Chapter Twenty-Four: Nootau
A Good Hiding Spot
Nootau struggled to open his eyes and turn his head. The moment he did Aegeus shushed him and pressed it back against his chest.
"Where are we?" Nootau mumbled. Okay, he really didn't need to open his eyes anyway.
"An old-fashioned storage facility of books."
"Heh." Nootau turned his head again, letting it lull against Aegeus. "We're still in Schloss Rotlich."
"Which means we're hiding."
Nootau smiled. "Not a bad place to hide. Who reads dusty volumes of long forgotten dead trees anymore?"
Aegeus chuckled and shifted. They were squished in an wingback armchair. Not exactly the most comfortable spot to be, but Nootau wasn't about to complain. Exhausted and frazzled, still feeling like a black sludge coated him, Nootau wanted nothing more to curl up and sleep until the end of time.
But he couldn't. Ahanu needed recompense—Nootau sucked in a breath.
The sharpness of the cut sliced through his heart, the pain rushing forth like water through a broken dam. He pressed a hand against his chest, though it would never be enough to hold back the misery deluging his spirit.
A soft voice asked, "Is he awake?"
"Yes," Aegeus answered.
Edwige filled Nootau's vision. "Evening."
"Come here often?" Nootau tried to give her a smile.
In return he got a scowl. Okay, so he failed in the smiling department. Nootau hated seeing her worry so. He reached out and took her hand, pulling it against his chest. Edwige sighed but didn't pull away. That was a start.
Warmth exuded from Edwige.
Moonlight settled across her face. If it hadn't been for the way her mouth pinched together, Nootau could almost forget they were in the middle of a failed B&E. That and the way Nootau's whole body lit up and ached with each move he made. There was also the concern of festering taking root in his patch connection. Breathing still proved to be uncomfortable. He arched his back, desperate to make some room, and sucked in some air.
Edwige pressed his chest. "You hurting?"
"You mean I haven't been?"
"If you listened to me and stayed in bed, you'd be just fine."
True, but then Nootau would be going nuts over whether Aegeus and Edwige were okay. At least being here with them meant Nootau had the capability of looking out for them.
"Aegeus, love, put Nootau on the table here."
With apparent ease, Aegeus stood and laid Nootau out for Edwige. She dropped her bag next to his head, and just as she did so a satyr edged up to the table. Nootau tensed, couldn't really stop it. The satyr slowed, a wary expression on his face. His brown eyes softened, as did the way he held himself.
Edwige paused searching through her bag, and looked up. "Jaxom. Here to offer a hand?"
The satyr nodded.
"Ashe is walking around, with his wing sitting isn't the most comfortable. He should be looping back soon."
Edwige grunted assent. Aegeus hovered close by, taking the supplies Edwige pulled out of her pack.
"Your friends Mal and Kaden wandered off into a section about Rangers, then set up a patrol. You really think we'll be okay here for a while?"
"Maybe they'll find something," Edwige said before adding, "We should be. We did watch the castle movements for a few nights. The library doesn't get the same attention as most places."
Jaxom sighed. "We can hope."
"The others? Tibo and Rolly?"
"Rolly ushered Tibo off toward a section with poetry."
Jaxom shrugged. "It helps calm him down."
Aegeus handed a bandage over Nootau's head to Edwige. If she had decided to trust the satyr, Nootau knew he needed to give him a chance, though he was glad Aegeus stood close by. He looked up at his lover who smiled down at him then said, "Suppose that makes sense. Tibo isn't the head of The Flying Mantis for a reason."
The three of them nodded then all looked down at Nootau. Each one of them had a look that said "what are we going to do with this idiot?" It made a wave of self-consciousness roll over Nootau and hit him in the gut. He already wore ill-fitting clothes of a human, a reminder of his transgressions. The sludge covering Nootau squeezed. He gasped.
Jaxom stepped up next to Nootau with a frown. "Where does it hurt?"
"Where doesn't it?" Nootau choked out. Somehow, he'd find a way not to worry about this new unknown Being. He'd have to trust Edwige's judgment that the satyr was good.
The frown deepened.
* * * * *
If Tibo didn't sit the feck down, Rolly considered sitting on him. They rounded the lower floor of the library at least three times already. The poetry section hadn't appealed the way Rolly had hoped, and if he wasn't used to Tibo's episodes of self-loathing, the magic would've knocked him on flat on his arse.
"Tibo," Rolly hissed out. "Pull back."
"Your feelings, they're leaking out."
"Sorry, Rolls," Tibo answered. He frowned, concentrating. The smog of depression lifted.
Tibo grunted but wouldn't meet Rolly's eyes. Shame rode him hard. He'd simmer in it until he drove himself mad, or do something idiotic. Rolly had watched him do it time and time again. That was before they were more than friends. Now they were linked, bound together in their romance. Rolly wouldn't let Tibo sink into the darkness.
"Where are we?" Tibo asked, squinting. He looked at the binding of the books. "History?"
"Is that a question?"
Tibo nodded, wearing a dangerous expression. The one meant problems were about to rain down on Rolly. They hadn't found shite in the labs. Disappointing for sure, but Rolly hadn't expected to actually get in the castle. He really ought to have known better. Tibo had strange luck sometimes. Rolly always wondered if Tibo subconsciously willed it.
Anything was possible, if not probable.
"What are you thinking?" Rolly finally broke down and asked. The way Tibo skimmed over the book spines felt almost sensual.
"We are in a library."
"Maybe what we're looking for is here."
"Then we should start skimming."
They decided the best bet was to see if the section had an organizational pattern that made sense (it did), and to look for anything relating to dragon research. There was always the possibility the library housed an area with actual research journals, but those would be the standard trade magazines and not directly related to Eich and Baum. The history section would give them an idea if they were on the right path for the business. They'd been around a long time so it made sense they kept information about themselves to refer back to.
They went up and down a few aisles before finding the area relating to dragons and dragon research facilitated by the company. Old, weather-bound leather books stood next to newer, shiner versions. Some of the books were hand-written, some made by an old printing press—the smudges of certain letters prominent on the pages, while the new ones lacked the smell and personality of the older books.
Books were piled up high. Stacks made to either side of them. "Find something, Rolls?"
"Not yet, but I was thinking."
Tibo's brows drew together as he concentrated hard on the page he was reading. "No need, Rolls."
"You apologize, Tibo. I meant you."
"What for?" Tibo sniffed, not turning his attention away from his book.
"You'll feel better if you do."
"He's a corroded walker, Rolls. We know nothing."
Rolly breathed out, a calming gesture. He knew Tibo better than that. How he was trying to cover up his shame through harsh words. Why the little bastard had to be so stubborn never ceased to amaze Rolly. He knew what drove Tibo to it, the way he grew up, but the amount of pain Tibo took on as a result wasn't healthy. Somehow, he hoped Tibo found the peace he was searching for on this journey.
"Did you notice his lover? Edwige? She's a Healer."
"They can go bad."
Rolly sighed. "You know of any of them? Think about how their magic works."
"They can be deceived. Their views can justify what they do with their talents."
That much Rolly couldn't argue with. "Did she feel bad to you?"
Tibo kept quiet and turned a page.
"I don't think Nootau has gone bad. If anything, he's desperate. Not unlike you." Rolly let the words hang in the air.
Tibo sniffed again, his scowl deepening. Rolly didn't push. If he pressed too hard right now Tibo would throw up his walls and dig in his heels. Waiting was all Rolly could do. Hopefully he'd gotten through to his lover.
* * * * *
Mal and Kaden jogged back toward the nook Aegeus holed up in with Nootau and Edwige. A hum of excitement betrayed him through his quick step. He'd stumbled upon information he hadn't expected. He also didn't know quite what to make of it, but his gut told him it was important.
Turning a corner, he stumbled into someone. On instinct, and hearing a painful yelp, Mal grabbed the person, only to find himself face to face with Ashe.
"Sorry, mate," he said awkwardly, pushing Ashe out and taking a step back. He shot a glance down at Kaden. Could've given Mal some warning, though they were both amped up.
Ashe grimaced and pressed a hand against his shoulder. A suspicious glare was directed at Mal. Not that he could blame the man. They'd been duking it out not more than forty-five minutes ago.
"You all right?"
The phoenix looked decidedly pale. The way his wing was bound looked quite uncomfortable.
Mal gestured to the wing, clearing his throat. "The wing. Sorry 'bout that."
Ashe nodded. "Me too. For—" He nodded toward Mal. "Trying to cook you."
A smile broke out on Mal's face. It just happened. "Not bad for a phoenix. You had me worried there for a bit."
"Yup. I may wrangle dragons, but these leathers aren't used to such a hot, direct heat for so long. Rather impressive really."
"Impressive," Ashe said. "You think my flames are impressive."
"Yeah, don't you? Must come in handy."
Ashe didn't answer, still holding his shoulder and watching Mal. His eyes seemed tired and confused. Hell, Mal felt for the Being. He was too. He'd been running on empty since his sister died.
"I found something." Mal held up the book. "A reference that could help us. I think. My sister, before she'd been murdered, was researching information on Rangers. She had a "RL" in her materials."
The phoenix stiffened. Mal wasn't sure if it was pain or something else that had caused the reaction.
"I think I found the "RL" she found." Mal held the book open. "Rubrum Lux. They got involved with the Dragon Guild a long time ago. You heard of it?"
An awkward pause lulled between them.
"Sorry 'bout the wing." That could help, right?
"Maybe we should met up with the others?"
"I'd like to check on Jaxx." Ashe stiffened, looking back toward where they left Nootau.
"Kaden? Lead the way."
The wolf huffed, licked Mal's hand, and trotted ahead of them. They dropped into single file, weaving through the bookcases. Heavy, tall ones. Smaller ones on the ends, many with glass doors. Tables and pedestals were in the walkways between the different sections. Large windows arched on the walls, small stain glass pieces at the bottom. It would be nice to take a closer look.
When Mal and Ashe stepped into the nook where Aegeus had settled his triad, they found Jaxx standing side by side with Edwige treating Nootau. They worked in synchrony. Edwige passed something that looked like forceps to him.
"Everything all right?"
Edwige looked up, forcing a smile then put her attention back on Nootau.
Aegeus answered. "Jaxom is restitching some that had pulled out right now. Most everything has been treated and wrapped."
"He's had better days."
Mal nodded. He understand that. Hopefully the walker pulled through. Nootau looked worse every time Mal saw him. Kaden whined then nuzzled him hard. Mal reached down and scratched behind his wolf's ear.
Ashe walked around to Jaxx. Close but not so close he'd interfere with the work. He leaned in, whispering into the satyr's ear. Much to Jaxx's credit, he didn't miss a stitch, nodding and answering back. Seemingly satisfied by the response, Ashe rejoined Mal.
There were more twists and turns of Jaxx's skilled hands before he stopped. He handed the forceps back to Edwige. She put them on a towel, then the two of them began cleaning up. Edwige and Aegeus working on getting her pack together while Jaxx checked Nootau over. Poor guy didn't have his full color back, and his face was pinched in pain. His answers to Jaxx were short, but a squint from Edwige softened their bite.
Hopefully now they were not treating Nootau, Mal's news wouldn't distract them unnecessarily. Ashe went over to Jaxx and the two pulled away from the triad a bit, though they stayed with the group.
"So I may have found something," Mal announced.
"Yeah?" Aegeus had an arm under Nootau and was helping him sit up on the table. All eyes turned on Mal.
"Yes. Here." Mal strode over to the table and flipped the book to the page he'd marked. "Rubrum Lux. And they come up a couple times. Have any of you ever heard of them?"
The triad shook their heads, as did Jaxx.
Just then Tibo and Rolly appeared. The two of them had several books in their hands. Tibo cleared his throat. "We may have. Rubrum Lux?"
Rolly held up a book. History of Monetary Scales. "They're popping up in these too."