Day 21Chapter 9Couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Hands grasping. Tugging. Sodden wings and fur pulling down... down... Nose full of brine. Lungs full of water. Swirling darkness. Screams. Jeers. Cries of outrage. Sobbing. Tried to get free. Tried to escape. Too strong... too strong... Falling... Claws scrabbled for purchase. Nothing but dizzying, dark liquid. Something wrapped around. Couldn't move. Panic! Panic... Drowning...
“Maren?” Saira echoed as both dragons looked down at the commotion. “Here? I wasn't aware they had set up in our land.”
“Aye they have.” the Snapper confirmed. “Though not normally this far south. We think they're trying to invade from further north given the increasing amounts of attacks we've had.”
Confusion, Curiosity, panic, fear and excitement filled the Skydancer's senses as the market-goers mobilised at the warning. She had to raise a hand to the gem embedded in her forehead, sweeping her antennae back in vain hope to blot some of the emotions out. It was times like this that she hated what she was. Only these times. Being able to sense the inner turmoil of other dragons and helping them to recover was one of her favourite things to do. And as soon as she'd sensed Ilmatar's unease she'd wanted to talk but could not. If there was one thing she could agree with the Coatl about it was how few hands they had to help out. It pained her so much to not be able to even talk to Matar before she'd fled.
“Wait, something's not right.” Saira snapped back to sense to see the Snapper leaning as far over the lip as he could, straining to see what was going on. “They're attacking, no doubt about it, but it looks like... a hostage?” Stretching her own neck Saira peered down at the rippling surface giving away the position of the fish-people. “Maren attack by stealth, not head-on.” the Snapper mused beside her. “To give themselves away now...” He straightened up and waddled over to the nearest elevator where he turned his head to invite the Skydancer to do the same. She did and down they went.
Several Bogsneaks and gargantuan Guardians had already jumped into the waves, with other Water-born quickly joining them as they made the transition from breathing air to breathing water in order to speak with, or to better fight against, the oceanic Beastclan. Many others not so adept at swimming, namely the spiked Ridgebacks, were gathering the fishing tackle to avoid accidents and preparing land-based defences in case the conflict came that far up.
“Heitor!” came a shrill voice the moment the wooden platform reached the bottom. A reddish-pink Nature-born Mirror with speckled blue wings and intricate green markings around her face and neck came running over, bobbing her head in exhausted greeting. “Heitor it... it's not... safe to bring... guests!” the Mirror panted as she glanced between the pair.
“Perhaps.” the Snapper, now known as Heitor, rumbled, “but she claims to be looking for someone. It's possible they're the cause of this.” He waved a stubby paw at the tumultuous sea.
The Mirror's head crests flared for a moment, then she relented. “As you say. Even if not, perhaps a claw could be lent?”
Saira nodded. “Of course. I'd be glad to help. And Vin too, if he wakes in time.” Both fisher-dragons raised an eye ridge, to which the Skydancer pointed to the prone Spiral draped over her shoulders.
“Huh.” Heitor blinked. “I thought that was some kinda scarf. My apologies.” Saira grinned. “Aaja, what do you see out there?” he added, looking to the pink Mirror.
Aaja closed her larger set of eyes, peering out with the smaller pair. Heat vision, a trait unique to the Mirror species and what they employed when hunting instead of relying purely on visual sight. “A whole school.” she reported. “They have someone with them. Tied up I think. A net maybe?”
“What do they look like?” the cream-furred dragon asked. If she said Coatl...
“Um, a Coatl I guess? It's hard to tell cos they're all smushed up.”
“That may well be the one I'm looking for.” Saira said dryly, unsurprised that Ilmatar had managed to get herself caught up in this situation. Heitor and Aaja looked at her. “If it is then her name is Ilmatar and she had thought it wise to set out and form a clan of her own with no supplies and little knowledge of our region. A friend she had made was killed right in front of her,” here she jutted a clawed finger at Vin, “thanks to him and in a fit of rage she flew across the ocean.”
The fisher-dragons exchanged glances, unsure how to react to the story. Neither had to as a new voice commented, “Have to say that's one persistent gull.” The trio turned to see a Ridgeback with sparkling blue scales and yellow wings patterned akin to a butterfly's watching something above the water. Indeed there was a lone gull circling around the area the maren were accommodating. It keened loudly. In turn there was a squawk from Saira's back as Vin decided now was the time to wake up.
“Good morning sunshine.” Heitor couldn't help but chuckle despite the situation. “Just like a Spiral to sleep at an interesting hour.”
“Bwuh?” asked the sleep-muddled Spiral as his red eyes took in the new location. He jolted as the face of the Skydancer filled his vision.
“About time! Ilmatar's in trouble!”
Blinking rapidly Vin slid off of the other dragon's back to observe the goings on. “Out there? Oooh what did she do? What do we do?” He bounced excitedly in the air around the others.
Saira grabbed his tail, yanking back down to head height. “We wait.”
Waiting was a foreign concept to Spirals so it came as no surprise when he began whining. “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Whhhhyyyyyyyyyyyy?”
All eyes were on Saira and Vin now, the former of which hid herself in shame behind glittering wings as she held both hands to her face. The latter, however, grinned widely and waved. It was then that the horned head of a Guardian breached the surface, sending droplets scattering. Between the distance and the shining rivulets running off their scales it was hard to pick out the details other than they were male as a thundering voice rang out: “Hey, they're threatening to kill their hostage unless we move our village. What do we say?”
“Tell them to let her go. She's not part of our community and we already made an agreement that we'd leave them alone if they leave us alone!” Heitor hollered back. “It's up to them if they want to honour it or not!” A paw shot out of the water to salute and the Guardian ducked back under to continue negotiations.
“And if they say no?” Saira inquired worriedly.
The Snapper's already small eyes narrowed further. “Then we have no choice but to fight. Our village has stood here for years even before we made the pact. It's not our fault they decided to swim further out and that anyone wandering around down there is trespassing. We ain't moving.” He thumped a foot against the ground for emphasis. “Just in case...” He raised his voice to full volume, addressing the entire coastline. “Prepare to engage! We can't trust the sea-folk to not attack us if they're already preying on outsiders! Make sure they can't get to us! Block their angle so their spears can't hit! Those of you who can't fight, take what you can and get topside!”
The beach was suddenly a flurry of activity as every dragon took up arms or tackle, heaving boards into place or passing equipment over to the pulleys. Within moments most of the water's edge was blocked by wood panels lined all the way along the beach as fighters huddled behind, awaiting orders.
“You'd best go up as well.” Aaja spoke to Saira. “We can't risk our guests getting hurt too.”
Vin nodded fast and began to head up the cliff. Saira however refused to budge. “Pssssst!” Vin hissed once he'd zipped back upon seeing her still standing there. “They said go!”
“I know.” she replied and move she did. Behind one of the barriers.
“What are you doing
?!” the Spiral screeched, gesticulating his arms wildly.
The Ridgeback from earlier had chosen that particular spot as well, towering over the much smaller Skydancer. She arched her neck and carefully prodded the cream dragon with a sharp finger. “He's right, you mustn't stay here.”
Still she refused. “That's my friend out there and I intend to see her back safe.” Her lime eyes lifted to meet the dark garnet of the Ridgeback's, gaze steady, face set. “I know healing spells to aid if need be.”
The spiked giant stared back a moment longer, then turned away outdone by the stubbornness. “If you say so.” She then glanced at Vin, still hovering in plain sight. “And you?” The black Spiral whined, wringing his hands as he darted back and forth, unsure of where to go. With an exasperated sound he flung himself into the small gap between Skydancer and Ridgeback where he hunkered down in a ball.
“Let's hope we don't come to blows.” Saira commented as she regarded the quivering round form.
Minutes felt like hours as the collection of dragon species awaited the return of the speakers. Would there be a fight? No? How would either side react? Was that really Ilmatar down there? Was she okay? Saira was almost as deafened by the sensation of a hundred dragons' uncertainty as she was when every emotion painted a vivid rainbow in her mind. A collective breath was taken when the water's surface was disturbed. Everyone braced themselves. It was the Guardian. Followed by another. Then a pair of Bogsneaks. Then the rest of those who'd dived in followed and they all made their way to the shore. As those on the beach began to relax a pair of small, round heads with flat faces emerged as well, finned ears pricked and dark eyes staring. Maren. Stations were retaken, but whispers broke out among them. A couple more surfaced and the villagers raised claw and weapon. Yet they did not come. The Guardians, Bogsneaks and Water-born clambered onto dry land, two of them carefully carrying a bound form. Red feathers poked out of gaps in the net. No movement came from it.
“Ilmatar?” Saira breathed, heart suddenly in her throat. She began to pick her way around to the sodden Coatl, only to be halted by the Ridgeback. “What are-”
“Wait.” The Ridgeback whispered, pointing at the waiting merfolk. As she did the group dipped under the surface again, though their forms were visible as they swam closer.
It was Heitor who greeted them. Hushed conversation was exchanged along with a sack of something. One of the maren opened it, revealing what looked to be a variety of different ores. Saira and Vin strained their ears to hear what was said, to no avail. The Beastclan made odd signals and all of them disappeared into the surf. The Snapper plodded over to the middle of the beach where the bound dragon had been placed and was in the process of being freed.
“Someone get a towel!” he bellowed and activity returned. “Prepare a room and a fire! She's alive but barely. Hurry for the Deities' sake!”
“What of the maren?” The Ridgeback inquired as she and the others emerged from hiding.
“Left us alone, for now.” Heitor replied thickly. “Seemed they didn't want to argue if it was an outsider. They'll be sure to check first before attacking in future.”
The Ridgeback nodded and lumbered off to aid with deconstructing the defences. Saira and Vin could only wait as the fisher-dragons lifted and carried Ilmatar's still form onto an elevator to be taken to the room being prepared for her. Aaja motioned for the pair to join them but that was it. The village was adamant in their aid as apology for their guests getting mixed up in it all. The Coatl was laid out on a bed and the pair of Bogsneaks set to work rubbing her down. An orange-eyed Pearlcatcher blew a stream of fire onto a waiting log pile, fanning the blaze to a good size and heat filled the building.
Saira padded to Ilmatar's side, resting a claw on her shoulder and muttered a few words. Her hand glowed golden, washing the feathered dragon in a bright light briefly. “Oooooooh what was that?” Vin asked far too loudly, grabbing the Skydancer's hand and inspecting it.
“Healing magic.” she replied in annoyance, snatching her arm back. “ I don't know if she's wounded but I am not going to sit here wondering.” Another flash of light enveloped them. As it faded the Skydancer cast her gaze up and down the red dragon's body, inspecting it. Satisfied she stepped back to let the Bogsneaks work. Only to furrow her feathery brow as she noticed it looked like Matar was holding something in her front paws.
“Healing hm? Oh oh oh! I get to try again!” Vin declared, clapping hands so fast the normal eye could not make sense of the movement. Then just as quickly shoved those hands into his satchel and procuring a vial of red liquid. “Ta-daaaah!” Before anyone could react the Spiral was coiled next to the unconscious Coatl, parting her jaws and lifting her head to tip the potion into her mouth.
“No Vin, stop!” Saira shouted. Too late, the liquid was already poured down Ilmatar's throat. The sinuous Spiral flicked himself backwards, spinning and curling in impatient excitement as he awaited the result of his latest creation. The Skydancer's plumage fell, splayed in panic. What had he done now? Silently she pleaded for nothing bad to happen, for Ilmatar to wake up unaffected further.
Hours passed. Saira had taken to exploring the village, although with minimal interest. Her thoughts rested with the Coatl's health. Worry was clear on her face as she walked, none of the stall owners tried to get her attention save for the few who wished her well and for the speedy recovery of her friend. To those she'd merely nodded. After Vin's stunt Saira had asked that he not be allowed back inside just in case he did something stupid. No one knew where he'd gone since. Honestly, she didn't care.
“Miss Saira? Miss Saira!” Called a familiar shrill voice and within seconds the dark pink-and-blue Mirror named Aaja was walking alongside. “Miss Saira I think you need to see something.”
The Skydancer paused mid-step to regard the Mirror. “How do you mean?” Had Vin done something to Matar after all? She tried to hide her worry. But Aaja's eyes were wide with surprise, not fear and so she probed with her antennae. Surprise, joy, amazement...
“Your friend was holding an egg!” Aaja exclaimed, hopping from foot to foot. “And... and... well, come see!”
Seeing was not needed to believe. Even outside the door the faint sound of peeping could be heard, as well as the croons of the Bogsneaks caring for Ilmatar. A murkbottom gull was shooed from the windowsill as the pair made their way inside. And sure enough a tiny green form was tumbling about on the Coatl's chest. Ilmatar looked up. She was awake! Joy flooded Saira's very being, resisting with great difficulty the desire to rush over and hug her.
“His name is Makani.” Ilmatar claimed hoarsely as she gingerly held the oh-so-tiny Fae.
For those of you curious to see the random dragons used to determine the villagers, here you go
I can't remember if that's exactly how the Snapper looked as I hadn't saved a picture but it's close enough I hope.