Chapter Sixteen: Nootau
A Cold Night
How many walkers had died in that time? Been targeted?
The treatment skins itched, and sometimes the scales pulled funny, but they did the best they could without going to the Chicago Dragon Guild for treatments. Those people would've asked too many questions, and Nootau and the Underground couldn't afford being caught.
Not after all they'd done.
So close, but not close enough.
Still, healing had been taking too long, and Nootau hadn't been able to transform back since he'd forcibly shared spirits with the dragon. Initially the mornings were panic and chaos until a routine had been established. Edwige woke him up with a morning feeding while Aegeus hummed to keep him calm. Then the two of them told him the story of their meeting and mission.
Once Nootau had been deemed strong enough, they started flying, still waking him up the same way each day. It helped ground him. Made Nootau remember who and what he was.
Not a dragon.
Other dragons took nips at him, tried to flay him with flames, and even clawed him on more than one occasion when he got too close. Certainly made staying at the hangers difficult. Sometimes they managed, but not always.
"How you doing, Nootau?" Edwige patted his neck. "Tired?"
"Should we rest?"
Nootau shook his head, tilting to the side some. A small shriek may have slipped from Aegeus. A coughing fit quickly covered it. Nootau straightened out. Flying wasn't as easy as anything winged made it look. Or maybe that was because flying wasn't something he normally did that made it strange.
Not something he really had time to ponder.
The moments Nootau enjoyed more than anything were when the three of them were up in the clouds by themselves. Him, Edwige and Aegeus alone in a sea of blue and white. His two humans secure in the uncomfortable saddle, their legs holding him tight, and Aegeus's hands loose on the reins. The air pushed up under his wings keeping them afloat. The breeze against his snout giving him calm reassurance all was right with the world.
He didn't want to leave it.
Aegeus pressed against his neck. "It's getting a little cold up here, Nootau."
He snorted. The air kept them free. Up here they had nothing tying them down. Worries floated away.
"Nootau, please. We've passed over Autun a few minutes ago, and they're not so many houses now."
But they were safe in the clouds. The ground held too many dangers. They would be at risk.
"Edwige is cold. Can't you feel her shivering?"
There was a tremble against his flank.
"Wouldn't a cuddle be nice? The three of us together? Nice little fire?" Aegeus ran a hand down Nootau's neck with a hum. "Look. A nice size lake. There are two islands. Only a few houses dot the shoreline. I could catch us some fish for breakfast. Possibly. Hopefully the lake has some fish."
Landing would be nice. Nootau angled for the island.
On the descent down Nootau huffed, realizing his merman tricked him again.
The hum is... Not dangerous. Maybe problematic? Yes, that was the word.
He knew words because he was not a dragon. Right. Nootau of the Northern Algonquin.
"How 'bout landing by the bank? Or on the bigger of the two islands? Hmm? Cuddles. Fish."
The trees on the island would give them protection.
Nootau circled down and grabbed hold of the treetops. Trunks burst apart underneath his claws. A tree or two fell, but not a ton of damage happened—to the island or to Nootau—on this landing compared to the others. Maybe he was getting a little better. Probably not in reality. Nootau could dream, though.
Edwige slid off and circled 'round front of Nootau. She leaned in and hugged him, her arms wrapping around his neck. He lifted a forelimb and held her close. Edwige placed a kiss against his throat then pulled back.
"Thank you for stopping."
Nootau nosed her face, flicking out his tongue.
Edwige giggled—he liked her giggle—and pushed him back. "No, bad dragon."
"Dear, he's a very good dragon." Aegeus joined Edwige in front, lifting a hand to get the reins off.
Nootau glanced sideways at Edwige and huffed, letting a little smoke escape.
"I think he squinted at me."
Aegeus chuckled. "It's still Nootau in there."
"Are you sure?" Edwige's hand slid down his neck. He leaned into the touch. It felt so good. Though he understood her question. Nootau didn't always feel like himself. Like a mist fogged his memories and brain.
Aegeus tugged on Nootau's nose, forcing him to bend down. "Do you think a dragon would let us treat it like this?"
"Depends on how well trained it is?"
"Possibly, but he listens to us."
"Some researchers think they have better word recognition than dogs or unicorns."
Aegeus sighed. "Do you want it to be Nootau or a dragon?"
Edwige turned quickly toward Aegeus, mouth open in protest, but he shut her down before she got the chance.
"Because it seems like you'd prefer the dragon."
A sharp flare ignited in Nootau's breast. He huffed, smoke billowing from his nostrils. Since when did words hurt? But they also had an effect on Edwige. She hunched over and held onto Nootau, squeezing him.
When she spoke, the words were soft, but Nootau heard them just fine. "No, I prefer the real deal any day. I like the way he kisses."
"Then we'll hopefully get him back soon." Aegeus pulled both of them into a hug.
Nootau rubbed his jaw against their heads, hoping whatever distress they were feeling lessened. When he straightened Nootau looked around for some materials to make a nest. They needed something to protect them.
As if understanding his intent, Edwige and Aegeus helped him gather up fallen logs and some large rocks. He used his massive claws to move things around to his liking before he set a small pile of branches in a circle of stones alight for Aegeus. The flames danced high in the night air, and Edwige and Aegeus stood close to them for a long time.
"Where did we stop?" Edwige asked after a while.
"Étang de la Toison. I think. That's what the tracker said anyway."
It really was.
"If the breeze wasn't so strong it'd be a perfect night for camping," Edwige said softly, pushing closer to Aegeus.
They must be really cold.
A buzz swarmed Nootau making it it hard to settle. He pulled at some of the branches with leaves, repacking his nest. When it had enough soft Nootau chuffed at his humans. They turned toward him, cheeks rosy, and with smiles.
Nootau circled in his nest a couple times then lifted a wing. Edwige immediately climbed up and tucked herself under. However Aegeus stoked the fire a little higher before joining them. Soon they were all wrapped up tight with his humans secure against him. Nootau nuzzled their heads earning a jaw rub. He let out a low rumble of contentment.
"Sleep, Nootau. We all need a little rest," Aegeus said then began to hum.
With a warm fire, a hum in the cool night air, and his humans tucked close, Nootau couldn't imagine a better night.