Chapter Twenty: Nootau
A Familiar Exit
But he had needed something to break the tension, so Nootau had gone the easy route.
Unfortunately the easy route seemed to make Mal turn introspective. Somehow, that smelled like foul kraken eggs.
Why do I remember that smell so well? Nootau pulled a face when a new memory of him feasting on spoiled kraken eggs during their flight to Europe. Better question, why had Edwige and Aegeus let him eat the damn things? He shot his partners a look. Edwige's eyes rounded while Aegeus frowned. It was his unhappy face for when Nootau fucked something up with Edwige.
No. Just ewww. Firedrakes had weird tastes. He waved off the pair.
Nootau's attention wandered back to Mal and Kaden. The wolf had curled up next to the Ranger, talking quietly with him. Mal gestured toward Nootau, Aegeus and Edwige briefly before he sighed loudly.
Kaden nodded toward them. Mal shrugged then stood. The two men moved toward Nootau. He stiffened. The last time Mal moved like that Nootau's teeth rattled. But the Ranger must've noticed something because he pulled up and slowed.
"Not going to sic your dragon on me again?" Nootau asked.
Mal frowned and looked back to his Diver. "Nidhogg should leave us be for now. He's hurting as much as you I suspect."
No disagreement there. Part of Nootau glorified in holding his own against a Diver. Another, much wiser part of him never wanted to experience a fight with another dragon again.
"Now, I think... " Mal paused but Kaden urged him on. "I think we may be looking for the same people."
"In the paperwork Kaden and I found in my twin's belongings, there was mention of a cross-breeding eugenics program. One with Firedrakes." Mal opened his arms wide and shrugged. "Maybe they're trying to slice walker genes into these new, better Firedrakes they're trying to breed."
"For the love of Gods above and Mother Earth below." Nootau sat up, but doubled over in pain immediately. "Fuck."
"You okay?" Mal reached out, but backed off after Edwige told him to move it.
"Nootau, love, listen to me breathe." She pulled him back against her chest, pressing his ear against her soft breasts. "You shouldn't be moving about. You'll tear my bandages."
"I don't think—"
"No," Edwige snapped. "You don't. So you should stop thinking and start listening to me."
Fuck she was mad. But a mad Edwige definitely flipped some switches for Nootau as well.
"No," Edwige said but she was smiling. "Gods, Nootau. No."
"I've seen that look. You are not up for any fucking."
Didn't mean he couldn't think about it.
"Is he all right?" Kaden asked, making Edwige look up and away from Nootau.
"We need to get him out of here soon."
"I can't believe... Using walkers like that."
"Hush, this is non-negotiable."
Nootau huffed. Honestly he wasn't feeling so bad. A little light and floaty but that seemed infinitely better than all the pain from before. Too bad he couldn't feel Aegeus holding him too. Being surrounded by the pair was its own kind of medicine.
Maybe Aegeus would hum a lullaby—which reminded Nootau. He and his merman needed to discuss the withholding he was a siren too. Now wasn't the time to show division in front of the Ranger and his boyfriend, though.
"So do we need to get him out?" Mal asked.
"We?" Aegeus replied.
Ooh. He sounded hot getting all defensive like that. Ugh. No. Nootau gave himself a little shake. What were in the herbs on those dressings?
"Yes, we," Mal answered. "I think we could help each other out here. Don't you?"
Edwige looked back at Aegeus. She looked as doubtful as Nootau felt.
"No," Nootau croaked, sitting up a little more so he could keep an eye on the Ranger. "End up dragon dinner."
Mal snorted. "Nidhogg only went after you because of that hide you're holding onto."
"You're an ass."
"Now listen here," Mal began before Kaden pressed a hand against his chest. "Look, I'm sorry Nidhogg tried to eat you."
Said dragon perked up at his name. Bastard even crawled over toward them.
Nootau hissed reflexively.
The Diver lunged forward, his jaws snapping.
"Fuck!" Nootau rolled him and Edwige away as Mal grabbed onto his dragon.
"Hup, boy! No! Back! Come on, be a good boy. Back."
Nidhogg blew out a bit of smoke, rather smugly if anyone bothered to ask Nootau, and ambled slowly back with Mal at his lead.
"Listen," said Kaden, holding a hand up. He cocked his head. Nidhogg followed suit.
"What?" Aegeus asked. He stepped around Nootau and Edwige, putting himself between them and whatever Kaden heard.
"We're getting company." Kaden jumped from one foot to the other. "There's a whole lot of noise coming this way."
"Fuck," Nootau pushed up only to have Edwige press him back down.
Mal rounded on their group. "I really think we need to work our angles together. Why don't I meet you guys back at your hotel?"
"We kinda have to get through the same people you do," Nootau said, chuckling. Unless he floated through the netting. That would be neat.
"I'll meet them at the entrance, you guys can sneak out the back."
"There's a back exit in the enclosure for emergencies. Take it. I'll think of something to stall them."
Nootau swung up. No, Aegeus had picked him up. Lovely. Strong men like him could toss Nootau whichever way they wanted.
"What are you going to tell them about Nora?" Aegeus asked. His chest felt all rumbly when he spoke. Nootau buried his face against it.
"That those bloody idiots fucked up by leaving my Diver in with your Firedrake and she probably managed to escape out back. I am a little bit more concerned about my dragon than chasing a pissed off jenny."
"Can we get out that way?"
Mal nodded. "Emergency protocol should've kicked in during their fight and the back exit should be unlocked."
"All right," Aegeus said, holding Nootau closer. "Then we'll see you at the hotel."
"Yeah, now go."
"Thanks, Mal. We really appreciate you helping us."
Mal offered a sardonic grin. "Let's just make sure we make it to tonight before you go giving your thanks."
"Thanks just the same."
The sky began to sway. No, that was Nootau's head jostling about as Aegeus ran. The smell of smoke filled his lungs. Nootau squirmed to get a view of their destination. A glade smoldered. Black-charred trunks dotted the landscape, and in the distance, metal netting hung all around them.
The netting gleamed under the bright sun, much like a spider's nest after a spring rain. Nootau wondered if they would make it out of the trap or not, for the dragon's nest was just as deadly. Shouts and alarmed voices echoed in the background. Hopefully they weren't seen as they ducked into the burning wood.
Of course, they could just run straight into more Dragon Guild at the exit.
Please let us catch a break.
Maybe someone had been listening, because by the time Edwige, Nootau and Aegeus made it to the back netting no one was in sight. Aegeus huffed and puffed but his hold on Nootau never wavered. He held him firmly against his chest, and honestly, that could not have been easy. Small Nootau was not. A moan escaped, because the nice floaty-feelings were gone, instead a hard throb made his body pulse, the pain growing louder with each step. Nootau wanted to ask Aegeus to stop jostling him but that would be like asking for the sun bottled.
"Me first then you can hand him up," Edwige said once they reached the wall.
"I don't think so, there has to be steps somewhere."
"You see any?"
Aegeus adjusted his hold on Nootau, shifting his weight. "Let's get closer to the door. I bet they've got some steps by it."
There were in fact steps, and they just had to push on the back exit for the gate to give. It swung open, the metal letting out a creaking groan nearly splitting Nootau's head with the noise. The moment the exit opened, a siren blared as red lights strobed above them.
"Quick!" Edwige shouldered her bag again and made for the stairs down into the outside grounds. "Before people come looking!"
"I'm moving as fast as I can!"
As Edwige and Aegeus squabbled, Nootau's gaze remained fixated on the red lights. Something niggled at his memories. It felt important, like he should remember, because there was a profound inkling they'd done this before.
A sense of deja vu filled Nootau as the light washed over their escape. But it wasn't the escape that seemed so familiar.