Chapter Seventeen: Nootau
Not Quite a Dragon
"These are too loose," the squat man said as he pulled them tight. "A firedrake fledgling must be kept on short rein. You don't know what's going to happen."
Squat man shared a look with the funny smelling person, which made Nootau inclined to believe he wasn't human. There weren't any distinct features to identify him as anything other than human so Nootau decided it took too much effort to care. What he didn't like was their hands all over them. Aegeus's humming helped not so much as a calming device but as a reminder he couldn't do anything dumb to expose them.
The Guild didn't take well to Rider impersonators.
And if Edwige and Aegeus were caught, who knew what would happen to Nootau. He didn't even want to fathom living out his existence as a dragon. Would he remember himself at all? He really hadn't wanted to come to the hangar but the woman at the landing terminal said all visiting dragons in the city had to stay with the local Guild.
The squat man ran a hand down Nootau's neck. "She is beaut. The coloring is, um, good for her. She is more docile than most fledglings her age, too. I'm surprised you managed to train one so young."
"Well," Aegeus began, stepping in between squat man and Nootau. "I did raise her from a hatchling, seeing how poachers got her mom. Must have imprinted on me."
"I see. I suppose anything is possible. Still, it takes skill to train firedrake. They're grumpy bastards. How come you're, um, not registered with the Chicago Dragon Guild? You live close? If you can train an adolescent firedrake—"
"I have had my fair share of run-ins—" Aegeus interrupted. "With CDig. I've considered it, but I feel I get more time with an individual dragon at smaller guilds. Helps me learn the dragon better."
The squat man shrugged. "Takes all kinds I suppose."
"Now, I'm sorry if I'm rushing you, but we've had a long trek. Do you mind pointing me in the direction of the nest?"
"Ah, sorry. Yes." The squat man pointed down the hangar and rattled off a series of directions. After handing the reins back to Aegeus he gave Nootau's rump a firm pat. "You should consider breeding her when she's a jenny. She'll be ready in a few more years, and we are always looking for some new blood. Firedrakes are something of a prize in the Guild as we don't have many of them. We have some exchange programs if you want."
"Of course!" Aegeus tugged on Nootau's reins. "Just drop off the information anytime."
"We'll have it for you at check out."
Nootau shifted away from the intake crew, a little smoke escaping from him. The tightened reins were really uncomfortable. Bastards. Nootau tossed his head but stopped when he saw Aegeus glaring at him. Right. Play it cool. The squat man and his non-human laughed.
"She has spirit," the funny smelling person said. "Just enough."
What did that mean?
"What's her name? We missed it on the forms."
Aegeus and Edwige smiled before she answered, "Nora."
"Little docile for her, but it is nice."
"We'll be going," Aegeus replied, pulling on Nootau's reins again. He bucked a little, jerking his head away. He really didn't like it when Aegeus yanked him like that. "Thank you for all the help."
They twisted through the hangar. The scale of it amazed Nootau, and more than once Aegeus had to tug his reins to get him moving again. Edwige read the signs as they passed corridors leading off to different directions—fields, classrooms, research and development, training, dormitories, and the dragon medicine department—and everything was clean. How did they keep a place so big with so many people, Beings and dragons sparkly?
Nests were clumped together based on size, more than a few holding huge dragons used for cross continental transport. Nootau had never been, but after his experience crossing with Aegeus and Edwige he hoped they got the chance to ride on the way back. It would be more comfortable for them. Safer.
Their nest was situated near the Himalayan Divers. Made sense considering his size. Still, he didn't want to get too close. These guys were the ones called in when things went wrong with dragons. Being around their pods meant Rangers. Who wanted to run into them? Especially when they still had to figure out Nora's disappearing act?
The Divers didn't look scary, and maybe that's why they made Nootau nervous. Dull blue scales gleamed under the light making the Divers stand out against the concrete floors, but not by much. They weren't the biggest dragons around by far, only about as big as a full grown elephant. It was their rumored agility and quick-mindedness that could get Nootau in trouble.
As they got closer, one of the pods pushed up against the nest near the corridor, their forked tongues tasting the air. A hatchling smaller than Nootau hissed. Flames erupted from another hatchling. The parents pushed toward the front.
"Let's walk on the far side."
They all edged over but the Divers still hissed.
Nootau reared up and growled. Aegeus hummed as he pulled at Nootau's reins.
Edwige pressed up against him. "It's all right. Don't worry. You're okay."
Of course neither of their attempts to soothe him helped. They only served to make him more pissed off. Those dragons could hurt his persons. The hisses and bursts of flames from their cage became more pronounced. The heat licked their sides. Edwige whimpered.
Whether it was her cry or Nootau's anger at the attack, he snapped. Nootau bucked, roaring, and shook Aegeus loose. Swinging around he smashed up against the cage. Flames erupted all around him. Hissing and roars filled the hanger. A loud blaring noise and lights went off.
"Somebody open the bloody enclosure in back, lure them out!" A voice shouted over the noise.
"How?" Another strange voiced yelled.
"Use whatever prey you have, you bloody idiots!"
"Nora! Calm down, sweetie," Edwige called.
Nora who? A loud hum filled the hangar. Nootau banged up against the nest. Hissing and clawing at the dragons. He'd show them. Nobody hurt his persons. Nothing.
"Stay back! I'll get her!" The first voice boomed.
His head pulled hard to the right. Nootau raised his foreclaw to strike, but the moment he turned Nootau fell back. The tall, figured seemed familiar. Aegeus? No. Not his person. But—Nootau's head got pulled down. A hand went down his neck.
"They shouldn't have hissed at yours, should they?"
No. Stupid Divers.
They backed away from the cage. The strange human petting him, holding his reins close. Even more absurd, the man pushed up underneath him, still walking them away from the nest.
"Sorry, girl. Getting a little personal here. Need you to protect me from all the flames."
Nootau turned, getting the human shielded from the heat. He did feel an awful lot like Aegeus. Didn't smell like him, though.
"That's a girl. There we go. Where's her nest?"
"Three down," Aegeus replied, jogging up beside them.
"Oh, we're right next to you then."
"Thanks for getting h-her."
"Fledglings can be temperamental. Pretty sure it's all the hormones." The man slid in front of Nootau. "She's actually well-trained. Your girl here. If the Divers hadn't provoked her I don't think she would've gone after them."
"Have a little faith in your girl, will you?" The man chuckled. "I'm Mal by the way."
"Aegeus. This is my partner Edwige."
"And who's this beautiful girl?" They stopped in front of a single nest. Mal rubbed a hand over Nootau's flank.
Aegeus didn't answer immediately, looking back and forth from Mal to Nootau. "Nora. Her name is Nora."
"Such a good name for a pretty girl, isn't it?" Mal rubbed along Nootau's neck. "Beautiful coloring too. And she is very well trained. Don't let those bastards say otherwise. I'm going to have to talk to the Guild around here about their Divers. They ought to be better trained than that."
"Let's get her settled, then, right?" Mal gave a tug on Nootau's reins, leading him into the nest. "That's a girl, Nora. Good girl."