Chapter Twenty-Six: Nootau
Smart Coin Says the Fox
Who knew if the visitors were all actually loyal to her? She couldn't make that guarantee. The fact she wanted them to have faith in her--knights, so many different kinds of knights--while she "worked on things at her end" was enough to send Nootau into heart palpitations.
Every time one of the knights got near Aegeus or Edwige, Nootau pushed himself out of the chaise and ended up in the chair next to them without realizing how he had gotten there. The reaction was instinctual, and needy. It made him feel things he never wanted to feel.
When the two of them went into different rooms, Nootau would pull his stitches pacing from one room to the other. Though they stopped doing that to him, after a fight that lead to Nootau being locked into their rooms to "rest" and him breaking out said rooms to watch over them.
Hopefully Edwige wouldn’t try that trick again.
Nootau stretched and felt around for his lovers. One side of the bed felt cool while the other had a soft, curvy body cuddled up close. Edwige. Surprising she wasn't up already.
"Aegeus is making breakfast," Edwige mumbled, pressing closer.
Nootau wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled Edwige flush to his chest. Their erect cocks rubbed against each other.
"Oooooh," Nootau moaned and nuzzled against Edwige's neck.
A laugh escaped her as she pushed him back. "Oh no. You are not up for that."
"I promise I am."
"No, you're not," Edwige answered, still pressing a hand against his pecs. "I don't want to see you bleed anymore."
How the catch in her voice tugged at his blackened heart. Nootau sighed and stopped the delicious rocking.
"Thank you," she answered quietly.
Nootau held onto Edwige, breathing her in. He didn't deserve so much love. Not with what he was. But he held on like a drowning man, because he was. Nootau was selfish enough to want to hold onto the light in his dreary existence just a little bit longer.
"You okay, Nootau?"
"Fine. I'm fine."
A kiss was pressed against his collarbone. Not the fun "I want to fuck you" kind, but a gentle, loving promise. One that said Edwige would be there, no matter what. It nearly broke Nootau's heart. He sucked in some air, needing it more than ever.
How she undid him so quickly—her and Aegeus both. There were moments he wished he'd never met the pair, knew how much love a person could be given. He'd never known such goodness. It made him mad. Mad at the world for its unfairness, that he should only learn about it now. Then there were the times Nootau never wanted to give them up. Where he selfishly held on, when he knew he shouldn't.
They both deserve better.
Especially after the drudge he dragged his spirit through. The slime would never wash off. It darkened him. Scared him. Not for himself. Nootau could care less about himself. He knew no matter what, with how little Akemi and her knights knew about the skinwalker trading, that he was a dead man walking.
When this was over, either he'd had found his man and enacted his revenge and end up marked in the camps, or he would be dead. Nootau would rather be dead than marked.
But Edwige and Aegeus? They didn't deserve to be caught in the crossfire. Stupid lovers. Putting themselves in danger, continuing to do so when they should run.
Maybe Akemi could convince them to leave. Or force them to. You are pretty worthless, filth.
It was a thought.
Edwige breathed him in, letting go a contented sigh. "If my bladder wasn't killing me, I'd stay in bed all day."
Nootau snorted and gave her a smile. "Better let you go then."
The words pulled at his heart. Edwige laughed and gave him a pat, then rolled out of bed. He watched her ass as she walked away from him. Such a beautiful view. Her red hair cascading down her back, just over her luscious cheeks, and the sway of her walk. When she closed the door she gave Nootau a wink, making his heart burst.
Yeah, you need to let them go. Worthless walker.
* * * *
Aegeus listened to the phoenix squabble with Akemi's Knight of Saturn, or one of them anyway. They hadn't gotten very far with the evidence they had, or the “acquired” books, until Akemi's knights showed up. Them showing up ruffled more than a few feathers, and not just Ashe's, but anyone would after being under house arrest for nearly a week. It didn't help certain members of their party kept insisting they shouldn't be sharing information. The tiny amounts doled out weren't getting them anywhere fast, which worried Aegeus.
They weren't allowed to go anywhere, and more than one person or Being grouched at whoever was in striking range in the last couple of days. Made for some interesting magics getting thrown around. Aegeus hoped Rolly's friends weren't too put out by the singed carpet in the big hall. Or the broken tiles in the library. Or the chewed furniture. Aegeus was pretty sure Kaden hadn't meant to destroy the sixteenth century chair.
Yes, probably nerves.
Basically, even the more level-headed people were starting to get butt hurt. Aegeus had never hummed so much in his life. His throat hurt. Aegeus used more honey and lemon in the last few days than most of his adult life. After this whole thing with the dragons and walkers was taken care of, Aegeus didn't to see honey and lemon put in front of him any time soon. And that was saying something, he loved lemonade.
"Can you read German?" the knight asked.
Ashe turned and crossed his arms.
"This is my native language." The knight sighed. "Trust me a little."
Ashe grumbled before getting up and stalking out of the kitchen. The knight rose too but Aegeus waved him off. "Please don't agitate Beings who can set fire to our humble abode."
The knight glanced back at Aegeus before exhaling.
"We're all a little jumpy right now." Aegeus pushed a plate of bread, cheeses, fruit and sliced meat toward their guest. "Trust me, I want to scream at times, and a house of shattered glass is not what we need either."
"I suppose you have reason to be wary of us," the knight deferred. He grumbled as he walked back toward the big slate island.
"What's your name again?" Aegeus ducked his head. "Sorry. There have been so many people in and out lately, I haven't gotten everyone's names straight."
They shook hands, and Gian settled down on one of the tall bar chairs at the island. Aegeus pushed the plate of food he prepared for his lovers toward their guest. Gian smiled easily and began stuff food in his face. Someone was hungry. The espresso machine beeped, getting both of their attention. Aegeus quietly pushed a small cup of espresso in Gian's direction. That, too, was wolfed down, rather gulped. Expectant eyes met Aegeus' as Gian held out the empty cup.
Aegeus chuckled as he refilled the drink. "If only I could get Nootau to eat so well."
"Ahhh." Gian's expression turned troubled, a frown marring his face. "Ja, you and your wife are lovers with the walker."
"His name is Nootau. He is not a thing."
Their gazes held for a moment. "My apologies."
Aegeus could see questions in the man's eyes, but he needed to get another plate together before Edwige and Nootau woke up. He busied himself with the mindless task of gathering and cutting so he wouldn't have to answer those questions. Everything was so muddled Aegeus didn't know if he could answer reasonably.
On the one hand, he was grateful for the knights' help. On the other, Aegeus was waiting for that shoe to drop. Normally he wouldn't worry about such things. But these weren't normal times—for any of them. That in of itself sent his radar pinging for trouble.
"I heard Nootau transformed into one of our guards."
And there it was, just as Aegeus finished getting breakfast for a second time.
"How do you feel about your lover stealing human skin?"
Aegeus nearly yelled. It was a close thing. He pushed his hands flat against the granite counter top. "It wasn't his idea. Nootau actually looked pained at the thought of doing it, but we needed answers, so he did. I don't think any of us understood the cost to him."
Silence imbibed the space between them.
"He was hurt?"
"Edwige says it was more than just physical."
Gian didn't respond. Just kept his bright blue eyes on his plate.
Aegeus let out garbled laugh. "If he had told us, then... I dunno. Nootau has nightmares. The flailing, rip your heart out kind. He's... troubled by what happened."
"Me too." Aegeus breathed out, trying to regain some composure. "I feel like he's slipping through our fingers."
"I'll talk to Akemi," Gian said, pushing the empty plate away.
Alarms rang in Aegeus' head. He stomped around the island. "What do you mean 'talk to Akemi?'"
Gian put his hands up. "To see if we can get a Healer in to help him. Someone who—what's the word? Understands, yes, that one—what happened to him."
Nerves still rattled, Aegeus did back off feeling it was the wisest choice. They needed allies right now, not more enemies. He still wanted to punch Gian, which scared Aegeus. This whole adventure had him turned around. With Akemi's help, hopefully it would be over soon. Then Aegeus could take Edwige and Nootau home and return to their peaceful lives.
A phone buzzed and Gian dug around in his pants pocket, pulling it out with a mumble of how 'pants pockets were too small.' Just as he said hello, Edwige and Nootau shuffled into the kitchen.
"Hey," he said, gathering Edwige and Nootau up in a hug. Edwige cuddled back but Nootau only let his head rest against Aegeus' chest. "You guys hungry?"
"Very!" Edwige said then pulled back to sit on a chair.
"Sure." Nootau plopped down into the sit beside her, away from Gian.
Aegeus and Edwige shared a look of alarm. That was not been how Nootau had been acting over the past few days. He even scooted the chair a couple inches away. Edwige inhaled sharply. Aegeus met his wife's eyes and drew his brows together. She shook her head.
Okay, so neither of them knew what had happened. That was disconcerting to Aegeus. He pushed the plate of food forward along with a couple smaller ones. Edwige started piling fruit and cheese onto hers while Nootau pulled off a piece of bread and dropped it onto his plate. He didn't even pretend to try and eat it.
Gian cleared his throat.
They turned their attention on him. Easier him than Nootau being all weird.
"Akemi is coming," Gian said. He tried pushing the phone back before he gave up and tossed it on the counter. "She'll be here in—" Gian looked up at the clock on the stove. "Ten minutes."
Gian winced. "At least she gave us some warning."
"I'm supposed to get everyone up and down here in ten minutes?" Aegeus asked.
"If you could."
Aegeus sighed then went into the main hall of the house. He stood for a minute, thinking. Well, there was one easy way. He smiled before opening his mouth. Everyone needed to release a little tension sometime.
* * * * *
Not all the windows had cracks. Some of the vases didn't make it through the siren's wake up call, though. To be fair, the noise had been effective in getting everyone up and out of bed. Some of them were a little bleary-eyed, but the entire rag tag group of interlopers made it to the study.
"I will pay for the repairs," Aegeus said to Rolly again.
Akemi lifted one of the broken shards from the vases. The siren had no way of replacing even one of these vases, the windows yes, the vases no. She sighed. Some of this was probably her fault, indirectly.
Throw a bunch of strangers in a safe house and make them sweat it out while in a potentially life-threatening situation? She supposed tempers weren't that easy to contain.
"We will replace anything that broke," Akemi said, interrupting the argument. The banshee was the only one who probably understood what kind of collection they were sitting in—coming from his kind of family. "I was the one who insisted you stay. We will fix it."
Rolly's tensed shoulders relaxed. "Thank you."
Akemi nodded. "Rubrum Lux takes its responsibilities seriously."
"And what would those be?" Tibo snarled.
Cheeky goblin. It was why she and Jariah loved him so. He stood against anyone or anything no matter how big the adversary.
The group quieted. Several of them shuffled together, as if in support. She supposed it was for them. Never had she seen a more unlikely group of humans and Beings together—trying to break into headquarters no less. None of them really understood what they had gotten themselves into either. Her knights made that much clear to her.
Akemi wondered how upset Tibo would be if she asked him to autograph the latest vinyl she and Jariah picked up at The Flying Mantis concert they attended last year. Probably quite a bit. It'd be worth it. Tibo seemed to need a good kick in the ass. She did notice how Rolly's hand on his arm quieted the little goblin.
Hmmm. There had never been a hint of anything more than friendship between them before. The fan sites would go nuts once they find out. Akemi couldn't wait to put that morsel out there.
"Are you going to answer or not?"
Akemi eyed Tibo, noting how Rolly gently pulled the goblin behind him. "Rubrum Lux has been around for millenniums. We strike a balance for the world inhabited by Beings and humans. We stop the Beings from projecting themselves as Gods, while making sure the humans do not destroy us with their ever-curious minds."
"Then why don't we know about you?" Jaxx asked. He stepped forward, head held high. "We only found references of you in your own books."
"True, thankfully," Akemi acknowledged. "I'm sure there are more out there. When the Holy Roman Empire fell we decided it was best if we worked out of the spotlight. Corruption, bribery, conflicts, different governments had too much say in our policies."
Ashe snorted and crossed his arms. "I'd say corruption is still a problem."
No one spoke. Apparently they didn't expect her to agree.
"My question is how did you know about us?" They couldn't be clueless. Not like Gian or the others said they were.
Aegeus spoke up, "We went to the castle looking for people in Eich und Baum. We didn't know that was a cover."
Frighteningly, he sounded sincere.
Mal coughed and added. "My sister had 'RL' written in her journals, but no explanation. I think I speak for us all when I say we were completely in the dark about what and who Rubrum Lux were."
Of course. Akemi shook her head.
"I for one don't think we can believe anything coming outta your mouth," Nootau said before flipping her off. Edwige thumped him lightly on his shoulder.
Akemi almost smiled. That response was what she expected. At least the walker didn't disappoint.
Rolly threw his hat into the conversation. "So you're saying your part of this organization and you agree there is corruption?"
"I do," she said. Thank the Gods Above someone had sense.
"And what we've been doin' here the past few days is what?" he continued.
"Looking for evidence that you're telling the truth, and if you are, where I need to look to find clear evidence of foul play."
"And have you decided if we're telling the truth?" That was Edwige. Her arms were crossed and she stood extremely close to Nootau. What a darling little woman. Akemi really did like her.
"I have," Akemi responded. She waved to the chairs. "I think we have a lot to talk about."
"So you're saying you believe us?" Edwige asked. She pinned Akemi with her gaze.
Very darling. "I do."
Everyone settled into different chairs, the couples pairing up almost instinctually. Gian stood at rest behind Akemi, but she hadn't expected him to join them. He got a few speculative glances, no one questioned why he didn't join them.
They all nodded.
"Wunderbar." She smiled. "I have noticed some unusual influxes in our dragon breeding program, which is why I didn't arrest the lot of you on sight. But now I know you're harmless, you should be fine."
Tibo grumbled, "Not helping your case Ms. Fox."
Akemi ignored him. "It's because of your insistence I took the liberty of having some of my most trusted knights do some digging for me. I hope we can work together."
"I fucking doubt it," Nootau said before getting thumped by Edwige again. She shushed him.
"Because I think it could be mutually beneficial. I need your stories to corroborate anything I bring to my superiors."
Aegeus frowned. "How do we know they aren't mixed up in this?"
"Yeah!" Nootau growled. It didn't sound entirely human. "The Rubrum Lux could be waiting for their chance to fuck us over."
"We're not," Akemi insisted, reminding herself not to judge, but the walker was an ass. "Like any big organization, we can end up with a few bad seeds. It's up to me to root them out."
Nootau and Tibo snorted. They shared a look then nodded to each other.
"I am trying to find out what is going on. I promise, I'm on your side."
Ashe rolled his eyes and shook his head while Nootau and Tibo snorted again. Mal coughed and spoke up. "I think we should believe her."
"And why's that?" Tibo snapped.
Mal shrugged. "The Guild isn't much different. It's huge. Some places run better than others. You have arseholes who bring it down, then some good guys trying to solve the problems."
Akemi surveyed the Ranger. She had expected him to side with her, just not so quickly. Out of all of them, he knew the politics involved in a big organization. She'd pulled his record. Outstanding for a human. He managed to keep his nose clean, for the most part—like any decent employee who climbed the ranks.
The rest of his group didn't look so convinced, though his wolf squeezed his hand in a show of support. Two down, seven to go.
"I do think we aren't looking at one big problem," Akemi offered, hoping to catch a few more. "But rather several. Possibly. But if we can sort out this dragon business, I'm sure the order will be thankful for any of your help."
Nootau and Tibo snorted again. Ashe was mumbling quietly as Jaxom talked into his ear. Mal and Kaden watched Akemi expectantly.
"I think if we share, pull our resources, and we can have this dragon business wrapped up rather quickly." Akemi pulled out a computer pad. "I know sharing what you have is a daunting thought, how about I share with you first?"
Akemi brought the screen to life and punched in her code. She pulled up the projection program and hit Firedrake. The cameras projected a large jenny. Mal sat forward, along with Kaden, Edwige and Nootau. Ashe's gaze flicked over the projection before he looked down at the table.
"This Firedrake is part of an ongoing project in our dragon breeding program—"
Mal interrupted. "But Firedrakes aren't domesticated, not really. They're more of a challenge for us, bragging rights. There aren't many used by the Guild."
"No, they're not, but Divers are. Some of our scientists are hoping to get some new blood into the Guild," Akemi continued. "And they're working within the Guild and our scientists here to do that."
"My sister was killed because of this." Mal spat. "Are you saying it was because she stumbled on a project the Rubrum Lux didn't want people knowing about?"
"No, that shouldn't have gotten her killed."
"What does that have to do with walkers?" Nootau asked with a growl.
"That's something that disturbs me." This conversation was not going how Akemi wanted it to. "I can't find a connection between the walkers and this project."
Several of them nodded. Ashe added, "What about low-atmospheric space travel?"
"Or portals?" Tibo piggybacked, not giving Akemi time to recover.
"What do you mean walkers don't have anything to do with this?"
"Can Divers and Firedrakes even reproduce?"
"How do portals effect the dragons?"
"What about the lab?"
"Wait!" Gian shouted, bringing the frenzy to a halt.
Akemi sighed. "I don't know. And this is why we need your help. I promise I'm on your side. I don't know."
The group all looked at each other. Uncertainty hung in the air. Seemed like Akemi had some convincing to do.