Chapter Fourteen: Nootau
A Good Size Dragon
"It is an awful idea," Nootau replied. They were in some suburb outside of Chicago along a river. Saint Charles took forever to get to, the traffic impossible. He seriously wondered why more people and Beings didn't commute. Bumper to bumper sucked, and not in the fun way.
"Then why are we doing it?"
"Easiest way to travel, and no one will suspect it." I hope.
"Because most people aren't insane enough to try and borrow dragon hide."
"True. Very true."
Aegeus hummed again.
"But it's the easiest way for us to get to... Where are we going?" Nootau grimaced. He really needed to ask Edwige for a more comprehensive run down of what he was up against.
"As in we're going to Europe," Aegeus said, rather testily too. "We should just use our credit card."
"Because sneaking around known dragon nests is safe."
"Not at all," Nootau responded. What else could they do? He owed Aegeus and Edwige more than he could ever return. "But we need to get moving before the sun sets or we're never going to find this nest."
Aegeus huffed before a frustrated snort escaped. He shook his head then descended down the hill. Rocks tumbled with each step he took, rolling down after Aegeus who skipped-hopped on the slope. Nootau followed, sliding and slipping, praying he stayed upright and didn't face plant—because that would hurt. A lot. Like picking rocks out of face kind of hurt.
By the time Nootau slid to a stop his breath was coming out choppy and his heart thumped so hard it hurt. Aegues pulled Nootau against him, steadying him. The smile he got when Nootau leaned into the embrace nearly stole his breath away. He'd never seen such open joy, or the acceptance, in the way Aegeus looked at him. If he wasn't careful, Nootau's heart wouldn't make it out of their adventure intact.
If I make it out of this mess.
They darted across the street and through the parking lot. Nootau barely able to keep his feet under him. He never felt so clumsy in his life. Nerves. It had to be nerves.
"You okay?" Aegeus asked, giving Nootau a little squeeze then setting him upright.
"Good. I'm good."
"We have to follow the trail over by the backstop, there is a sunken amphitheater with a nesting firedrake." Aegeus tromped down the path, completely unfazed, though his humming had started up again. Something about it seemed to calm Nootau's frantic state. "The draft Edwige mixed up should keep her asleep. We need to harvest quickly with the guka and get out."
"I still don't feel right about drugging her."
"How many dragons do you know that you can have a conversation with?"
"We do ask before taking no matter the species," Nootau responded. He may have been a little short, but there were right and wrong ways of asking to share the spirit. "It's in the approach."
"Because wild dragons are so approachable."
"It's safer for everyone this way. Edwige managed to procure some ointment to spread on the hide afterward."
The logic wasn't exactly wrong, but Nootau didn't like the sneaking and taking part. It felt wrong. It went against how he was raised, and if it had been just him... Well, they couldn't go down that thorny road of arguments again. If they had let him go by himself, Nootau could've sneaked off, and they all knew it.
Instead Nootau put Aegeus at risk of getting himself killed if he couldn't exert enough of his will when he changed into a firedrake. That, more than anything, scared him. The transformation didn't, never did. The ability to let go and share the joy of his fellow spirits always filled him up. The idea of not being able to control himself enough to keep Aegeus and Edwige safe.
The ability to balance the shared spirits within him—Waban hadn't been wrong about Nootau's lack of control. Regret laced the arrogant choices of his youth. If he'd listened, if he hadn't allowed his pride to run away with itself, none of this--absolutely none—would've happened.
Though, when he looked at Aegeus's back and his confident stride through the woods, a selfish part of Nootau rejoiced in being here and now. He was glad to have met this couple. The pain involved up to this point kept him in check from actually being a complete and utter bastard about it.
"We're almost there."
Aegeus turned and smiled. He pointed. "Yup. See the clearing over there?"
"Dragon hunting we go."
Aegeus ducked and weaved, held branches out of the way for Nootau, then pulled him up onto a broken, half-sunken stone circling an empty-muddy clearing. A scorched, large oak was to their ten o'clock. Rocks, stones, branches were twisted and packed together.
Resting in the nest was a beautiful firedrake jenny. Her scales gleamed in the dusk lighting. Her brown scales had a bronze sheen to them. Almost like the coals of a burned out fire pit. A pang of guilt hit Nootau, and he wished they didn't need her hide, especially since they were taking not asking.
"How do we do this?" He asked.
"I need to get over by the nest and burn the first sleeping powder, then pour a second draft over her muzzle when we think she won't wake."
"How long does it the first one usually take?"
"Give or take five to ten minutes."
"So it's a guess?"
"Pretty much. We're working with an unknown dragon or unknown weight."
Nootau frowned. "I think I should set the powder."
"And how often have you helped Edwige heal people?"
Never, and they both knew it.
"I'll be right back."
Aegeus slowly walked across the clearing, careful of his steps. Once Nootau made it to the nest he pulled a bag out of his jacket and poured out the mixture in a line around it. He took out a lighter and held it to his powdered line. A soft glow circled the nest with a purple-tinted smoke rising up.
The jenny thankfully didn't stir, her head tucked under her tail.
Nootau picked his way across the weathered stones and steps, thankful for his good pair of boots. A couple roots tripped him up but Nootau managed to stay upright so he called it a win. He settled next to Aegeus, who gave him a wink, then waited.
The clearing filled with anticipation as they sat, the minutes ticking by like molasses on a cold day—slow and painfully. When Aegeus stood Nootau almost toppled over because he had tried, too, but had lost the feeling in his legs. Aegeus pulled him up, pressing close, leaving a kiss behind on Nootau's cheek.
Aegeus chuckled as he pulled a bottle out of his jacket, checking it over. He turned to climb into the nest, but Nootau grabbed his arm. An amused look crossed Aegeus's before he pulled away and hoisted himself up over the edge of the nest.
"Now, Edwige said to rub this on her nozzle and we should be set."
"Doubting Edwige's abilities?"
"No." But he did know animals.
"Well, we got to hope for the best."
Nootau nodded, watching wearily as Aegeus pulled out the draft, glove up, then began to systematically rub the sleeping agent into the dragon's scales around her nostrils. The jenny's breathing didn't alter. Her slow, steady breaths helped reassure Nootau they weren't about to cause a whole lot of problems for her.
Once Aegeus hopped back down, he removed one glove, balling it up in his hand, then used a finger to slide the other off and over the crumbled latex. "You do not want any of this getting on you."
"I don't doubt it."
"Here." Aegeus pulled a round container out of his jacket and handed it Nootau. "A numbing agent, just in case."
"Okay." This was the most fucked up hide taking he'd ever been a part of. Nootau didn't like the uneasy feeling it gave him. It all felt off. "Are you going to administer the healing cream?"
Nootau pulled himself onto the edge of the nest. He ran a hand down her neck and flank, amazed by how smooth she felt. It shouldn't surprise him since she had a build similar to reptiles, but it did. Dragons still had their differences after all. Scales adorned her of varying sizes. Larger ones in big, open flat expanses while they got smaller as they got to the joints, with the tinniest ones surrounding them. A pattern followed the varying sizes. One Nootau wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been so close. The scales weren't all the same color.
Black spurs jutted from the elbow and knee joints. Not to mention the joint tips of her wings.
He jumped, turned and scowled at Aegeus.
"We don't have time for this. The quicker you harvest the better."
Another pang of guilt reared its head. Nootau really, really didn't feel right about blemishing such a fantastic beast. "Right."
Nootau found the spot he wanted. He harvested hide from spots where an animal could reach to lick or keep clean after the healing poultice fell off. Making the process as painless as possible was always the goal.
He rubbed the numbing agent in, then pulled out the guka from its sheath on his arm. Nootau took a breath in, said a small apology and cut a four inch line. The muscle beneath her hide twitched. He made another, longer cut. Another twitch made him pull back.
"Right, right." Wrong, so wrong.
He cut another line, trying to finish the rectangle. The muscle jumped again and a plume of smoke came out of the jenny. Her head rocked slightly, and her back and wings jerked.
"Run," Nootau said, making the last cut. "Run now, don't look back."
"I said run!"
Nootau pulled the edge of the jenny's hide up and slid the guka underneath. "Run now!"
The jenny's head rose with a muffled roar. Nootau heard Aegeus scrabbling back from the nest and swearing. He couldn't look, couldn't stop. Not now. It was too late to turn back from their choices.
Nootau pushed the guka down the cut segment. "Run! Run! Get safe!"
When enough hide was available Nootau pulled it back as he cut.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
The jenny struggled to stand.
"So fucking sorry—sorry."
The hide pulled off with a sickening sound of flesh tearing.
"Sorry." Nootau tucked the guka back in its sheath. He tried to step back but got knocked off his feet.
Nootau went flying, pure terror surging as he saw the jenny rise with Aegeus still by her nest tugging at his jacket stuck in her nest.
She rose, flames erupting from her mouth and joints, covering her skin. Her head swiveled back and forth as she tried to find a target. The jenny sniffed the air then immediately zoomed in on Aegeus. Another roar went out, her black fangs looking oh so long and dangerous.
Nootau didn't even think when he pulled up his shirt and slapped her hide against his hip, but he did scream as the transformation overtook him.
Nothing had ever hurt so much in his life. Ever.
Please let me remember Aegeus. Please.