Chapter Nineteen: Nootau
The air smelled of death. Nootau's death.
Tired, but too angry to stop, Nootau swiped and bit at Nidhogg. The only way he'd feel sated was if he could do as much damage to the obstinate beast as done to him. If only Nootau could catch the other dragon off-guard, then he'd be able to get a good hit in for himself. As it were, Nootau had to keep his defenses up. He hated being on defense. Never an opportunity to really do any damage that way.
A long canine cut across Nootau's chest. He bellowed in pain, the flames around him turning blue.
Another roar mirrored his and Nidhogg fell away. Smoke curled around the other dragon's jaws and he roared again. Nidhogg shook off the last of Nootau's flames. They circled each other, eyeing for an opening.
Neither of them had one. It would come down to whose patience won out.
Nidhogg fought differently than Nootau expected. Smarter. Harder. Like he knew how. Not from experience but something Nootau couldn't figure out. It was something he should know. He really should. The memories weren't there, though.
All he knew was that the Diver posed a danger to his.
Nootau hissed before spitting out another fireball toward the other dragon. If it would just leave, then his life would be easier. He couldn't... He... Nootau paused, desperate to remember what he couldn't do if Nidhogg didn't leave.
It was then Nidhogg chose to attack, in Nootau's moment of distraction.
The other dragon charged, head down, smoke cascading from his jaws. It happened so fast Nootau barely had time to anchor himself. The impact nearly grounded him. His skull throbbed, ears hummed, and the world went out of focus. Somehow Nootau managed to stay upright, but barely.
With his paws pressed hard against the ground, Nootau pushed back, unyielding. Anger channeled through him, and with it the fortitude to keep on fighting. They were so close! To be caught now infuriated Nootau so much he no longer cared how much damage he created.
Nootau twisted, one shoulder falling, and reared up under Nidhogg. He lashed out with his horns and they caught in the Diver's tough hide.
A roar shattered Nootau's ears before they tussled more. Heads cracked. Wings beat. Claws and teeth cut through hide. All the while both Nidhogg and Nootau snarled, hissed and bellowed at one another.
But then another noise, one familiar and eerie, filled the field. Waves blew across Nootau causing his flames to flicker.
The shrill sound brought Nootau to stop, but only him. Nidhogg slammed into him and they tumbled to the ground. Pinned underneath the Diver, Nootau stilled. Somehow he had to get out of this position. Having his belly exposed made him too vulnerable. Too easy to kill. When Nidhogg's claw came up, so did some of his weight, and Nootau took the chance and bucked.
The Diver fell to one side and immediately circled back up, roaring at Nootau while his regained his ground and hissed back. He hurt, a limp developing in his right hindleg. Nootau didn't even have the energy to keep his flames going. But he could let the other dragon know what he thought of it.
Nootau bellowed, with Nidhogg returning the favor. They positioned across from each other. If the Diver thought he could charge Nootau again, he had another thing coming.
A shriek tripped them up, causing them both to fall back and stumble. Nidhogg managed to get upright and take a swipe at Nootau, hitting his side by his back hipbone. His hide tore open and the air thumped. Two shimmering beings lit up in front of Nootau. One dragon like him, and another small being that stood on two legs with a long flowing black mane. He jerked back, narrowly getting missed by another one of Nidhogg's claws.
The wail grew louder around them grew louder, making the air around Nootau wavy and hard to stand up right. The Beings light blinked out. Even the Diver found it hard to stay up. They both swayed, Nootau slumping forward, struggling to keep his paws under him. No way did he want to give Nidhogg another opening like the last one.
A weight, a small one, pressed up against his chest.
Nootau weaved, looking down.
A shock of golden mane filled his vision. He took a step back. A brown Being used its forearms to hold him up. Its mouth closed, and at the same time, so did the cacophonous noise. So the earth-shattering noise came from this little... Thing. What was it?
"Please, Noo-Nora, don't. You have to stop."
"Gods, oh gods, you're bleeding. Fuck, Edwige, Noo-Nora's hurt. Like fucking hurt."
The man under him... Was human.
"You're going to be all right. Don't you worry."
No, he wasn't human. He was something more. But he was Nootau's. The warm vibrations building in Nootau's chest said as much.
"Fuck it all. Fuck." The Being pressed his face into Nootau's chest and sobbed quietly.
"Is he all right?" Another voice called out. It too sounded familiar, but it wasn't one Nootau could place.
The absolute sorrow in the Being's voice made Nootau drop his snout, pressing it against the small mane and bumping his nose against the Being's head. Nootau ignored everything else, including the noise being made by the other voice.
"You trying to cheer me up?"
Yes. Was it working?
"That's my Nora. My... My girl." The Being rubbed a hand down the side of Nootau's neck. "You know your Aegeus, don't you?"
Nootau chortled at his, nudging Aegeus' mane again. That got a laugh. The ring had a nice noise to it. He licked the side of his.
"How bad is it?" The voice from before asked. "Do we need to get a DDM in?"
Aegeus stiffened and stopped laughing. Nootau snorted, blowing smoke in the direction of the annoying voice.
"No!" The alarm in Aegeus' tone meant something was wrong. Problem was, Nootau didn't know what, meaning he couldn't make his laugh.
"With how Nidhogg here is beat up, I can't image your Nora is much better." The voice sounded closer.
Nootau straightened as much as he could and looked in the direction of the noise. Why couldn't they be left alone?
Another... Human... Stood by the Diver. He looked similar to Aegeus, but he wasn't his. His golden mane was pulled away from his face, stuck to his head. The human stood pressed against the blue dragon, one arm protectively around its neck.
"Aegeus, mate, what's the matter?" The human shuffled closer, his voice seemed to hitch when he asked, "Is she wounded mortally?"
"I... " Aegeus closed his eyes and shook his head before turning around and facing the human. "I don't know, Mal. I just don't. There's so much—"
But Aegeus's voice cut off. He turned back into Nootau's chest, pushing his face against it.
Mal stood, not saying a word, watching them. Nidhogg shifted behind him but made no move forward. Nootau sent the Diver a warning hiss. Mal lifted a hand and gave his Diver a pat along the neck, murmuring low.
"Need me to take a look, mate?" Mal offered. "I know it can be hard to assess your own sometimes."
Aegeus shook his head. "We need to get her back."
"Nora's not going anywhere in her condition, Aegeus. I can tell that much from here." Mal inched closer, Nidhogg right with him.
Nootau stepped back, hissing low.
Mal sighed. "What are the idiots in this Guild thinking? Letting a pair like you in an enclosure together?"
That much Nootau agreed on. His seemed to agree too, grunting.
"Aegeus, mate, I think I need to look your girl over."
The change in Mal's tone sent a ripple of worry through Nootau. Something about how he said it so controlled and even.
"There's a big laceration by her back leg, right by the hip. The hide's discoloured." Mal shuffled closer. "But I can't tell how bad it is from here."
"I'll look!" Aegeus stepped back. "Or not. May be better if you do. Which side?"
"Left, facing me."
"Nora, honey. I need you to turn toward Mal." Aegeus guided Nootau around, showing his left flank to the human and his Diver.
A roar shook the field. The other dragon surged forward.
Mal shouted "No!" the same time Aegeus jumped into Nidhogg's path of attack.
Nootau flanked his, taking the full brunt of the Diver's attack to his side. He let out a fiery roar. Pain exploded from his hip. Mal's yells dimmed as an onslaught of images filled Nootau's mind while spikes exploded all over his hide. A human with black mane shimmered in front of him, staring silently, while a bronze dragon reared up and exploded in white flames.
Muscles tightened, contracting faster than Nootau thought possible. The twist of muscles tore and ripped him apart. Electrical shocks zipped through him, Nootau's heart clenching harder with each burst.
It hurts, so much. The horrific jolts and shudders intensified with each wave. Nootau roared, but the fire bursting from his jaws burned. So he stopped, holding the pain in.
"What the bloody hell is going on?"
"Get Nidhogg away!"
"We've got to go for a DDM. Now! Nora's—"
Aegeus breathed in deep then shrieked.
Both Mal and his dragon staggered, the noise enough to drive them away.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. We have to let him change." Aegeus waved. "Edwige. I think it's safe!"
Nootau collapsed. Breathing took effort, and he wasn't sure he wanted to anymore. It was like he was being crushed from the outside in. His hide tightened so much his organs might actually burst if the transformation continued.
Gods. Nootau glanced up, the shimmering man and dragon before him. I'm the man. That's me. He reached out, only to have his spirit rebuff him. The shimmer pointed to his hip before scratching and pulling away the skin.
The skin share.
Nootau rolled to his side and looked at his hind leg. A flap of hide hung precariously from his hip. No wonder he hurt all over. The transformation had been jiggered. His skin was squeezing him to death like a goldfish in a too small bowl.
Need to remove it.
Need to give my thanks.
Hopefully he could reach. Nootau glanced up, the bronze dragon shimmered before him, engulfed in those beautiful flames.
I'm sorry. I truly am. Thank you for allowing me to be here. For keeping mine safe.
A pretty woman slid next to a stop by Aegeus. "Is it happening?"
"Yes, I think so."
The firedrake rumbled, but the flames died down.
I wish we could have shared on better terms. He carefully put a claw under the hide and cut one side away. It flapped backward, blood oozing as scale turned to skin.
She sat, her tail curling around her front limbs.
Flying is fun.
The dragon agreed.
Thank you for protecting my spirit when I didn't deserve it. The breathing didn't hurt so much anymore.
The Firedrake chortled and thumped her tail. She circled around Nootau's shimmer, holding him close. The warmth surrounded him. A wave of protectiveness settled over him—from her. Nootau clipped the last part of the hide away with a retracting claw. His shimmer broke apart with the dragon's.
Bones retracted. Skin pulled. A mouth formed from a snout.
"Ahhh!" Nootau jerked back, his entire body going rigid. This form felt so confined. "Gods!"
"That's it," Edwige said, squatting by him. "There's our Nootau."
"Fuck!" He spasmed.
"Watch it!" Edwige shouted, backing off.
The ground never felt so hard.
"What do we do?" Aegeus stood over them. "Gods. It's killing him!"
"Don't touch him!" Edwige shouted, glaring over her shoulder. "You could hurt him worse."
"But we can't—"
Another spasmed shook Nootau and he screamed.
"When it stops I have some herb pastes and wraps to stem the bleeding." Edwige was digging through a bag. "But we'll need to get Nootau to the hotel and call the Underground. We need blood. Lots of it. And a doctor."
Scorching spikes drove through Nootau's body.
"We need to get a doctor now—" began Aegeus.
"And what will the Guild do if they come in and find him?"
Aegeus stilled, paling.
"We've no choice, my dear. None at all."
Another scream tore through Nootau as he convulsed again. Each hit to the ground sent another shockwave of pain through his flesh and body.
"The spasms are getting smaller."
"So is Nootau."
"Gods. Is this what it's like for him every time?" The horror in Edwige's tone made Nootau's heart bleed.
No. Only when it goes bad. He didn't even want Edwige to know what happened if he took the flesh of a human or Being. That was a dark path for any walker. Nootau shook again. The pain throbbing, but not threatening to make him black out like the earlier ones.
"Don't," Nootau managed and lifted his hand.
Edwige caught it, pressing it to her cheek. She smiled, though tears fell from her eyes. "Long time no see, sexy."
She shook her head. "These are tears of relief. Can't you tell?"
"I thought we'd never see your skinny ass again."
"Miss?" Using words was harder than Nootau remembered.
"Shhh. You've been through a lot the last couple months." Aegeus knelt next to Edwige and held onto her shoulders. "Don't push yourself."
Nootau smiled and let out a breath. He couldn't seem to get enough air. Must be an after-effect of dragon transforming.
"What the bloody fuck?"
We're not alone.
Nootau twisted his head back. A tall man in Rider gear stood next to a blue Diver. He looked similar to Aegeus, hair different blonds and lengths. Was that a bun? And the Rider had more muscle where Aegeus had the swimmer's build. Next to him was a slight, smaller man.
The funny smelling one.
But it was the large man who's barely contained rage that concerned Nootau. Who was he again? Nootau pulled from his memories with the Firedrake. Mal, the dragon ranger. It just got better and better.
"You're a bloody walker?" he yelled.
Aegeus stood. "Wait."
"A walker?" Mal stomped toward them, the smaller man pulling on his arm. "A bloody non-registered bastard too! Did you steal that hide? Did you kill her?"
Nootau rolled away from Edwige and stood. "Fuck."
He held an arm out, blocking her. Everything hurt, but no way would he ever let his take the fall for him.
Mal stomped up to him. "Were you poaching dragons for bloody business?"
One of his large hands shot out and grabbed Nootau. He yelped. Anger rolled off the Ranger and he shook Nootau. With no energy to fight Mal, Nootau could only hang on and hope for it to stop. Didn't mean he wasn't mad as fuck, though. That asshole's dragon tried to eat him. Not to mention he’d seen the way Mal looked at him when he spat walker at Nootau. The only thing Mal saw was Nootau transforming and what he was, nothing more.
"Let go you fucking asshole," Nootau spat with what he hoped was filled with venom, but he he could acknowledge how weak it sounded.
"What did you call me?"
"Get your hands off, fucker."
The grip around his shoulders tightened. Who knew a big, bad dragon ranger could be so strong?
Nootau was so fucked.