Day 9Warning: Potentially disturbing content and feels. Proceed with caution.Chapter 3
He'd caught up with them in the night.
The pair of wandering dragons had stopped to camp on one of the bigger stacks in the area, attempting to use the bamboo for cover. It was of little help, the Coatl's brilliant red plumage practically a beacon in the darkness. Once he'd found her it wasn't long before he found the other. A slight hand movement. A vial in his grasp. His long face split in an impossibly large grin. Carefully he parted their lips and dripped a drop of the tonic into their waiting mouths. He coiled up on himself a little away and waited.
Oh ho, this was going to be fun!
Morning came, the sun's rays caressing scale and feather with warmth and promise of days ahead. Matar groaned. She felt like something heavy was sitting on her. Every part of her slim body felt like lead. Was it the lack of food? The constant travel? What slim pickings they'd passed by had sustained them this far but it would only last so long. Maybe then.
“Aiiiioooo?” she drawled groggily. Wow it was worse than she thought. Her mouth was dry, her tongue weighted, her throat thick. Was she ill? “Ahhh-yoooo?” Again the name refused to form, falling flat from her jaws. Blearily the Coatl opened her eyes as best as was able to look at her companion.
Ahio was on his side, splayed out as if he'd fallen. Nothing like how he usually slept. His cloth was in a crumpled heap behind him. Something had disturbed him earlier perhaps. But what? The Wildclaw was in a similar state to herself, barely managing to move, unable to comprehend anything. “Muuurrrr...?” was all he could manage as he weakly reached a thin arm towards her.
“Well well! Look who's awake!” Crowed a far-too-loud and far-too-happy voice. With great difficulty both dragons forced their heads around to see who had spoken, cringing at the volume and effort. “Oh no, don't do that!” the voice practically shouted at them. “Here, let me.” An insane giggle filled their ears, making them flinch, as a long, sinuous black form slid into their view.
A Spiral, dark of scale, red of wing. His hands alternated between rubbing, clapping and clasping in hyperactive eagerness only his kind could manage. Staring eyes already large were wide and wild like a child who had been given the gift they'd always wanted. Excitement caused his long body to sway and curl, no part of it remaining still. Except that damnable grin.
“Wwwaaaahhht dyooooo doooo-” Ahio began, only for a slender finger to press itself against his lips, silencing him.
“Shhh, shhhhhh.” the Spiral hissed soothingly, lifting the hand and patting the Wildclaw on the cheek. “Hush now. Rest now. I just needed some, hee hee, subjects to play with!” In a dark flash he slithered from view behind the bamboo cluster, only to emerge seconds later with a box. He placed it delicately between the pair and began rummaging, eliciting a series of clinking sounds. Glass. Bottles?
Bottles. The Spiral withdrew two rounded vials with his hands and a large beaker with his tail. A sickening laugh erupted from his maw as both vials' contents were spilled into the empty container, which he then began stirring vigorously. The colour looked wrong. Simply wrong. He then tossed in a handful of assorted mushroom caps that Matar did not recognise and continued stirring. Once satisfied with his work the Spiral undulated over to the Coatl and started to pry her jaws apart. She resisted, but in her weakened state ultimately failed and the noxious mixture ran down her throat...
Matar convulsed painfully as the potion took effect. A few feet from her Ahio was doing the same, writhing in the short grass, eyes wild, head and tail thrashing uncontrollably. Her body felt stiff and sore and like it was cracking in places. Her head spun, making her dizzy and nauseous. Nothing worked. She told herself to get up. To attack their aggressor. Her body didn't respond as she continued to flail. All the while the insane Spiral cackled, zipping between the two. The laughter hurt. His movement nothing more than a black-and-red streak in her swimming vision.
Then the sound. That horrible, horrible sound that would haunt the Coatl for years to come. Ahio's screams of agony started to gurgle, like there was something in his throat. Matar tried and tried to look at him properly, only to vomit as the movement sent everything into a whirlpool of confusion. The gurgling got worse, every cry sounded like he'd been submerged. Then the coughing. The choked, drowned coughing. Even without seeing what was happening to her companion Matar managed a scream. Weak, but full of emotion.
“Hee hee, hah ha! Hah ha-ha-hee- wait, no. No! That's not what was supposed to happen!” The Spiral's cackling broke into a terrified shriek, piercing the bright dragon's skull. Blackness blotted her view as he began doing... something to Ahio. “No. No no. No no no! No! N-Argh!”
Suddenly a force akin to a gale shot past, rustling the dry grass and Matar's feathers violently. The Spiral went flying, the target of the attack. A sound like wind chimes sang soothingly in her ears as something pale landed gracefully nearby. A second pulse, forced from a slender throat too small to possibly unleash such power, another cry of shocked pain. All the while Ahio coughed, strangled, drowning in whatever was forming in his own neck.
Matar screamed again pitifully, petering out into a faint squeaking, trying to reach out. Her skin cracked again, forcing her arm back. Tears streaked her reptilian face, matting her feathers. Why did it hurt? What had the bastard done to them?
Wind chimes sang to her again. Peaceful, playful. Like the ones back home. “Rest.” said a calm, almost sing-song voice. “It will be over soon.” Matar struggled to look up. That voice. She knew that voice. But a slim hand was placed on her broad snout, gently pushing her down. “Rest.” So she did.
Consciousness returned. And with it, pain. So, so much pain. Ilmatar begged the Windsinger to please let her go back to blissful death. Stillness. Silence. Only throbbing, terrible pain and the taste of vomit in her mouth. She coughed, her whole body protesting with the sudden movement. Reluctantly the Coatl slowly opened her eyes. They were still in the same place. Just a dream? Had they eaten something bad? The water maybe? Plaguelands were north of the Wind domain right? Maybe... Maybe...Ahio.
Every inch of her long, feathered body ached and complained as she forced herself to roll over onto her feet where she wobbled uncertainly, took a few shaky steps, collapsed again. Panting, head still spinning, Matar slowly, carefully shifted her gaze to where the Wildclaw had been. Had been.
He wasn't there. Flattened, broken grass indicating a struggle was the only sign of his previous location. Maybe he'd already recovered and gone to clean up?
the Coatl thought hopefully. “Ahio?” she rasped, followed by a short coughing fit. Water. She needed water. As she attempted to right herself once more the familiar chiming sound filled her head. Looking up revealed a blurry, pale-coloured shape moving in her direction. Fast. Graceful. Unfocused Matar turned to face the newcomer, who landed a few feet away. They approached. She approached. They met halfway, the figure waiting for her. Words tried to form in her mouth only to turn to dust as her jaws opened, loosing only choked noises.
A thin finger pressed to her lips. Kind, unlike the one the Spiral had lain on Ahio's snout. The Spiral! She swung her head around to try and catch sight of the one who'd done this to her. Bad idea, bad, bad idea. She fell onto her side as the world heaved beneath her. “Rest.” the voice said again as a hand parted her jaws and the sweet, sweet sensation of water rushed over her swollen tongue. She drank deeply. Then sputtered. “Careful.” said the mysterious-yet-familiar voice. “You don't want to bring yourself further harm by inhaling it.” Matar was too weak to retort, instead obeying by taking smaller gulps.
When at last she'd had her fill the bright Coatl asked, “W-Where... is Ah... Ahee-o?” It still hurt to talk, like she'd swallowed ash.
The figure, now recognisable as a Skydancer, hung her head. “I am sorry.”
Ilmatar frowned. “What?”
“Your friend... is no longer with us.”