Chapter 6, Part 2
They call her broken doll,
soulless monster …
…all she wants is to be a real girl.
Chapter 6, Part 2
~ Riley ~
“How far down does this elevator go?” I ask.
“Need to know,” Rook answers. Her dark hair is clipped short, and her clothes are some kind of black-and-gray suit, not quite a ninja outfit, not quite black leather armor, and not quite black fatigues either, but something in between. There’s nothing soft about her, and though her face could be anywhere between twenty-five and forty-five, her eyes are old.
“And I don’t need to,” I finish for her.
The numbers above the door count up: BL-11, BL-12, BL-13 … Headquarters is a three-story, brick-and-sandstone historical building in downtown Portland, Oregon — Multnomah County Central Library — where Rook flew me out by private jet to meet with her mysterious contact. Inside was the statue of the tree, and by pulling one of the branches, a door opened to reveal a narrow stairwell leading down to a hidden elevator.
“So what’s down here?” I ask. “Weapons? Prisoners? Paranormal secrets?”
“The bogeyman.” Her face is completely serious.
She lifts an eyebrow. Of course, she won’t answer.
I study the panel where there are only five buttons, but Rook and I have been in here for at least seven minutes. The walls are beginning to press in on me as I think about the tons of rock, soil, and concrete between us and the surface.
The metal doors slide open with a soft metallic swoosh, and I step out into a bare concrete hall. The letters BL-17 are painted in red on the wall. The hall is short, only ten feet long or so, and leads to a pair of black double doors.
Rook, her hazel eyes intense, leads me down the hall. “I don’t have to tell you what top secret means. I know your training was … thorough, but not even Brogg can know what happens here.”
I nod. Rook has never trusted me with anything this sensitive.
She opens her mouth as if to say something more but then hesitates. She closes her mouth and then opens it again. “We aren’t just fighting to prevent the dragon invasion of earth or to stop the oppression in Drakon. There’s a lot more going on.”
“I won’t betray your trust.”
“I know. That’s not all I’m worried about, Riley.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I keep my mouth shut. She reaches for the door, but it opens before she can touch it. An elderly Japanese man, who couldn’t be any taller than four foot, eleven inches, smiles at me with grandfatherly kindness and takes both my hands in his. “The broken doll, good. So the time of the prophecy is upon us. I have been expecting you.” He bows deeply to Rook and kisses her hand. “Hello, my lady. What are you calling yourself today? Ah, Rook. That’s new. A good name. Although the Queen is more powerful.”
Calling herself today? How many names does Rook have?
Rook presses her lips together in disapproval — an expression so brief I almost missed it. He gave a hint to her secrets, and she wasn’t happy with that. But rather than saying anything, she hugs him. Hugs him. “How are you, you old coot?” she says, a slight English accent.
He glances behind him, and I glimpse a pile of gold on the floor over his shoulder. He shudders before turning back to her. “I am well,” he says. “It is good you have brought her to me. My time grows short. Come, child, we have much to discuss.”
Turning his back, he shuffles to a table where an indigo tea set, painted with little white flowers, awaits us along with a plate of … some kind of green squares. The little cups have no handles like a typical Chinese or Japanese tea set, and the tea pot’s handle is wooden.
We sit at an ornately carved table, so low that we must sit on silk pillows on the floor. He pours a cup and, inclining his head, hands it with great ceremony to Rook. “My lady.”
She accepts it with both hands and takes a sip.
Then he pours me a cup, only nodding his head slightly. “Child,” he says.
Reaching for the cup, I look into his golden eyes and catch the glimmer of flames in their depth. A faint wisp of smoke curls from nostrils, but I see no cigarette. A hint of sulfur wafts through the air. Dragon? No. Rook — and Spyder as well — would never treat with a dragon … would they?
He smiles, his teeth not human, and when he blinks, his eyes are briefly slitted like a reptile’s. He is a dragon. One with little control over his human form.
He smiles, his sharp teeth not human, and his eyes are briefly slitted like a reptile’s
A dragon, the realization hits me harder. He’ll take me back to my master. Oh Creator. I scramble back off my pillow. I won’t go back. My feet start backing out without consulting the rest of me. He flashes me a toothy grin, his teeth normal again, but the smile is feral, so at odds with the grandfatherly impression he is striving to give.
“Be at ease, young one, I have not set claw in Drakon for over a millennia. That abomination on the throne is no friend of mine. Please drink your tea, and I will share with you what I can, in the time permitted us. Please, have a seat.”
My hands tremble as I sit on the silk cushion and clutch my teacup. Hundreds of bloody images swirl through my mind as I remember every horrible experience I have had with dragons. I must be dreaming.
“Be calm. Cookie?” He offers the plate of green squares, and I take one politely. His old gnarled hand brushes mine, and he smiles without showing his teeth. It would be almost kindly if not for the wild eyes. “I can see the turmoil in your mind. That is not who I am. Let me explain.”
How can he possibly know what I’m thinking? No dragon can read my mind. For that to happen, I would need to have a real brain.
“Unfortunately,” Rook interrupts, “we don’t have time for the full history lesson. The general’s team is already en route to South Dakota, and he will be joining them shortly. We have much to do to prepare Riley for her mission.”
“Why are the younger generations so in a rush?” He sighs. “There is never time for a good tea. How much do you know about the prophecies of the Mad Dragon?”
“I’ve never even heard of them. Why?”
Rook jumps in. “It is an uncomfortable topic. Emperors throughout the years downplayed its importance. Among dragon society, it is more of a myth; among the other races, it has been nearly unheard of for centuries. All of that was before Nyzald began destroying all known copies of the prophecies.”
“I’m sorry.” I feel so lost. “And who was the Mad Dragon?”
“As I feared.” The old man shakes his head. “Does no one teach history? How are we supposed to learn from our mistakes if we do not even know what those mistakes are? A long time ago, a young rune-dragon …”
What the heck is a rune-dragon? But I don’t want to interrupt.
“… was chosen as the new dragon emperor. His name was Greygax. Back then, emperors were chosen by the Acadamican Council at the Drakar Grand University. They prided themselves on picking dragons of impeccable character. Greygax was no exception, at least not at first. He had all sorts of ideas on how to help all of the various races.”
My curiosity gets the better of me. “What’s a rune-dragon?”
“Offspring of dragons and wizards, whether human or elven,” Rook says, her lips a thin line. “Nowadays, the offspring are killed at birth, along with the wizard.”
“Born with both magic and telepathy, the rune-dragons are incredibly powerful. According to …” He squints at her as if he couldn’t remember her name. “… Rook here, the death penalty is still doled out, although the reason has long since been forgotten, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Greygax specialized in a very difficult field of magic at the University, divination. He was able to predict the future with astounding accuracy. He knew when floods and earthquakes were going to strike, and he had the organizational skills to get things done. His work saved thousands.”
Sounds like a hero. “So what happened?”
“He missed one. A tsunami struck the Chimera lands, wiping out a third of their population. He was horrified, tormented with guilt.”
I had never heard of a dragon caring about the Chimera, let alone feeling guilty he couldn’t save them. Is this really what happened? Or is this old man demented? Except Rook seems to believe everything he’s saying.
“He never forgave himself. He threw himself deeper and deeper into the mists of time looking for every conceivable disaster. He foresaw a time of great conflict that could save Drakon or destroy it.”
“But why haven’t I heard any of this?” I ask.
“Because of all the destruction that happened next,” Rook interjects.
“Because fools have rewritten history,” the old dragon says at the same time. “Greygax became obsessed with preventing the world from choosing the wrong path. He stopped sleeping, spending every moment trying to see what decision would save or destroy Drakon. But the more time he spent in the mist, the more the future spun out of control. Things got worse, he would have nightmares and his magic would bring them to life. Entire cities were destroyed every time he closed his eyes.”
I stare at him, hardly able to believe any of this, but even if it were true, it was so long ago. Where is this story going? What does it have to do with me?
“He wiped out the High Fae entirely after seeing a nightmare where plagues infected Drakon from their lands. Only the lesser fae remain, dim shadows of their ancestors. He became obsessed with magic plagues and the portals, and his visions became ramblings in his journals. Making any sense of them, now, that is a feat in and of itself.
“In the end, it took an effort of the entire council to stop him, although there are rumors he was killed by a lover. By then the Empire was in shambles, many of us had fled to Earth to escape the nightmares of Drakon.”
“Um … okay, but what does that have to do with me?”
“You are mentioned in his journals — the broken doll — as well as this general you seek. His life or death is a key part of one prophecy.”
“So I should kill him?”
“Hard to say,” Rook says. “He might be an important asset for us, or he might be the key to the Usurper’s victory.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” I look from Rook’s hard face to the old man’s wrinkled one. Neither one of them looks me in the eye.
“I cannot advise you on a course of action,” the old dragon says, “because the prophecies indicate that there is a pivot point where he may become the tool of the rightful Emperor to save Drakon …” His fiery eyes study me as he lets that sink in. “… or he may become a pawn for the Usurper. I won’t be there. I cannot see into his heart. You must decide his fate.”
“What exactly does this prophecy say about me?”
Rising to his feet, his bones creaking like old men’s do, he shuffles to the pile of gold on the marble floor and pauses beside it, looking down longingly. His hands shake as he visibly forces himself past to a large table inlaid with gold trim and beautiful carvings. A dragon-sized book, almost as big as the old man himself, lays open on top, and I realize what I thought was a table was merely a bookstand.
The pages are brown with age, and the old man turns the pages gently, one by one, before he finally clears his throat to read.
Hope or destruction,
Forbidden One or Abomination,
One will save his soul and the two worlds.
The other will steal his soul and bring the end of all that lives.
A kingdom of the dead shall arise
to take the living and reality unwinds
Nightmares will stalk the worlds.
The Gates opened wide.
The two worlds become one.
The two worlds become none.
The general must choose a side and lose himself.
The broken doll, her strings cut
Will she cut his strings too?
I roll my eyes. Oh now, that’s not cryptic. No, not at all.
How am I supposed to work with something like that?