With dinner finished, and no corpses on the floor, I considered the evening a success thus far. The fact that my standard for success involved the number, or lack of, corpses, should have told me that maybe I needed to reevaluate certain aspects of my life. However, I’d have to save the introspection for later.
After the plates were cleared and the children sent out back to play in the yard in the growing dusk–much to the indignation of a certain teen–the adults sat in tense silence with various drinks. Wine for the persnickety Danika who sniffed in disdain at my selection, though as she took a few sips I kept my fingers crossed that it calmed, rather than incited, her irritation. Keeper Voss opted for tea, declaring it settled on his stomach easier after meals than anything else. He tipped a heavy hand with the cream, and sweetened it with just a touch of sugar. The rest of us decided on coffee: black for Special Agent Warren, only sugar for Lord Kieran, and just enough cream to curb the bitter taste of the brew, for me.
We sipped, and though I couldn’t speak for the others, I held my tongue in an effort not to stir any trouble. The quiet stretched for long enough that it became uncomfortable, but Keeper Voss merely met my nervous glances with calm and sympathetic eyes.
“Now,” he started, his voice soft and gaze holding mine, “why don’t you tell me what the young Drakken said, and we’ll move on from there.” He finished by putting his cup on the table, and leaned forward slightly so that his elbows rested in the table, hands together with fingers laced.
I took a deep breath and set my cup down on the table as well, though I leaned backward, using the chair for support. I crossed my legs and folded my hands over my knees to give them something to hold on to. I spoke with my hands most of the time, the way a Marshaller directs an airplane, and it was yet another fault Danika liked to harp on me about. Come to think of it, there was little I did she didn’t criticize, but I was all about keeping the peace tonight.
“He said, ‘When the skies are filled with Shadows and the rivers run with blood, take heed and count your blessings; for your final days have come’,” I finished, and watched as uneasiness grew in the Keeper’s eyes like a storm boiling on the horizon. Ominous.
“Are you sure?” he asked, and at my nod he pursed his lips into a thin, concerned line.
“I sent my report to the clan leaders on the situation, as per usual they likely threw it away or deleted it, but I did not realize the poem held such significance,” Agent Warren said to Voss. At his voice, Danika’s expression grew from mild irritation into something twisted and vile, as though Agent Warren had relieved his bowels on the table, or something equally disgusting and disturbed.
The nod was so slight only our keen eyes were able to detect it, but it was there. However that was as far as Keeper Voss was willing, or possibly able, to acknowledge Agent Warren. I’d have to do some digging to figure out this Nameless thing. I’d never heard of it, but things I’d never heard of as far as the Drakken go could fill a mighty big bucket. It might come as a surprise, but teaching the history and habits of our race to those who would never be a part of it, was viewed as a waste of time and effort.
“Lord Kieran and Provost Danika did well by bringing this to my attention. It is a recurring problem with our race since I was a child, a few thousands years past, give or take a century,” he chuckled, though the mirth fell flat like a poorly timed joke.
If what Keeper Voss stated about his age was true, then he was one of the oldest Drakken. Just how long we could live was difficult to gauge; people for many thousands of years have enjoyed the pastime of killing and skinning us. Some thought us immortal, and that by eating our flesh they would also obtain immortality, while others saw us as threats to be eliminated. Once we started interacting with human society on a, ‘If we don’t do this we won’t survive much longer,’ peaceful basis, these instances lessened in number, and we started to see Drakkens live longer.
“It all began,” he said, his voice taking on a storytelling, instead of lecturing quality, and I hunkered down for a gem of my people’s history I would otherwise never have known, “with the first treaty signed with various European governments in 1516. This peace treaty was prompted by a human, a Swiss medical doctor and naturalist, Konrad Gesner, who became friends with a gold clan Drakken. Upon hearing his new-found friend’s history, and the human’s wholesale slaughter of us, he became an advocate for our survival,” Keeper Voss said, and proceeded to take a sip of his tea to wet his throat.
“Sorry, I rarely talk with people, since it’s usually just the books and me,” he chuckled, but promptly continued. “Gesner surmised that our race was intelligent on a human level, and could be persuaded to peace if given a chance. However, he also determined that our counterparts, the true form Dragons, could not,” Keeper Voss said, sadly, and looked down at the remaining tea in his cup, as though remembering some long ago pain. When the liquid offered no comment or comfort, he continued on, voice heavy with the burden of ghosts from the past.
“Dragons had temperaments like wild fire, hot and dangerous, and could not be reasoned with, he said. Some we kept as honored guardians, somewhat in the way Egyptians kept felines, but the ones who lived and roamed the wilds were too dangerous to humans to keep alive. Being so closely related to the Dragons, the Drakken clans refused to simply destroy their true form counterparts, and instead a solution was proposed that both parties grudgingly agreed to. Three-quarters of the wild Dragon population would be sent through a dimensional portal, supplied by humans gifted in such magic, to live out their days in a place better suited to them—and more importantly away from the humans. The last quarter were kept for breeding purposes of the clan guardian Dragons.”
The Keeper’s words were more bitter than orange pith, and the anguish in his voice was thicker than molasses left in the cold. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Keeper Voss had known some of these, ‘too dangerous,’ Dragons, and had to watch them leave our world forever.
“It wasn’t many years after that, maybe a hundred, when the humans, requested, that we send the rest through. In essence they threatened us with being hunted down again unless we complied. The clan leaders at the time nearly started a war, but not with the humans, with ourselves. Some wanted to keep our treasured guardians no matter what, since they were creatures that represented one half of our souls. Others were thinking about our survival. There was quite a bit of going back and forth, skirmishes, and so on, but I won’t bore you with the details. In the end, as you can tell, they sent the rest of the Dragons,” Keeper Voss said, and slumped in his seat as though exhausted by the memories.
The rest of us remained silent, and though it was an incredibly heartbreaking piece of our history, I could not help but appreciate knowing more about where I’d come from. Still not quite an answer, though, my mind chimed in.
“You said the trouble started when you were a child, and I do not think you exclusively mean being hunted by humans. Also, how does it tie in with the poem?” I asked, though I shrunk away from Danika’s withering stare, likely turned my way because I was so audacious in questioning an honored member of a clan.
Luckily for me and the skin on my backside, Keeper Voss was not offended, and gave me a small half-smile. He shrugged the melancholy from his shoulders by straightening them, and pulled himself out of the heavyhearted memories by sitting up where he’d slumped in the seat.
“You are correct,” he said, voice reverting back to scholarly and disassociated, as opposed to something more like a victim’s recounting of an atrocity committed against them. “Since humans and Drakken have inhabited the same areas there have been conflicts and death. Humans tend to out-breed us and overwhelm us with their sheer number, and Drakken are hardier and harder to kill. The only tipping point was the Dragons. With the Dragons at our side their numbers meant less, which some took as a sign we should use them to wipe out, or at the very least contain, the humans. Other supes did not like this idea, as they depended on humans for survival in various ways, and culling the human population would detrimentally impact those groups. It was, to say the least, a mess of epic proportions,” he chuckled darkly and sipped his tea, but distaste made him scrunch his nose at the liquid.
“Would you like me to warm your tea, or get you something else to drink?” I quickly asked. At his nod and extended cup I reached across the table and collected his drink. Setting it in the microwave for half a minute, I also grabbed the tray of strawberry cream tarts, and the cookies that I’d baked the day Danika had come over to inform me of my new charge.
The realization that Danika’s visit was yesterday rocked me back on my heels, and fatigue crept into my bones as though a fat leech was stealing my energy instead of blood. It was nearly inconceivable that so much had happened in almost two days time, and it made my head light just trying to soak it all in. So much has changed. I shuddered.
I must have stood there too long, the trays in my hands, because Agent Warren appeared like magic in front of me. We’re fast, don’t get me wrong, but this was fast, which meant I was just too spaced out to notice his approach.
“Are you okay?” he asked, worry softening his words, though not his stony expression.
“I’m fine!” I said, a little too forcefully, and a single, thick grey eyebrow fractions darker than his hair color, lifted in disbelief. “Really,” I reassured him, toning it down from exuberant sorority cheerleader to somewhere closer to normal, “I’ll be fine. I just needed a second to process everything.”
Not totally convinced, he took the cookie tray from me and without a word of protest I let him, but I turned around and grabbed Keeper Voss’ tea from the microwave. Then, after setting everything down on the table, just to give my brain a little more time, I topped everyone’s drink off.
Settled in my mind a little more, and with me sitting once again, Keeper Voss continued the story.
“The ones who wanted to keep the Dragons, and use them to obtain some form of world dominance, kept their ideals alive and well fed. Passing on the safekeeping of the opinions and beliefs to each new generation, like moving the embers of an older fire to the kindling for a new one, and they exist among the clans to this day. That is where the poem comes in,” he said, and held up a finger as though to mark the importance and draw anyone’s straying attention. Danika, I’d noticed, had been unimpressed and bored with the history lesson, but I guess when you have this knowledge at your disposal day and night, you take it for granted.
At his words and movement, though, she perked up and leaned forward. The only information she cared for was how to perform her job more efficiently; everything else was extraneous and unimportant.
“The words are a prophecy started by the ones who want the Dragons back, and it is a warning that they will accomplish their goal. They intend to open the portal and usher the Dragons back into this world, and in doing so assert their rightful dominance over the human race,” he concluded, and just as it had earlier, worry was etched into every line and wrinkle on his aged face.
“I won’t discount the importance of Dragons for the Drakken, and I feel as though they provided a balance for us that we’ve lost over the years. But just as they balance something in our nature, we helped to balance them, as well. I fear the Dragons have likely lost any semblance of who they were, and we would scarcely recognize them now.”
The words were a gruesome truth, filled with a sense of something just out of reach and seemingly lost forever. Like we were ships lost in a fog so thick a lighthouse couldn’t help us, and as a result it left us in constant danger of wrecking on a rocky shore of madness. A sudden fragility slipped into my soul, and sent icy claws raking down my spine.
“What does all of this have to do with my daughter?” Lord Kieran gravely asked, and spoke to the other adults for the first time that evening. That is, other than in regards to food or drink. All through dinner his attention had only been for his daughter, and now he might just get some of the answers he needed to protect her.
“I cannot say for sure, my Lord,” Keeper Voss hedged, and at the words Lord Kieran’s eyes hardened in temper. They were more black than blue in the lower, man-made light of the chandelier, but lit from within by a mixture of fury and fear only parents can muster when their child is in danger.
“What can you say, then?” he scornfully asked, and clenched his teeth against harsher words, waiting to spill from him like water breaking from a dam.
“I was not ranked high enough in the clan to attend the rituals that sent the Dragons through the portals, but if I had to hazard a guess…” he trailed off, but Lord Kieran’s look gave a wordless order to continue—or be damned. “I would say they need her for some part in the ritual to open the portal,” Keeper Voss finished, his words apologetic but holding a definitive ring of truth.
The question left unasked, though it probably didn’t need to be, was what part would she play in the ritual. Knowing what kind of power was needed to open an inter-dimensional portal big enough, and for long enough, to bring all the Dragons through, brought to mind unpleasant conclusions.
“Then we can’t let that happen,” Lord Kieran concluded, voice low, deadly, and filled with a determination that bordered on frenzied.
Even if we hadn’t agreed with him about that, no one sane would disagree within range of his hearing. When someone has a look that says they would slay armies to keep their loved one safe, more specifically their child, the only feasible response is to nod your head. Being both prudent and sensible, I did just that.