It took quite a bit longer than expected to calm the Ridgeback down. Even then she refused to admit what had caused the breakdown, passing it off as “sensitive female time”, although Matar wasn't convinced Mei was old enough to experience that just yet. Or, then, how she knew of it. What she did notice was how much saying that seemed to hurt her, but brushed it off as it, if it were true, was an embarrassing thing to talk about. When Vin returned after noticing Meifeng's absence Matar sent them both off to the lake again, saying that what she wanted to talk about can wait a little longer while the youngest clan member got her bearings back.
Seeing the pair off the Coatl turned around to skulk in her ramshackle hut for a while. So much had happened so quickly. Her head was spinning. The Shade beneath them. Ayaz's secret. Two dragons – one of which was a hatchling
for Windsinger's sake – dying within hours of each other. Gin leaving because of it. And now Meifeng's random emotional spurts. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, giving her time to think things over on how to address the situation, the role of this place as a whole. If they were to live there, they all deserved to know.
As she made her way across the plaza Matar stopped short as she caught sight of a figure lurking in the entrance to the Shade vault. Fur puffed out in alarm as panic welling up inside her at the thought of a stranger not only making it inside the clan undetected but also to that specific cave. Starting to run she cursed her deplorable ground speed in her native language, muttered a few words, rode a stream of enchanted winds to close the distance. As she got closer the figure became that of a Tundra, although it was definitely not Ayaz. No, this one had golden-brown fur and chocolatey wings. He turned at her approach, flashing soft, green eyes of the Windborne as he danced anxiously in place. "Uh, can I help you?" Ilmatar inquired dubiously as she studied the stranger.
Emitting a high whine the brown puffball jabbed a finger down into the murky depths of the tunnel. "P-please. My firebird... My familiar, a mock firebird, got away from me and went down there! I-I'm so, so sorry for intruding like this. C-could you p-p-please help me get him back?" He was stammering so hard it was difficult at first to understand his pleas. Somehow the Coatl clicked enough, only to throw him a sceptical look.
"You're sure it went in there?"
"Y-yes! I'm certain!"
Doing her best to smooth out her ruddy fur Ilmatar took a deep breath as she considered her options. No way in heck was she allowing a stranger down into the Shade Vault. Besides, surely Ayaz had noticed something going on. If he fancied actually doing anything about it was another question. "Uh well, okay. You," she pressed her head against the nervy visitor's back, shoving him back towards the entrance, “stay right here and I'll get someone to help. We, uh... we're renovating! A-as you can clearly see!” Feeling as jumpy as he looked the red feathered dragon waved a stubby arm to indicate the rundown clan grounds. “A-and this cave is... off-limits! Because it's dangerous! Yes, could collapse at any-” A paw shot up to her mouth to close it. That wasn't going to help.
Indeed the golden Tundra's eyes went rounder at each word, fear and worry plain on his blunt features for his missing familiar. “Th-th-then we n-need to go get him out right now!”
Placing her paws on his shoulders to prevent him from charging inside Ilmatar gently guided the scared fluff back to the entrance, though he was adamant in remaining inside. “Look, just.. stay here. I have a Ridgeback friend who will help us! She's big enough, she'd be able to hold up any-” Crap, crap, crap! Why did I say that?!
Meifeng was still a child, and one who didn't feel comfortable in her own scales right now at that. Matar hissed at herself in annoyance, then slapped her hand back over her maw as the Tundra back-peddled. “Sorry! I wasn't hissing at you I promise!” But she couldn't just bring Mei into this just to satisfy what could end up being a wild goose chase. Granted everyone needed to know about the secret of this place, but like that? “I'll be right back I swear!”
But as she turned to scarper away to find assistance the Coatl skidded to an immediate halt at the sound of chuckling.
And not just any chuckling.
Great. Just what she needed. Ayaz was doing something after all: Making the situation worse. Wheeling around to chastise the shadow dragon she stopped short. Ayaz wasn't here. Only the goldenrod Tundra. Except he was grinning at her from ear to ear, soft green eyes replaced with lavender orbs suspended in a hollow void. “Gotcha.”
“Nnnnnng-!” Matar bit the inside of her lower lip so hard she could taste blood, her palms stinging as claws dug in from being balled tightly in fury. “Y-you! How? How are you- What- Why-” So flabbergasted as she was the crested dragon found it nigh impossible to form a coherent sentence let alone berate the living shadow for his actions. And abilities. Seriously, he had colour now?
Casually shaking out his mane Ayaz resumed his darkened, overcast tones, almost as if the motion had thrown off some kind of costume. “Well now, I'm afraid to say... You failed.”
” Matar squawked. Another chuckle, followed by another strained noise.
“I was testing you, to see how you might react to such a circumstance.” Continuing to grin at her Ayaz placed a forepaw on the side of the cave, then the other, then seemed to use the shadows lining the tunnel to pull himself up. Sauntering up the rock he set set himself down on the ceiling, regarding the Coatl upside-down. “You were right to not let me in of course, but to have left me alone? I could've gone off any old place while you weren't watching.”
After a moment of furious spitting and humming curses Matar eventually replied, “And what exactly was I supposed to do then, huh? No one else is around! Meifeng's hanging out with Vunguza and Anvindr at the lake, the beastclans are finding places for themselves around the colony, who know what you would be doing and Noelani and Whisper are nowhere to be seen!” She frowned at that last part. “Where are they anyway? How the hell did you manage to look like another dragon? What the hell happened while I was making my way out of this damnable tunnel?! And get down from the ceiling this is making me feel weird.
Stretching out like none of this mattered Ayaz jumped, did a small twirl to right himself, landed neatly in front of the irate Coatl. “Remember what I told you? About Thayvern?”
“That you are...” Her head hurt. A lot. And there was a buzzing, whining sound in her ear canals like some insect had crawled inside to gnaw at her brain. Too much. Too much to remember. Too much happening around them. A paw went to her aching forehead, pain pounding through it with every rapid heartbeat. “I can't think. Not after all... this
.” Arms, wings and tail splayed and stretched to include the entire world. “I don't know right now. Brothers? Whatever, you'll probably tell me anyway.”
For the tiniest of moments a look of pity crossed the Tundra's otherwise smirking face. “First I think you should be more comfortable. If you would assist me, we shall converse wherever you'd prefer.”
“Assist?” Giving Ayaz the once-over Matar frowned. “You seem fine to-” Breaking off sharply the Coatl could only gawk as the Shade-touched Tundra sank into the ground. Specifically, where her shadow cast a darker shape in the cave mouth. With a surprised yelp she leapt back, but Ayaz had already disappeared. Heart thumping erratically in her chest she waited to see what happened next. Although he'd gone she could still feel his eyes on her. A shiver ran down the length of her body, fur and feather unwillingly puffing out once more as if some ill wind was blowing.
“Remember,” Ayaz' voice sounded from nowhere, making Ilmatar yelp again, “I cannot walk in the light. It burns and eats at me. I must remain in the darkness.”
“Wh-where are you?” Her heart had now leapt into her throat, constricting airways. She fought the urge to retch.
“I ride within your shadow. It's quite cosy in here.”
With joints refusing to cooperate properly she, with some effort, angled her head towards the dark reflection of herself cast on the ground. He's... in there...?
Then it moved. And she stopped moving. That... it didn't really just do that, did it? Then it looked up at her. And waved.
She screamed. All senses lost the copper-coloured dragon tore mindlessly across the grounds as if doing so would leave behind all this nonsense. This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real...
Careening headlong into her temporary abode Matar scooped up Meifeng's blankets, curling up on the ragged cushion and burying herself in the linens. “It's okay... it's okay! I... just need more rest! That's all! There's... there's no way he did that. He couldn't have. I'm just imagining things!” A soft, fluffy feeling enveloped her paws. It took a moment to realise she'd punctured the fabric of the cushion in gripping it so hard, its contents spilling over her fingers.
“I was hoping you'd take us somewhere more spacious.” Ayaz mock complained above the flimsy fort, making Ilmatar groan squeakily as he adjusted the sheets hanging over the windows to block out more of the sunshine. “And no. This is all very real.” Satisfied with the diminished light levels the amalgamation flopped himself into the darkest corner of the hut. “That's not a very good hiding place by the way. Your tail is sticking out.” A deep crease appeared around the perimeter of the cushion as said tail tightened its grip.
A series of grating humming not unlike a child fiddling with an old record player was heard under the thin covers as Matar reluctantly poked her head out. “All right.” She said tiredly, just about given up with everything. “What's going on?”
“Thayvern and I are one and the same.” Ayaz reminded her, resting his head in a furry paw while waving the other. “That is, I am his shadow, torn from his body and animated by the Shade in order to physically subdue those around me. I kept his memories and fed from his negative thoughts and feelings, giving me full control to fight against my would-be master.” He bared his long canines in a grimace as he recalled that day. “But he and the rest of the clan feared me, having Shadow members bind me to this place as they moved on.”
“That's right.” Lacking the energy to portray much emotion Ilmatar allowed her limbs to hang loosely over the sides of her bed as she listened. “Something like that anyway.”
Ayaz nodded, snorting lightly in amusement. “Seems though I retained more of his essence that first thought. Much like how I can control how corporeal I am, as long as it's dark I can also assume his guise for a time. At the same time it also results in me... slipping. Thay was a very soft, kindly dragon. If times are right his sentimentality, shall we say, shines through, making me do things I normally wouldn't as I am now. Like caring for the lost and wounded." He shrugged. "That said, it's all quite handy when dealing with others who aren't aware.”
“Tricking them too.”
Another snort. “Got you thinking though, didn't it?”
Sure that her lungs were clean from all the sighing she'd done the Coatl let loose another one, dipping her head and closing her eyes. “What am I supposed to do about that? The others don't know yet and even if they did none of us would be fast enough to act. You'd be the best bet, annoying as it is to admit, given that you... You said you could sense things in the dark right? I'm not making that bit up?”
“I can indeed.” That damnable smile.
“Anyway.” Matar huffed. “Point is you're the only one who'd be able to stop anyone who does manage to get in like that. We're too few so short of waiting for a large group to miraculously join us I'd have to station someone there at all times. And that wouldn't be fair on anyone.” Reaching to rub her temples with a frustrated groan she muttered, “If only there were some breed of dragon suited to guarding something like-” Green eyes went round as she shot upwards, front legs supporting her, blankets flying as her wings spread out. “Oh shoot, what if a Guardian claims it as their Charge? What then?!” She got up, pacing around the cramped interior of the hovel. “What happens if a Guardian claims that lump of Shade or the cave it's in or this place entirely
? Do I turn Guardians away just in case? But then they'd insist on coming in or sneak in on their own because it's their Charge and- WILL YOU STOP LAUGHING AT ME?!
Over in his corner Ayaz had rolled onto his back, forearms wrapped around his chest as his hind legs and tail kicked and whipped as he roared with laughter. Had he been a real dragon tears would have been streaming down his face. “You're just so cute when you overthink things.” Despite not needing to breathe the Tundra's voice had pitched several octaves higher than normal, possibly mimicking the effects from when he was part of this Thayvern character.
“It's called future-proofing!” Matar reciprocated defensively, pounding the cushion with a balled fist for emphasis.
“It's called,” the dark-furred dragon echoed as he righted himself to hold her gaze, “paranoia.”
“Whatever it is it's a huge problem!” She was pacing again. He watched her going back and forth. “Unless... We could move a boulder in front of it! Then it would be a secret to everybody! ...unless I keep it secret from the others, too. Then I'd have to do it myself because Mei's too young and Whisper is missing...”
“It wouldn't help the Guardian problem anyway.”
“You're not helping!
” With Ayaz snickering at her predicament Matar continued to mull it over, playing out several scenarios in her mind. Since mentioning it however her thoughts kept turning to the Imperial's whereabouts. Finding herself too distracted by it to focus on how to hide the Shade for now the Coatl surrendered, standing to face the faux dragon in the room with her. “Where are Whisper, Noelani and their hatchlings? I'd been looking forward to meeting them properly.”
Patting the ground next to him with a wry grin Ayaz waited for Ilmatar to join him before parting his jaws to explain the events of the previous night.
They had been flying all night. They shouldn't have really, but being Light flight Whisper and Noelani could see through the murk a lot better than any other flight. Except Shadow. They didn't talk about Shadow. The rivalry was strong between the two elements, if not as strong as the one between Plague and Nature. That was neither here nor there however as the small family settled down to rest and recuperate.
It had been at Whisper's behest that they land; the kits were mewling out of fear and hunger, the sounds stinging ear and heart as he fought to not cry again, especially as he also bore the still form of their lost son. A third voice missing from the choir that should have been safe in the Wind lair until they were ready.
It had been at Noelani's insistence that they flew as far as they had, the Wildclaw keen to keep moving. This territory was not fit for Keano's burial. No, he had to be taken home, taken somewhere sacred where he could add the light of his soul to the Sun. The sooner he be laid to rest the better, even if it meant exhausting themselves to do so.
Between the piteous whining and the concerned trills and hand motions the creamy one was forced to relent. Already agitated at the need to land, run, hop back into the air again over and over thanks to her body's makeup Lani shrieked her feelings over the darkened ocean as they landed on a cliff edge overlooking the Sea of One Thousand Currents. Sea birds nesting in the rocky faces below took wing in fear, squawking their alarms between each other. Taking a moment to catch her breath it wasn't until the bereft mother turned to see her beloved attempting to summon a Light orb while simultaneously keeping the remaining kits corralled with his tail that she felt the drain of their excursion.
Longing to tuck up against the Imperial's minty hide, sleep and wake up to a full and healthy family in the Library grounds the bipedal dragon made to do just that, only to have her larger mate move out of the way. Sent sprawling on the grass between two very noisy hatchlings she shot a beleaguered glare up at Whisper. “What was that for?” she called as he walked off into the dark, orb in tow. “Where are you going Per-” A loud shushing sound cut her off, the Wildclaw snapping her jaws in protest.
Without further argument and puffing out her cherub-patterned fur she found herself in need of summoning her own orb, feeling two overly curious snouts pressing against her shoulders. At first moving to swat them away Noelani stayed her hand when the keening started again. Feeling warmth trickle down the side of her face she instead looped her arms under their heads, tugging the hatchlings close to her, crooning to them. Whisper must have gone to get food for them. She mustn't forget what she still had.
Waking suddenly from a nap she hadn't intended Noelani found her mate on the return, one arm curled in, hopping along on three legs. Disentangling herself from the two youngsters who had also fallen asleep on top of her the Wildclaw shot to her feet, staggering groggily towards the Imperial. “I'm sorry for snapping at you.” she apologised as she fussed at his lifted arm, seeing that he was indeed carrying something. “Here, let me.” Whisper snorted gruffly above her, reluctant at first, then allowed her to take the meaty offerings he'd managed to find. It wasn't much – an Imperial's handful of rather squashed newts and lizards. Lifting one up Noelani frowned at the broken morsel. The whole lot would barely feed one of the hatchlings let alone all fiv- ...four of them. Somehow this would have to make do until morning when hunting would be easier.
A sharp kick interrupted her as the newt almost made it to her mouth. “What in the- Whisper, what are you doing?” She shot him another glare to which he responded with a gesture of his great, antlered head at Pavan and Maili, the kits staring with wide, hopeful eyes. Right. They should be the first ones to eat. Reluctantly the white dragon knelt down to them, tossing them each a lizard in turn, keeping going until they were both satisfied. At least, that was the intent. Pining squeaks continued to ring out after the last one had been gulped down, leaving none for herself. At least Whisper could eat other food types.
She growled. Her stomach growled. Whisper growled. At her, she realised. “We're all tired.” The Wildclaw announced, throwing herself on the ground at the base of a tree. “Let us sleep. We'll discuss it in the morning.” Making herself comfortable Noelani was startled once more when a great weight was deposited on top of her, another set beside her and the sound of heavy footsteps as a third, far greater one looped around them all. Pavan and Maili had been placed on and next to her as Whisper coiled protectively in a blue loop, his lone eye turned outwards at the landscape. Noelani huffed, shoving the wriggling Maili off of her to get comfortable again, not caring where the hatchling landed. Closing her eyes and feeling the two nuzzle up against her she let out a breath.
Then flung her eyes open again in shocked realisation.
She didn't care.
She cared for Whisper.
She cared about where they were going.
She cared that one of the hatchlings had died and needed to be put to rest properly.
She didn't care about what they were leaving behind.
She didn't care about her living children.
It was like seeing Keano lifeless, seeing that freak of a Tundra handling him, hearing that he had a weak heart, hearing that her own actions had caused the death had all shattered what connection she'd had with them.
She nuzzled them both back.
She wanted to love them.
She felt nothing.
Inventory/Notes: Breed/Gene x8