Edgar.”
He frowned his disappointment. “Well then, at least I’ll have my new baby dragon to keep me company.” Eena noted the sarcasm in his voice.
“You do realize that once this dragon hatches you won’t be able to keep him a secret for long.”
“I don’t plan to.”
“Then why not tell Pallador about the egg right now? Why not keep yourself out of trouble? Surely, sooner or later, you’ll have to answer for your little secret.”
Our little secret.”
“Oh, no, no, no.” She shook her head in wide arcs that could not be misinterpreted. “I never promised to keep this secret. I have no desire to be in any more trouble with Pallador.”
“As you wish,” Edgar said with a laidback shrug. “Just remember, I never promised to keep your protector’s new telepathic gift a secret either. I’m sure Anesidora and Ishtura will be intrigued by the news.”
Eena glowered at the confident manner in which he blackmailed her. She wondered which scenario would turn out worse: putting Ian in potential danger or herself? Regardless, there was no way she could betray her best friend.
“You’re horrible,” she growled. “Fine, I’ll keep your pathetic, little secret. But I want to know the very moment that egg starts hatching.”
“I wouldn’t want you to miss such an amazing occurrence, Amora.” His triumphant grin bothered her as much as the lingering stench of a dead skunk.
Reluctantly, Eena tore herself away from their extraordinary secret and followed her guide outside. She was more than happy to escape the dismal planet. All the way back to the Kemeniroc she tried to pay attention to the phenomenal sights, but her head was wrapped up with thoughts of a soon-to-hatch baby dragon. She wondered what color his stones would be: amber, brown, violet, or maybe green? Whatever the shade, his eyes were certain to match.
Edgar left her exactly where he had found her, in the elevator next to her reinstated protector. Eena insisted that he restore the dragon’s soul to her neck, which he did after a minimal amount of whiny protest. The young Sha savored the calmness that accompanied her return to a state of mortality. Before Edgar vanished, Eena noted how Ian was still unmoving and unchanged. She questioned her senses.
“Edgar, Ian looks exactly as he did when we left him. Has he been frozen like this the entire time?”
“No, Amora, I explained this once before. Ian is not frozen. You and I are the ones moving in rapid time. It only appears that he is frozen because his movements are so slow by comparison.”
She shook her head, both incredulous and confused. “I’ll never get used to this. It seems impossible.”
“Time is irrelevant, Amora.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve heard that from your people before.”
“From our people.” Edgar’s words caused her to grimace.
When he vanished, the elevator jerked and started up again. It halted almost as suddenly upon reaching its destination. Eena noted how Ian faltered on a chuckle before glancing around, disoriented. She purposefully avoided his puzzled gaze, concentrating on where they were headed. As the elevator doors slid open, she spoke as innocently as she could manage.
“Well, this is our stop. The medical bay. I wonder if Leisha will be there. I would love to check on her baby again.”
The thought of Leisha’s growing fetus naturally conjured up the recent image of a baby dragon cramped inside its protective egg. Eena closed her eyes and groaned internally, knowing Ian was probably going nuts over the vision in her head.
       (Speaking of babies,) she sighed resignedly, (I bet I can one-up your ‘baby blue’ secret.)  

Copyright 2018 Richelle E. Goodrich

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