There had always been myths, whispered Stories about them, but never had she believed they were real. After all, the last sighting of one in its truest form had been eons before her great-grandfather’s birth.
But yet for all that she had thought the Stories to be exaggerations, for all that she had thought them to be more myths than reality, standing atop the parapets at Ryphqi City’s main gate watching as a motherfucking Dragae dropped gracefully from the sky, she knew those Stories were real. As she watched it land among the sea of Otherborn that had gathered just beyond the City’s wall like a far too patient, weirdly still army, she knew that her life was being irrevocably altered today. Part of her wondered, hoped, it was in a good way. And maybe it was, but not all of it. And watching the way the Otherborn parted around the Dragaen as it strode forward, if striding was a thing one could do on a tail that was three times as thick as her whole body. It shook itself like a bird shook water off its feathers, the air glittering around it as it did so, the movement wholly un-Dhaoinic and she swallowed thickly around something that would have been fear if she wasn’t too stubborn to allow herself to feel such a thing.
She desperately wished that Thayne hadn’t had to return to Eyrdo because if anyone would love to see this, who would know about the curtsies one had to show when dealing with Dragae, it’d be her wife.
“Holy fuck, is that what I think it is?” Jaro asked as he stepped up beside her, hands curling over the edge of the parapet so tightly the stone whined and his knuckles turned white.
“If you think that’s a Dragaen,” she coughed lightly because her throat and mouth were suddenly desert dry. “Then yes, yes it is exactly what you think it is.”
“I thought they were extinct,” a guard murmured from her right.
“No,” Adïmshyl corrected as he stepped up on Jaro’s other side, hands twitching at his hips as though he were wanting to touch the hilts of the battleaxes he hadn’t worn in a long time. “When Qishir Xhala Qinshi had first taken the Throne, they went into seclusion, swore off walking the Seven Worlds in their truest form. It would only be worn when they were among members of their own kind. But they never went extinct, not the way a lot of races did.”
Alaïs turned a raised eyebrow on the Lupherinre and could tell by the way he blinked back at her that she wasn’t the only one. No one asked what other races had gone extinct, no one around them needed to. But the rest of what Adïmshyl had said? Now that was interesting.
“How do you know all of that?” she asked. Partly out of curiosity and partly because if she focused on him and his sudden knowledge of Dragaens she wouldn’t have to focus on the one that was slithering towards the City. There was only so much new, weird shit she could handle before she started violently pinwheeling her arms. It wouldn’t help anything but it would make her feel better.
He smirked despite the light blush that touched his cheeks and looked back at the Dragaen. “I was there when they took the vote. After all, they are not quite so distant cousins of my kind.”
Now was not the time to poke at that particular nugget of information but by the gods did she want to.
“Open the gate,” she called to the guards and rolled her eyes when they turned to look at her like she’d lost her mind. “A fucking Dragaen wouldn’t just show up out of nowhere like this without damned good reason. So open the gate.”
“Aye, Your Excellency!” they replied and did as she bid.
It stopped just shy of where the large doors would swing open, tilting its head back so it could look up at her. She met its eyes and watched as those scales began to flake off, revealing smooth, snow-pale skin. Watched as four of those six arms curled back into the body and disappeared from sight. Watched as its torso shrank down, as its tail split down the middle and shortened until two legs were visible. By the time the gate was fully open, the Dragaen was stood looking like every other Dhaoine but she knew it wasn’t. Knew because she had seen it but also because now that it was close enough she could read its magickal signature. Read his magickal signature.
And if she wasn’t questioning everything she had ever thought she knew, she would have sworn his signature had flecks of Rhyshladlyn’s dancing around it.
Adïmshyl informed her that bringing the Dragaen back to the Lupherinre’s house would be taken out of context. Had said that Dragaens were social creatures within their own kind and with those they cared deeply for and had forged a strong bond with but not with strangers, never with strangers. But when she’d stood before it, mesmerized by how when it had changed shape it was now shorter than her when in its true form it had to have easily towered over even Azriel, she knew it wouldn’t matter to this one.
If asked how she knew she wouldn’t be able to say but she did. Maybe because for it to have flecks of Rhyshladlyn’s magickal signature in its own to that degree, it must have been very close to my brother. And Rhys doesn’t allow anyone to get that close without good fucking reason.
So now she sat across the formal dining room table staring at a face that looked Dhaoinic but wasn’t. For all that it wore a Dhaoine’s face, filled out a Dhaoinic body, had the same kind of magickal signature as a Dhaoine, it was so much more than that. It was else in a way that no one in the Courts were except for maybe her little brother. Stared at her with eyes that at a glance looked like nothing more than a rich, dark brown, but the longer she looked the more obvious it became that those eyes were the same color as the scales it had shaken off outside the City gate.
“I’m here,” Bayls said, voice testy as she leaned forward and tapped the table with a knuckle, hazel eyes darker around the edges than normal, holding more streaks of blue that Alaïs had ever seen them. The Sinner practically oozed barely banked fury and Alaïs couldn’t tell who was the subject of it enough to urge her to caution. “And I’m getting impatient. So whatever brought you here, speak about it or leave. I’ve got other shit to do than wait for you to move at a pace that’s not that of a snail frozen in molasses.”
She knew it was a male, knew that was the form it had taken on, but she still struggled to assign it a gender, let alone pronouns of any of the Dhaoinic genders. It was too foreign in her head, on the back of her tongue, its signature just familiar enough that she was able to recognize what she was reading but not enough to help her be fooled by the skin it wore as it sat at the other end of the table with a demureness that would have made her mother proud. Maybe if I hadn’t see what lay tucked into that skin, I wouldn’t have so much trouble. And watching it turn that unblinking stare to Bayls who just stared right back at it as though she weren’t remotely perturbed by the otherness that emanated from the Dragaen, Alaïs found it was impossible to shift the way she thought of it in her own head.
“My name is Xefras B’eja-nim,” it spoke with a lilt that made her think of innocently trickling mountain streams; harmless looking and gentle, right up until they weren’t. “And until five hours ago I was a slave to the Mad Qishir.”
“That bitch managed to enslave a Dragaen?” Azriel spluttered before visibly regaining control of himself. “I find that difficult to believe.”
It shrugged, smiling as it did so, and Alaïs fought not to wrap her hand around the hilt of one of her knives at the edge of maliciousness that smile held.
“I am Called to the slave caste, Grey Companion Azriel,” it replied. “So I would have served regardless of the fact that I was captured, sold, and branded.”
This feels like a dangerous topic that we should avoid until a much later date.
“If you are free, Xefras B’eja-nim,” she said and fought not to flinch when it looked back at her, serene and still and seemingly oh so calm. She didn’t buy the act at all because something that was literally made of coiled violence and predatory energy that powerful, no matter how it may be Called to the slave caste, was not innocent and gentle. Not really. “If you are free,” she tried again, happy and surprised in equal measure that her voice was steady, “then why did you come here of all places? Why not go home?”
It considered her question, the muscles of its face twitching as it looked first at Azriel then Bayls before settling back on her. Technically she out ranked everyone in both Courts that sat either at the table or stood spread across the dining room, kitchen, and front room but it acted as though they were all equal. As though the only Dhaoine who outranked any of them, who had the right to order it to do anything, wasn’t here. But it had been told what to do by that Dhaoine, so present or not, it would carry out that order. And the whole time it did it would sit that so calm, so carefree, as though it had nothing whatsoever to worry about.
Which it did. Seeing as how it had walked not only into a Sanctuary City but one controlled by the Grey and Honorable Courts in tandem measure. And every single member of those Courts except for Relyt and Rhys…and Nully who’s still recovering were present and standing around it.
Does it realize it’s flanked on all sides and has to go through at least two of us at each exit in order to get out? A better question was probably, does it care?
“My tribe’s homeland ceased to be hundreds of thousands of years ago, Lord Queen Alaïs. So I have no home to return to, haven’t for a very long time,” it did that feather ruffling shake she’d seen it do outside the gate before settling more comfortably in the chair. “But I am here at the bidding of Grey Qishir Rhyshladlyn, who sent me with a message for Bayls Qaeniri once he gifted me my freedom.”
The tension in the room rose, shifted, and then broke as every single one of them took a breath. She held up one hand for silence before any of the rest of them could speak. Let instinct take over in a way she hadn’t since she was very young, since the first time she had seen Rhyshladlyn come stumbling down the hallway looking like he’d fought a sentient bramble bush and lost and knew that it had been their sire who had done such horrible things to him.
“Speak, Dragaen, and we will listen.” She dropped her hand back to her lap and met that unblinking gaze straight and wondered if Rhyshladlyn knew exactly what he’d sent to them, knew the ally — and the potential deadly enemy — he had given the key to get into the Grey and Honorable Courts’ inner sanctums.
But as it began to speak, as it told them everything that had happened as quickly as it could, as she listened and felt the blood drain from her face as the ground beneath her feet shook and wobbled like she was falling but she never moved an inch she knew her little brother wasn’t ignorant of what race his friend hailed from. Knew also that he hadn’t just used Xefras B’eja-nim as a means to an end but had genuinely come to care for the Dragaen. But even knowing what Xefras was, or just suspecting it, Rhyshladlyn had taken a huge risk.
She just hoped they were able to make it worth it for him.