A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 15
The great Dragon looked down at me and when he spoke, his voice was in my mind like a rumbling earthquake deep in the ground, shaking my very soul.
‘Greetings to you, Etti Antti, Guardian of the House, Keeper of the Seals.’
He dipped his head a bit, like a King nodding politely to a visiting dignitary, and then turned one great eye on Hewney, who stood before him unafraid and smiling.
‘Greetings little cousin. Why have you summoned me?’
“My Mistress is in need of your help and would strike a pact with you,” the Salamander replied without hesitation.
Akata-Zan looked back at me thoughtfully for a long moment.
‘Is this true, Guardian?’
I nodded and reminded myself to stand my ground.
“It is true, Noble Akata-Zan. I have need of your assistance.”
‘What is it you would ask of me?’
I took a deep breath and looked straight into that great blue eye.
“I would have you fly me to where the Elves and the Wizards rest their armies so that I might rescue my friends and resolve the conflict between us.”
A deep, rumbling chuckle came from the Dragon’s chest, shaking the ground a bit. I sensed a hint of amusement in his gaze now as he looked down at me.
‘Indeed. I have heard of this... conflict between you and the Wizards and Elves. Tell me, how exactly will a show of force help resolve anything?’
“How do you know that’s what I want?” I shot back.
That earth shaking chuckle ran through him again.
‘What else could you possibly want a Dragon to face two armies for?’
“Ah. Point taken.”
‘So tell me, little Nixie, how will a show of force help anything?’
“It will get them to shut up long enough for me to get a few words in edgewise.”
The Dragon’s mouth opened, showing two rows of large, white, razor sharp teeth and a long, red tongue. I held my breath and then heard a sound I hadn’t known was possible.
He was laughing. The Dragon was actually laughing. It was twice the rumble of his chuckle and so ground shaking that I actually stumbled trying not to fall. It was terrifying and yet I couldn’t help but smile in return. His laughter ended and he looked back down at me, closing his terrifying jaws at the same time.
‘You are indeed an amusing little one.’
“Just being truthful.”
‘That I do believe. Elves and Wizards are not exactly known for their silence.’
He starred down at me for a long moment and I met his gaze without fear. I saw the corners of his mouth turn up in what I assume was the Dragon version of a smile.
‘Tell me then, what pact would you make with me and what do I receive for my services?’
“Your price is yours to name, Noble Akata-Zan, as long as it is within my power to provide,” I said with a small bow. “All I would ask of you is a ride to where the armies are, an impressive entrance, and to back me up until the ordeal is completed.”
He chuckled again and I decided that I liked this Dragon. Clearly he looked down on all creatures that weren’t like he and his kin, but that was probably to be expected when you are the most powerful beings in the world and I couldn’t fault him for it. It wasn’t a haughty kind of looking down on but rather like an amused human watching the lives of smaller creatures from above and enjoying the play as it went. He was entertained by us and that was alright with me. Better entertained than disliking.
‘Very well, little Guardian, my price is this.’
Suddenly, all traces of humor disappeared from him and he looked at me darkly, dipping his head so that one great eye was mere feet from me. I stood my ground and swallowed hard as I did my best not to show any fear. His voice became even deeper and I felt my very soul trembling as he spoke.
‘The dead will someday walk the land
Brought back by an evil hand
And when that day you will see
Do not think to call on me’
He pulled back and I began breathing again, shaking all over. I put a hand to my racing heart, not daring to look away from that great eye as I tried to get my gasping breaths back to normal.
The dead would be brought back by something evil? I dropped my gaze and looked at my shaking hands, clasping them together in a fruitless attempt to stop them from trembling. This was one of the scary things about Dragons. They saw everything, past, present, and future. This was Akata-Zan warning me that this was coming and telling me that he wouldn’t help when it did. That meant that at some point during it all I was bound to need his help for something, but in exchange for his help today, I couldn’t have his help when that day came.
I took a deep breath and, still shaking, looked back up at the Lightning Dragon.
“And if I decide not to have your help today?”
‘Then you may call on me when that day comes, but I guarantee you nothing. I have no wish to involve myself in such days as I have seen and almost nothing that could persuade me otherwise, including my dear little cousin. Also, should you chose to go without my help today, it will be far more difficult for you and you most likely will not succeed.’
I frowned and held my tongue. There was no use getting upset at him. Who was I to tell him what he could and couldn’t do? Yes, I was a Guardian, but he was a Dragon, uninvolved in the world as a whole unless he wanted to be. If anything, I should be grateful to him because he had given me a warning without demanding payment in return for his gift of prophesy. If I asked for anything more specific I’m sure he would, but a simple warning that such a thing was coming was enough for me to work with.
That could be dealt with later though. Right now, I had plenty of other problems facing me.
“Very well. I accept your terms and I thank you, Son of the Sky.”
I bowed again and he dipped his head a bit in acknowledgement of the act.
‘Are you ready to depart?’
“Give me a few minutes to change and then I will be ready.”
The Dragon dipped his head again and settled down to wait as I turned and went back into the House, Hewney in my wake. I ran quickly upstairs to my room, found the robe I was looking for, and pulled on the red and gold material. With Akata-Zan all blue and white, I would stand out more riding him if I was wearing red, and I certainly wanted to stand out and make a statement.
I found the amulet and put it on, hiding my face once more. I double checked my face in the mirror and then was on my way back downstairs. Hewney was still following me and I paused at the door, turning to face the Salamander.
“You will need to stay here.”
He nodded, watching me sadly.
“Bring Lolani back, Mistress.”
I smiled fondly at him and gave him a quick hug.
“Of course I will. And Hewney?”
I looked at him seriously for a moment and then he smiled, knowingly.
“Anything for you, Mistress.”
I smiled back and then went outside to Akata-Zan, who extended one great leg for me. Carefully, but as quickly as I could, I climbed up onto his back and sat between his shoulder blades at the base of his neck. I leaned back against one of his spines and held onto the one in front of me.
Closing my eyes, I whispered.
“Please don’t let me fall.”
I felt Akata-Zan’s chuckle in my mind and body this time and opened my eyes to see that he was peering at me over his shoulder.
‘Do not worry, little Nixie. I will not let you fall. Now, hold on!’
And that was all the warning I had before every powerful muscle in his body bunched and we launched up into the sky. I bit back a terrified scream and held on for dear life, closing my eyes once more.
Riding a dragon was very different from a Bird like Lolani. A Bird was gentler and calmer. A Dragon was power and speed.
As we leveled out, I started breathing again and opened my eyes to see that he was watching me over his shoulder again. I frowned darkly at the great Dragon.
“That wasn’t nice.”
‘Perhaps not, but it was amusing,’ he thought with another chuckle.
I couldn’t help but smile a bit myself and then sighed, watching the clouds around us pass at a great speed. The wind was strong and made my eyes water but I was determined to see everything I could. Few people ever get to ride a Dragon and I wasn’t going to keep my eyes closed and miss my chance.
The ground was far, far below us, much further than it ever would have been with Lolani and it made me a bit dizzy to look at it for too long. But it was beautiful.
“Is this how you always see the world?” I called up to the Dragon.
‘What do you mean?’
“So small. So far away and far below. So insignificant.”
He was silent for a time and at first I thought he may not have heard me, but then he spoke.
‘Small, yes. Far away and far below, yes. Insignificant? No. Never insignificant. We are a part of the world still, though we dwell so far above it. What happens below will effect us in the end, just as it does for those who live down there. We are apart and yet a part.’
“Oh,” I said in a small voice which was lost in the wind.
I watched the sun glint off his shining scales as silence descended between us. The world passed by below and we made very good time. I didn’t try to start another conversation because it was too much work to shout over the wind and I needed to conserve all my energy.
Watching the clouds pass around us, I wondered if Aaron had kept Lolani safe and if they were both alright. They had better be or there was going to be a dire reckoning.
I double and triple checked the symbols on my arm and worried that I had done something wrong. Seals were my main magic and so I had felt safe improvising the necessary changes to seal only the soldiers and not their leaders, but had I done it correctly? Things like that weren’t written down in the texts. They had to be pieced together from knowing the basics.
“Stop worrying,” I heard Itzel’s voice in my ear. “I’m sure you did it right.”
“Completely. A hundred percent.”
I looked over at her gave her a weak smile.
It was empty comfort because Sealing Magics were not her forte. She could easily double check things from the text to be sure I had copied them correctly, but she couldn’t know if I had done it exactly as I needed to when it came to anything I had to make up. I appreciated her trying though.
‘We are close.’
Akata-Zan’s voice brought me out of my worried thoughts and I peered over his shoulder, taking in the ground below us to try and get my bearings. I spotted the two armies not far off now and took a deep breath to steady myself.
‘How shall I approach?’
I thought a moment and then grinned mischievously.
“Scare their pants off.”
I felt the Dragon’s rumbling chuckle through my whole body.
‘I like the way you think, little Nixie.’
My laughter was drowned out as Akata-Zan took a deep breath and roared. The sound echoed across the sky and left my ears ringing so it was a good thing that the Dragon thought anything he wanted to say or I would have missed his next words.
Then we were plummeting towards the two armies.