Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Chapter Three

Speaking of Babies

(I can’t believe you just called me an ogress! I am the queen of Harrowbeth and you’re calling me names? How improper is that?)
Eena had come to a halt in the corridor to berate her reinstated protector mere feet from the elevator. With amusement glinting in his eyes, Ian excused his behavior in a cavalier manner.
(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 herself. The explosion of laughter 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 keeping you company.)
(Yes, that’s true.) Eena twisted her neck to look straight into her protector’s eyes as she proudly 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.)
Guilty as charged, Ian smirked stepping 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 entire 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 and efficient. 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, they need 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 couldn’t help but get in a good ribbing. (Millian’s a lot more respectful to 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. She could think of only one explanation. Her head snapped to the other side as every facial muscle twisted into a scowl.
“Edgar,” she groaned.
“Amora,” he cooed.
The redhaired immortal reached with both hands as if he meant to cup her face. Eena retreated into the wall, swatting at his intrusive reach.
“Go away,” she growled, glaring at a point below his hypnotic blue eyes.
Edgar puckered his lips and pouted, acting deflated and hurt. “Oh, Amora,” he sighed disappointedly. His hands dropped like weights against his sides.
Rolling her eyes at his childish behavior, she tried shooing him off with a hand gesture. “Just go away, will you? Why are you even here?”
Edgar’s pitiful pout vanished abruptly. “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 you call Shanks. I knew that 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 in his arms. Eena gasped at the speed of his movements. She stiffened every muscle in her body and struggled to escape the unwanted embrace.
“Let go of me, Edgar!”
“There, there,” he cooed, hugging her tighter. He locked her wrists together in one hand before using the other to dotingly 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 caressing her hair.
“I’ve 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 that 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? Speak up.”
“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 shock was overacted. “I assumed you read lips, Amora.”
“Well, I don’t.” She struggled to free her wrists again, 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 a conversation, but 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 enhanced 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 expanded 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 there would be no denying it.
“Can he do more? Can your protector communicate with anyone else besides you? Can he read the minds of others?” Edgar stared into her face, 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 exclaimed. “He’s my protector, no one else’s.”
“So he can’t,” Edgar assumed.
Eena breathed a silent sigh of relief—he believed her lie—but she wondered about the dragons. “Can Naga and the others read minds?”
Edgar shook his head. “No. The dragons only communicate mind to mind, they can’t read thoughts. It’s the same ability that Ian apparently has 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 secret to yourself. You can’t tell anyone about this.”
“Oh, but Ishtura would love to know about this. She does have a soft spot for your protector, Amora.”
 “No, you can’t tell anyone!”
Eena swallowed hard. She feared that if this knowledge leaked out, it could potentially put Ian in danger.
“Please don’t say anything,” she pleaded, “Please, Edgar.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“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 by anyone. I have to protect him.”
“Protect your own protector?” Edgar laughed, amused by the irony.
“Yes.” With pretended optimism, she suggested, “We could make this our little 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. But he did pause to consider her request, a contemplative stare directed right at her.
Desperate for his agreement to keep her secret, Eena made the mistake of looking directly into his unblinking gaze for a too long. She was drawn in to the glimmering pool of swirling blue, unable to turn away. Under a hypnotic influence, his beautiful eyes twinkled as if constellations of midnight stars were suspended over deep ocean waters. The illusion made her feel lost in a dreamy universe more beautiful than any night sky. His dark eyelashes curled like feathers, creating striking fans that outlined the windows to his immortal soul. The sight was breathtaking and impossible to turn away from.
When his 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 and turned her head. She sucked in a deep breath, only then realizing she had been holding her breath.
“What secret are you talking about?”
“A wonderful secret, Amora. Come, I’ll show you.”
His hand pressed flat against her upper chest before she could object. With a white flash of light, the dragon’s soul slid from her neck, falling limp and motionless into Edgar’s waiting hand. Eena yanked her wrists free from his fingers without any trouble. She drew in an anxious inhale, experiencing a wild release of emotions that always accompanied the loss of the necklace. She was immortal without it. She hated the restless unrestraint, and yet at the same time it was exhilarating to have intense power coursing through her, waiting for a focused thought to wield it into action.
“Why did you do that, Edgar?” She backed away from him, not just to protest the forced closeness but to keep 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 proclaimed, “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.”
Eena anxiously 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 tell her what sort of devious plan Edgar was brewing.
“Amora, trust me,” her tempter cooed.
“You’re bringing me back to the Kemeniroc after this, right?”
Edgar frowned his disapproval 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 had 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 surrounded by billions of twinkling stars with no need for protection from the elements of the universe was nothing short of exhilarating. Eena imagined herself as a fish no longer constrained by the essential need for an ocean home. 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 inferno that shined as a life-giving sun, 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 yet able to focus on passing anomalies and distinguish details with accuracy. She awed at incredible sights, such as the merging of two nebulas 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 brushing her fingers over 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 to 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 golden rings are what gave away the planet’s identity.
Eena yanked her hand 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 homeworld. 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 grabbed by the wrist, prevented from departing. Her head snapped around to glower at the scoundrel holding tight to 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 and 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?
The closer they got to Laradine, the more 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 one of the tinier planets nearest the sun. This pimple of a world was nothing more than a black marble. Its atmosphere consisted of dark-grey clouds that swirled in thick masses above the crust. These clouds thinned at the surface, misting over the bleakest of sceneries. There was nothing colorful nor lively in the vicinity to see.
Eena turned to look around as soon as her feet hit the rocky surface. Flat fields of black soil ran on for miles, dotted by boulders jetting out of the ground here and there. In the distance, the lower portion of a jagged mountain range was perceptible, its high peaks blurred by a hovering layer of angry clouds.
The air was hot but not sunny. The cloudy sky kept all visible light to a gloomy minimum. No trees, no flowers, no evidence of any kind of life existed. The only sound was a continual whistle that rose and fell as wind struggled 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 with her foot to crush the rock into grains of sand. Interesting.
“Are you coming?”
Eena looked up from the ground to see Edgar’s head disappear inside a darkened hole in the rock. She assumed the atmosphere, though thick and murky, must be breathable. At least for immortals. Edgar slipped through the hole and vanished.
“Wait up!” Eena called, hustling after him.
Her vision blinded at a peek inside the cavernous opening, but her sight adjusted quickly once inside. She could see as though looking through a pair of night goggles despite the darkness of the cave. Edgar had already walked a few yards ahead, down a wide, declining stone pathway. The extended walls were like a natural foyer. Eena imagined that the entrance to a troll’s cavernous castle would look very similar. She recalled calling Ian a troll during their playful squabble earlier, and she wished he could see this place she would deem his trollish home. He would certainly have some wise crack to make about it.
Eena’s wild imagination was rewarded a few yards inside when the foyer opened up into a spacious circular room. The ceiling rose and arched like a high, domed mallawum stadium. Ian would love it.
After scanning the stone ceiling, her eyes dropped to the circular wall. It was made of solid rock. 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.
It was difficult not to step on the many small rocks that covered the ground like candy sprinkles on iced cookies. The strange thing was how the pebbles crushed so easily beneath her weight. It was like stomping on dried clods of mud that held the appearance of rocks but disintegrated with the slightest application of pressure. The only difference was in how smooth and concrete these rocks looked.
Continuing forward, Eena glanced up to find Edgar grinning at her, watching her progress towards him. He rolled from 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 same direction.
More black rocks covered the ground, leading to a pile of larger stones grouped together. They were clustered into some kind of mound. It had the appearance of a crioness nest, only bigger in design and made entirely of stones. The rounded structure came up to slightly above waist 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 smooth in texture, colored gold with amber and purplish veins running criss-cross over the surface.
The sight 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 see better. Leaning over the jagged edges of the nest she pressed her palm flat against the smooth, marbled stone.
It felt warm. Very, very warm.
“Oh my gosh,” Eena breathed. Her mind raced back to the recorded account Derian had read to her, describing a similar find thousands of years prior. An unknown race of people had been plagued by attacking dragons. In the process of attempting to fight them off, an unusual discovery had been made. The people had stumbled upon a round, golden, marbled stone too large and heavy to carry. It had been 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 she was certain even Edgar could hear. “Oh my gosh, this is a genuine dragon’s egg!”
Her wide eyes turned to her immortal companion. Edgar stepped up beside her, his countenance beaming with pride at how he had obviously made an impression. Eena positioned her other palm beside the first, feeling the warm egg. She waited, her heart pounding 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 moving inside this egg!”
“I know,” Edgar chuckled. “It’s Naga’s egg.”
“Naga?” Her brow tightened with sudden caution. She recalled how in the ancient account there had been a slew of dragons guarding their unhatched young. “Where are all the other dragons?”
Edgar brushed aside any fears with the flick of his wrist. “Don’t worry, Amora, only Naga and I are aware of this egg. Well…and now you,” he added.
Her cautious brow 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 had assumed so after reading about a similar case in Viidun literature.
With a smug undertone, Edgar told her, “I forbid Naga to tell anyone of this.”
“You forbid him?”
“Yes, Amora.”
Her expression wilted. Her voice fell disapproving. “Why are you involved? Why are you ordering your father around? Don’t tell me you own one of his dragon stones too?”
“Of course I do.” Edgar rolled his eyes as if the assumption ought to be common sense. “Naga’s gemstones were the first discovered. A great number of them remain in the hands of immortals. Those that Pallador hasn’t managed to confiscate, 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 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 daringly at him. He sighed a sound of acquiescence. “Oh, Amora,” he breathed as if seeking forgiveness. He reached at the same time to touch her cheek. She swatted his hand away, unwilling to grant him any clemency. She turned her back to him, seeking another look at the golden egg. Placing a finger on the solid shell, she traced over the irregular trail of a thin purple vein.
“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 crime 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 he had been struck by a flash of inspiration. “However…one can’t help wonder what sort of feats might be accomplished with the help of such a powerful, charmed tool. Someone might reasonably justify their actions if they were for a greater purpose. Perhaps a charitable act of compassion like rescuing innocent mortals victimized by a controlling group of callous, conceited, corrupted immortals?”
Eena scowled at his 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? Can we undo this mortal tragedy which the governing body blatantly refuses to repair, and then walk away without blame? Can we make things right without being forced to endure a terribly unfair trial? These are things to consider, wouldn’t you say?”
Eena grabbed 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’re 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 hadn’t heard.
“That was my creation,” Edgar bragged, “before Pallador went and declared any 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 groaned and 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 had 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 on the stony nest in order to be nearer the golden egg.
Taking a seat on a flatter area of rock, she twisted at the waist to face the massive egg. Her hands caressed its warm exterior, admiring marbled veins of purple and amber that weaved in and out across the surface. She pressed both palms flat against the egg. There was a stirring from inside.
Closing her eyelids, she concentrated on willing her mind to see 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 the egg, 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 of armor 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 quickened 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 shade. Eena was certain it wouldn’t be long before the creature forced his way out, as confined as he was.
Sensing Edgar’s presence, Eena opened her eyes. She watched him look into the nest at her hands resting on the egg.
“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 for a moment, but 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 automatically 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’s eyes.
“Those are Naga’s stones,” Eena noted.
Edgar pulled on the silver buckle, whipping 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. Eena reluctantly returned it. Edgar wrapped the belt around his waist and then 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 brows as though not following his fears. “But, if your charmed belt works as well as you say, you wouldn’t get caught.”
“Maybe,” Edgar said, tilting his head the slightest bit.
“Maybe?” Eena repeated.
“Amora, It is true that I could easily 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 any 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 for certain.”
“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’s stone to deceive Pallador. If I were to get 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 declared, rubbing at his sore arm. He stared at the angry woman as if he felt 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, a little wary of where her hands were, but dared to reach and 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 stepped 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. “I never promised to keep this secret. I have no desire to be in any more trouble with Pallador than I already have been.”
“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 was blackmailing her. She wondered which scenario would turn out to be 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 would never want you to miss such an amazing occurrence, Amora.” His triumphant grin bothered as much as the rotten stench of a skunk.
Reluctantly, Eena tore herself away from their extraordinary secret and followed her guide outside. She was more than happy to escape the dark, dismal atmosphere that shrouded the 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 settled down with the calming feelings 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’s frozen because his movements are so slow by comparison.”
She shook her head, both incredulous and confused. “I’ll never get use 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 as he vanished.
The elevator jerked, starting up again, and then 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 had been headed before her unintended break. 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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