Joqout's Story: Chapter Twelve
Two days spent doing nothing but tracking, when there is nothing to track but a ghost, can lead anyone into screaming frustration. But those two days of screaming frustration, coupled with fierce determination, have finally paid off. Pointed in the right direction by a local-- after a brief battle with the terrified human, from which he unsurprisingly came out the victor, though he took care not to hurt him-- Timande has finally found the Ignius-clan dragon. The trail, now, is hot, and he feels sure he will have caught up with him by nightfall, hopefully before he and whatever cronies he's gathered since his last batch was slaughtered have caused any more damage.
And this time, his mind is as carefully and stealthily shielded as his body within the shift suit. The Ignius dragon feels safe, certain he has left his attackers behind him, and will certainly not expect this attack. Justice will be swift and merciless, in memory of the young one who had unintentionally found her death on his blade.
There is only one thing holding him back from striking, now, and ridding the world of another evil.
Every time he makes a discovery, finds a hint of the quarry's passing, or wants to growl with in frustration, Timande finds himself turning to empty air to share triumph and failure with someone who is no longer there. Every time, he snarls silently to himself and turns even more fiercely back to the task at hand, but he somehow can't stop himself from doing it again. For more than two years now-- for the whole of his life-- he has always had Joqout. No matter how reluctant, how whiney, or how infuriating the Solistien had been, he was still always there, and they somehow always managed to work out their difficulties. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Joqout always forgave his demanding bond's temper.
And now that the chase is almost up, Timande wants, irrationally perhaps, to share the kill with his wayward bond. There had been harsh words between them before, and Joqout had always forgiven him. There had even been periods of days, weeks even, when they had no spoken to each other. Why should this be any different?
But Timande has resisted the impulse to teleport to Joqout's side every time he's unconsciously looked for the quiet dragon, so far. Joqout has been very clear that, though he loves to fight, he hates to battle. If he refuses again to join him in destroying the evil truly at fault for the child's death, Timande doesn't want to hear it, because it will only make him angry again. He's angry enough at the Ignius without being angry-- again-- at Joqout, as well. Too much anger could be dangerous when hunting.
So he is alone when, at sunset, he catches sight of flames on the horizon that do not come from the setting sun. A village is burning-- a human village, this time-- and the villagers vanished, probably in hiding somewhere, safe from the devastation. The culprits are obvious, and their motivation just as much so: Ignius dragons, because the burning came from assailants already moved on and from the air, and for the fun of it, perhaps out of boredom. Timande, wafting higher to escape the smoke and heat, starts pumping his wings to catch up. He almost has them, now....
By the time he's caught up with the Ignius, it's the middle of the night, and the "celebrating" is over. The leader and his two accomplices-- unsurprisingly, the Ignius is not alone in his depravity-- are snoring amidst the massive rocks of a fire-scorched quarry. The second Solistien girl is gone, now; she is now another soul begging for justice. Timande, alighting on the tallest stone in the rocky crater, cannot believe his luck. He stares down with disbelief as the dragon, the mastermind he's been hunting for weeks, sleeps blissfully below him, oblivious to his presence. He never believed he would be so... careless.
But there is triumph, as well, and he pauses, glaring invisibly down at his foe. There will be death soon, long-awaited death, and long-deserved death.
And, irrationally, he doesn't want to do it alone. He wants to share his triumph with the only other person he's ever shared with.
The Ignius will sleep a while longer. There is a few minutes, at least, for this.
Timande can still pinpoint Joqout's presence; their bond might not be as tight as that belonging to others of his siblings, but he has never not known where Joqout is. Teleporting to his side is as simple as wishing to be where the Solistien is, and he pulls off his hunter's mask, flickering the shift-suit off with it, as he adjusts himself to standing on loamy earth rather than perched on solid stone.
The words of invitation to join him on the kill, that Joqout deserves to help in the name of his own people, die before they are even organized to be sent. Timande, eyes adjusting to the increased darkness of trees, picks out the large and slouched form of Joqout easily enough, laying on his belly, slumbering every bit as serenely as the Ignius the yautjadragon has just left behind. And he isn't alone, either-- much more surprisingly. Curled safely between his massive forepaws is a very small dragon, easily overlooked except for how the faint dapples of moonlight make its silver hide gleam and catch the eye. And resting against his side, a long polearm of a weapon cradled across her sleeping lap, is another dragon, human-sized and shaped but for her wings, tail, and face. Both are also soundly asleep, apparently comfortable with someone who should have been a stranger.
For a moment, Timande stares in puzzlement, confused by company which should not be there. He's never seen the female or the miniture dragon before, nor even heard of them from Joqout-- surely they must be new acquaintances. But Joqout has never been particularly good at making friends; how could have attracted two in so short a time, and in the middle of nowhere?
Then he looks closer, with the eyes of a bonded creature and a telepath, and his gaze narrows suspiciously. The little silver creature... there's something more than simple friendship or even just a desire to be protected by a larger, stronger dragon than itself. Far more. Something deeper--
Timande backpedals with shock, only holding back an instinctive growl with a shred of will-power. The little thing is bonded to Joqout! And judging from the solid feel of the bond itself, it has been there for at least a day and a night-- if not more. Quite possibly, it has been in place since the very day Timande stalked off to hunt Ignius dragons alone.
The very day.
For a long moment, Timande is frozen with shock and a sudden, unexpected pain. The very day he'd left, Joqout-- apparently taking him seriously in his supposed abandonment-- found a new bond. For the past three days, every time Timande has wanted to teleport back, Joqout has not been alone as he'd imagined him, or even lonely despite having traveled to join another village of his own kind. He hasn't missed him at all-- though, if he is honest with himself, actual missing was probably not likely, except possibly in the vague desire for company-- but he probably hasn't even thought about him, because he has a new bond. And a new friend, to go with it.
But Timande had wanted to share an execution with him.
He takes another step back, this one more controlled, more silent. He pulls his hunter mask back on, turning the dark, sleeping forms into patterns of red and gold under the unforgiving night-vision setting. It's easier to continue stepping back like that, looking at their night-vision versions, just one big, breathing mound of red heat energy.
Joqout doesn't need him-- certainly doesn't want him-- and has already replaced him. He really shouldn't be surprised. It was a bad match from the start, really. He has always known it.
And he has a job to finish, whether he does it alone or not.
Timande teleports back to his pinnacle of stone, jutting above the three still-snoring Ignius dragons, and lets lose a ferocious roar. The villains jerk awake below, but they only get a few seconds to make ready before the entirely visible, masked yautjadragon falls on them with the swift justice of his blade and the forceful denial of any emotion.
Fantasa and Legend dragons are the intellectual property of Silver Midnight.