Joqout's Story: Chapter Nine
::Where did they go??:: Joqout demands, whirling around in shock, looking wildly for where an entire camp of Ignius could have possibly disappeared to. The fire is still cracking, the dirt still scuffled from so many dragons' feet, a few items of loot and utility are still lying forgotten on the ground-- the group couldn't have been an illusion!
Timande just stands at the edge of the clearing, visible again and his mask in hand, staring at where the largest and fiercest-looking of the Ignius-- an Eldrake, the only one of the pack of that particular breed-- had stood. His wings are pulled back, his head low and tail twitching, slow and sharp, like a cat's. "Timande!" Joquot demands aloud, settling again but with his wings mantled with suppressed tension, trying to catch his bond's attention. "Timan, come on!"
::Be quiet a minute,:: Timande hisses mentally, eyes narrowed on the spot that singular Ignius stood in, clawed mandibles clicking softly together.
"Be quiet-- Timan, they're getting away!"
::They already got away. That big, purplish-black one, he saw me. He looked right at me.::
::He looked at me, smiled, and then they vanished.::
::He must have been psionic, or using some kind of true-seeing magic... but he knew we were there. There's planning here. A lot of planning. They couldn't possibly have teleported, simultaneously, without knowing when and to where in advance. Damn it!:: He yanks his Smart-Disc free and throws it violently into the trees, shaving off leaves, branches, and sending a small block of birds darting away in terror minus a portion of their tail-feathers before it boomerangs back to his hand.
"So they're gone," Joqout sums up, heart sinking.
Timande isn't done surprising him yet, however. ::I think I know where they went.::
::I said, I think I know where they went. Were you not paying attention before?::
Joqout shakes his head vigorously. "How do you think that?"
::He was thinking about another place. His mind wasn't shielded-- or that surface thought wasn't shielded.::
::How do I know that's where they went? I don't. But it's all I have to go on. For all I know, it could be a trap.::
"So what do we do?" Joqout asks, still tense with the aborted attack, and certain that if he had to wait much longer he'd lose the rest of his nerve and never go through with it.
::We go there, play along, and see what happens,:: Timande says firmly. ::It's the only thing we can do, if we want to catch these monsters. We'll just have to pay attention, make sure we don't actually fall into whatever trap they're planning.::
Joqout takes a slow breath, then nods. Timande is born and bred for this sort of thing, and he doesn't have any better ideas, himself. The yautjadragon stares hard at his face for a moment, then nods, as well, putting his steel mask back on as he speaks. ::Shift down and get over here, then; I can't teleport you when you're that big. Just be ready to change back the minute we've reappeared.::
Obediently and silently, for the moment, Joqout changes shapes again and lets Timande, his curved blade in one hand, rest his other on the top of his head-- the easiest place for him to reach without stooping. There is a breath of space, Joqout's tail twitching just as restlessly as his bond's, and then the surroundings promptly disappear into featureless black, and are just as suddenly replaced by the faces of six snarling Ignius dragons and one frightened Solistien. There is no time for thought, only action, and Joqout, for the moment, unleashes the mindless fury inside him.
It isn't much later that everything is over. Perhaps only moments later, the last dregs of battle-fury drain out of him as he stares at the bodies around him: six bloody Ignius dragons... and one fallen Solistien girl.
Joqout sits down heavily, stunned and horrified, staring at that one small, lifeless body, unable to even think of past the red staining her scales and the torn, exposed flesh beneath. He touches her stained cheek with one clawed finger, trembling.
::She got in the way,:: Timande's rough and slightly subdued mind-voice intrudes on his shock. ::Trying to get away. The one I was fighting grabbed her and threw her in the way of my swing. I didn't have time to pull the blow.::
Joqout doesn't answer.
::There's still one of them, probably alive,:: Timande continues brusquely, as if he hasn't just confessed to killing an innocent. ::Their leader, the Eldrake, isn't here. He must have taken her, himself, with one of his henchdragons. We'll have to track him, but it might be possible to save her. Or at least avenge her death.::
Joqout still doesn't answer.
::Wake up, Joqout!:: A hard wing-tine cuffs him on the side of the head, and he sluggishly turns his head to face the maskless, growling yautjadragon. ::If there's any chance of tracking them down before it's too late, we have to move! Now! Get off your lazy ass and get moving!::
"For what purpose?" Joqout asks tonelessly, looking back at the girl, thinking now of his sister, slaughtered long before he'd even met the demanding creature at his side. She had looked just like this, dead and bloody, eyes vacant and expression one of fear. "To get that little girl killed, as well?"
::What? Of course not!::
"If this is what comes of killing-- the death of innocents as well as the guilty-- then I want no part of it."
::I'm not any happier about that than you are, you know. At least you aren't the one with innocent blood on your blade.::
The heavily mixed tone of Timande's mind-voice doesn't even register. Joqout turns a narrowed eye on his bond. "This is your fault," he growls, suddenly angry. "If it weren't for you, I would still be on Star City, and none of this would have happened."
That accusation is probably a mistake, for Timande bristles, mandibles spread wide threateningly and teeth bared. ::If it weren't for me, you would still be wallowing in self-pity, worthless and useless, and these six dragons would probably be gang-raping her until she died a much more prolonged and terrible death than what I was forced to give her!::
"They might not even have captured her, if we hadn't been trailing them!" Joqout snarls back. "If they knew about us, I wouldn't be surprised if they were just bait to force us to attack when they wanted!"
::You don't know that! You do know what depraved creatures these things were: they would have no qualms finding girls just like this every night!::
Joqout finds himself on his feet, wings mantled at his own bond. "But it wouldn't have had to be this one!"
::If you don't have the courage to take down evil beings like this, even if the cost is the loss of a single innocent life, then you have no business partnering with me!:: Timande sends with the force of a battering ram, with a vocal roar of fury for emphasis.
"I never wanted to, anyway!" Joqout roars back. "This is your show, your life mission, not mine! I've never wanted anything to do with this or you!"
The only sounds for a moment are Joqout's heavy breathing and Timande's low, rumbling growl. Then, with the mental consistency of a hiss, Timande answers softly but vehemently: ::So be it, then. I'm sorry I wasted two years of my life on a weakling like you.::
Without another word, Timande replaces his mask on his face, twirls his blade back into position against his arm, turns, and stalks purposefully away into the jungle-like forest. Joqout glares after him until he can no longer see the brown-specked tip of his tail, can no longer pick out the sound of his footfalls on the mossy ground.
Then he slowly sits again amidst the carnage and puts his muzzle in his paws, shutting his eyes, all alone except for the invisible spirits of the dead and the rat scuttling away in the underbrush.
Fantasa and Legend dragons are the intellectual property of Silver Midnight.