Chapter Eighteen: Nootau
Like an "I combusted into flames" kind of panic attack.
Nootau burned bright and high for long enough that the bedding in his nest blackened. Apparently that was of interest because a bunch of people showed up after the person watching over him ran away. There was a lot of muttering from humans and Beings in long coats, and even more people started to show up when his flames went white.
Totally didn't help matters.
The men from intake showed up, avidly talking to the men in coats. The squat man eventually broke off and got closer to the nest. He leaned in, whistling.
"What did you do to piss her off?" He asked.
The man who had run away edged closer. "I don't know. She erupted a few minutes after her handler left with the Ranger. I mean, Nidhogg had hissed at her, but he went to his own nest afterward."
"Anything happen before the two interacted that could set Nora here off?"
"Well, uh, some of our Divers may have... "
The squat man turned his attention on the coward. "May have what?"
"Attacked her, Rudolph."
The coward gulped. "They spit flames at her. Hissed. Stuff like that. The Ranger, Mal, got her calmed down and into her nest."
Rudolph sniffed. "Hmm. Nora's own rider didn't calm her?"
"The Divers went after them first."
"I see." Rudolph stepped closer to the cage. "Aegeus said Nora wasn't fond of hangars at the landing terminal. Even asked if they could house somewhere private. Our fledging here is probably still temperamental when threatened. Or if her Rider is. Hmm. She'd been so well behaved at intake too."
The coward nodded before backing into the crowd. Rudolph turned to the swarm of humans, his hands clasped behind his back. He lowered his voice and joined in the conversation.
Nootau pressed back against the wall of the nest. He wanted everyone to stay away. And he definitely didn't want any of the other dragons getting any closer. Why did Aegeus and Edwige agree to leave with that stupid man?
How could they leave him alone? With all the other dragons? Nootau hissed loudly, the flames bursting higher around him.
Nootau wanted his humans back. How long did eating take?
"We should examine the nesting material," someone said.
Another person agreed, chiming in. "An analysis might prove useful to strengthening the polymers."
"But how? As long as she's covered herself in flames we can't get any samples."
"Are we able to measure how hot she's burning?"
"What about letting her out into the enclosure in back?"
A woman sighed. "How do we lure her out?"
"Are there any dragons in the enclosure?"
Rudolph took a couple steps back and checked the boards. "A few."
"Do we chance it?" Yet another voice asked.
A few men in attire similar to Mal's shrugged. Rudolph snorted. One of the people in long coats shook her head while her friend nodded hers.
"Might be better to get her out," Rudolph said. "Could calm our girl down."
Finally a couple Riders offered to wrangle the dragons in from the enclosure.
Rudolph laughed. "You better hurry. The wall behind our fledgling is looking awful black too."
That had people scurrying about while others started yelling. How incredibly irritating.
Nootau spit—a fireball erupting from his jaws. That is a new trick. People yelled in alarm. The solid wall he pressed against shuddered. Noisy clanks and clangs mirrored the wall tremors. Roars and blaring shrieks hurt his eardrums. Nootau reared up, bellowing smoke and flame. He pressed against the cool metal, pounding and pressing.
Too much was happening inside his nest. Nootau needed out. Away from the heat and noise.
"Open the door!" Rudolph yelled.
"But there are other dragons outside!"
"She's going to hurt herself!" Rudolph snapped. "The Riders are trained to deal with confrontation. Chance it!"
The metal wall behind Nootau trembled once before sliding against his hide. He moved back, turned and hissed at it before a gust of wind caught his attention. It came from down below. He dropped his snout, sniffing, his tongue slithering out for a taste. Cool, dry air met his face. Nothing had ever felt so good. And the hole grew larger.
Nootau banged against the wall in excitement. Focused on getting out of the confines of his cage. Why would anyone ever want to be caged? Outside was so much better.
Slipping his head under the the moving metal made Nootau feel lighter, less afraid now that the wind washed over him.
Afraid of what?
Nootau managed to get his shoulders under the wall, clawing and scraping along the ground. Chunks of the earth flew in different directions as he tried to maneuver into the open. The hole hadn't gotten big enough for him to squeeze all the way through yet. Instead he was stuck, wriggling on the ground. He wanted up and out.
A roar let loose from Nootau. Golden and angry flames billowed from his snout and jaws. Above him a dark shadow loomed. Nootau pulled with his foreclaws and pushed with his hindlimbs, desperate to escape.
Just as he thought he'd be stuck, vulnerable, the metal gave and Nootau broke forward. He reared up, his flames erupting higher than before. He roared, the sound heavy in his chest. Another roar answered his.
The shadow from before.
Nootau looked up, tracking the movements above him.
There was more than one shadow. Dragons.
Two flapped overhead. Humans on their backs. The dragons harnessed. How human.
Nootau belched a fireball toward them in warning before galloping away. Confrontation with the others was not something he wanted. Something about that would be bad. He couldn't remember what, but he knew they shouldn’t get close.
When he got to a small grove in the back of the cage Nootau slowed down, ducking under the canopy for cover. He stomped through the trees, others brushed hard against his hide, and still more fell when he hit them. Fire danced among the branches, leaping and dancing all around him. Nootau dove deeper into the safety of the woods. He didn't stop until he reached a barrier. Metal jutted out from it, criss-crossing like a spider's web until it met the sky.
No, he couldn't leave, but Nootau could build a nest to defend himself in.
The flames around him died. Instead of a hot hum thrumming through his chest, the fire around him warmed him. Water fell from the sky, smoldering the flames.
Branches fell easily under Nootau's claws. He toppled tree after tree, then dragged them back to the barrier. A smoke filled the grove, but its smell calmed Nootau. It wasn't until the nest met his chest did he stop.
Nootau lifted his snout and sniffed, tasting the air with his tongue. Some flames still burned but most had died out because of the water.
Another smell besides charred wood was in the grove. Nootau circled in his nest. Something wasn't right.
"There she is."
The voice had Nootau up and perched over his nest. It was the squat human. Nootau's chest rumbled. The human had a name—like he did. Rudolph. Next to him stood several more humans.
They were on the other side of the barrier.
He laughed. "She's nesting. Maybe we should get one of the drakes inside with her."
"I thought she was still a fledgling," A woman said. Nootau immediately didn't like her. Something about the way she spoke.
"She might just be on the small side," Rudolph replied. "Aren't you sweetheart?"
Nootau let out another rumble. The way the man looked at him made his hide itch.
"Isn't a Diver still in the enclosure?"
"Jah," Rudolph pointed up. "Just north, he's hanging out on the ledge. Erik couldn't get Nidhogg out before our jenny busted in."
"Did Erik make it out all right?" The woman asked. Nootau didn't think she cared if this "Erik" hadn't.
"Through the back exit."
Another man leaned in and squinted. "She's technically not ours. Are you even sure she's ready for a mate?"
Rudolph chuckled. "I have been here a long time, my friend. Intake means knowing all about animal welfare and their conditions. This behavior—the protectiveness over her riders, the agitation of being stuck in the nest, her need to nest here where she can defend herself? All of it says she needs a male."
"Hmm." The woman scowled. "Did her Rider give permission for breeding?"
"Aegeus was interested. Asked for information about the program." Rudolph dropped down. The way his mouth changed—Nootau snorted. Something about the conversation made him uneasy. The squat man nodded. "We could ask for forgiveness rather than permission?"
The woman sighed. "Maybe."
The man next to her nodded along with Rudolph. "Forgiveness is done more easily. Look at her. How calmly she's watching us."
Nootau snorted again. The noises the humans made didn't make complete sense, but he understood well enough they wanted a male for him. But Nootau had Aegeus. He didn't need another male.
"Think about it, Julia. Domesticating firedrakes could start with her," Rudolph said. "When are we going to get a chance like this?"
Domesticating. Stupid humans. Nootau would never just serve them. Let them keep him in a cage.
Aegeus and Edwige wouldn't let Rudolph keep him.
No, the human made little sense.
Nootau had more important things to take care of. They needed to leave him alone. Just let him be until Aegeus and Edwige came for him. Too show them, Nootau reared up, taking enjoyment in how the humans scrambled back.
"Careful!" Rudolph said, putting his arms out to move the others away. "Let's leave her. Get someone to lure Nidhogg out so we can send our drake in—before her Rider comes back."
"How long has he been gone?" The man asked.
"A few hours," Rudolph replied. "Should be a couple more."
"I heard him talking with the Ranger. They mentioned lunch and supplies."
The woman laughed. "Tourists."
They walked away chattering. Nootau snorted and settled back in his nest. He wished for Aegeus and Edwige. The sooner they got back, the sooner... The sooner... Nootau wasn't sure exactly what, but he knew he needed them.
Voices woke Nootau. Two people bickered back and forth. He rose, stretched, and lifted his snout, tasting the air with his tongue. They weren't his. Nootau snorted and laid his head back down.
"I thought we were getting the Diver and going."
"Shhh." The other voice sounded upset. "I just want to see her. Rudolph won't shut up about this jenny."
"I don't think disturbing her is—"
"The Diver isn't happy, Erik." The man started yelling all sorts of things. Nootau wanted them to leave. If they continued to make a fuss, he would find a way to get rid of them.
A rattling had Nootau up and turning in his nest. Above him were two humans on a blue dragon crawling along the metal webbing. The dragon stopped when their eyes locked. He hissed. Nootau rumbled out a warning.
"Erik! The jenny's noticed us!" The man's voice rose. "Get us out! Now!"
The man at the reins tugged, but the blue dragon wouldn't turn.
Flames erupted all over Nootau. He clawed up the barrier onto the webbing. The blue dragon hissed and moved down to meet him.
"Nidhogg! Up!" Erik pulled again but Nidhogg wouldn't budge. The blue dragon insisted on moving down the webbing.
"I don't think... We need to go!"
Inside Nootau's chest a burning sensation built inside him. He roared. Another fireball ejected from him. The men yelled.
"Grab the metal netting! Grab it now!" Erik shouted. "Off the mad dragon!"
The men threw themselves off Nidhogg, hurling against the webbing. They bounced but managed to hang on, both of them shouting more. The blue dragon increased its descent, hissing and spitting toward Nootau.
No way could he take the dragon head-on with how it moved.
Nootau climbed out of his nest and took cover under the smoking canopy.
A thunderous roar shook Nootau along with the trees. He weaved around the burnt trunks toward the open ground. A thump, thump, thumping was not far behind Nootau, keeping him surging forward. He may have an equal chance if he got to the field. Maybe. At least he wouldn't be at the mercy of Nidhogg aerobatic skills.
Just as Nootau broke from the tree line a roar shook him. Heat licked his tail.
Nootau skidded, rounding on the grove. The blue dragon burst out of the trees. Burning trunks exploded toward him. Splinters and flames rained down. Nootau belched a fireball. Nidhogg ducked but continued his pursuit, crashing forward.
Flames danced over Nootau.
But they weren't the deterrent he hoped they would be.
The Diver and Nootau met in a clash of fangs and claws.