"I know not what they were," Shayeleigh explains once her wounds are healed and she's regained consciousness, "They looked like us, though coarser, and walked on two legs. They had no magic, I'm sure of that, but they are not like the other creatures."
"And they struck you at a distance, using weapons they must have crafted," Auberon muses, "No mere animal does that."
"How did you escape them?" Tania asks.
"I...I know not," Shayeleigh stammers, looking away. She saw him only briefly as her consciousness faded. He was not fae, but he was magic, and he fought off the creatures that wounded her. She awoke once again as he carried her in his arms, his warm, tender, strong arms, and she wanted to speak to him, ask his name and thank him, but she faded out again and when she next opened her eyes, she was with Tania and Auberon. And he, her savior, was gone. He must have brought her back to her kind, but he did not stay to make himself known to them. And perhaps he has a reason for that, Shayeleigh surmises. He rescued her, and she will not reveal his secret, she can do that much for him in her gratitude. "I lost consciousness when I fell, and did not wake until I was healed," she lies.
"Someone brought you here; surely not the creatures who struck you..." Auberon says.
"Could it have been a dragon?" Tania asks.
Auberon casts her a sharp glance. They had agreed to not speak of Ico's discovery about the nature of dragons until she returned from wherever she had gone in pursuit of the dragon she'd lain with.
"D-dragon?" Shayeleigh stammers again, this time in awe and fear, "Surely not..." Dragons are great lizards, larger than anything that roams on the ground. But they have magic, making them more like her own kind than the beasts of land or air. And her rescuer had magic, yet was not fae...could he be a dragon, then? she wonders. She can take many forms, why shouldn't the dragons be able to do the same?
"You were in the form of a horse when you were wounded," Auberon says, "And you reverted to your natural form as you fell. Perhaps the creatures took pity on you when they found you were not the animal they thought they hunted." It's as likely an explanation as Tania's guess, he thinks, though it doesn't explain how the creatures found them to deliver Shayeleigh here. The dragons, however, might be able to sense their magic as the fae can sense theirs...What are these dragons up to, and what have they done with Ico?
Tearhne and Aymeri are away, taking council with the elders, so Riain must bring news of the strange new creatures to Seirian, the second of their nest.
"They were hunting with weapons," Riain explains, "They walk on two legs, and dress themselves in furs. They looked like us, but could never be mistaken for one of us, or a fairy. They have no magic."
"And you just attacked them?' Seirian asked, surprised at his brother's decision. From Brys, that is exactly what he'd expect, but Riain would normally just stay out of sight rather than provoke a fight.
"They saw me," Rian says, "I had no choice."
"They must be very adept hunters to find you out," Seirian says, sensing something amiss in Riain's story.
"I was clumsy, I made noise while moving, and they heard," Riain says, looking at the ground rather than meet his brother's eyes as he lies. But the lie is better than exposing the truth, admitting that he'd attacked these unknown creatures to save a fairy, and the risk he'd taken in bringing her back to her kind. Not to preserve himself, for he would endure any just punishment for his transgressions, but to spare her from dragon laws she has no part in.
"You? Clumsy?" Seirian asks in disbelief.
"What did you do with the meat?" Brys saves Riain from Seirian's interrogation with a question of his own.
"The meat?" Riain asks, "I killed them before they'd taken anything."
"But these creatures, they must be made of meat," Brys points out.
Riain's lip curls in disgust, "They look too much like us, brother," he says, "I would not stomach their meat."
"But they are not us," Brys insists, "And we have another form."
"If you want to fly out there and eat them, then do it," Seirian says with a shrug, "But don't bring them back to the nest. I'm with Riain, I don't want to eat something that looks like me. But be wary, there will surely be more of them about, looking for their lost brothers."
Aymeri told her she should wait here while he takes council with his elders. He said his brothers would protect her in his absence. She'd never needed protection before, the only time she'd ever felt in any danger was when Brys captured her spying on their nest. She told him this, and said she would wait for him among her own kind. He then insisted she stay, and she discovered that she was their prisoner now, that the dragons would not allow her to contact her kin until they'd conferred with their elders and decided whether or not to make war on her kind because she and Tania had seen Aymeri in his true form.
They have not let her out of their sight since Aymeri and Tearhne left the nest, but now they are distracted. She could take the opportunity to lose her form join these waters, and take her form again in the waters closer to her home, for that is how she came here. But to disappear now would only ensure the war that Aymeri is trying to prevent, and she would choose to remain hostage here rather than bring such destruction on the heels of her escape. But even though she loves her dragon and would die, if she had to, to save him, she will not see her people harmed because of her love. If these dragons choose to go to war on her kind, she will not see them unprepared.
As she submerges into the water, she thinks of Auberon. The dragons have laid a powerful magic over this place, hiding themselves from sight, and preventing fae magic from penetrating their shield. But their magic is not all powerful, they cannot stop her from becoming one with the waters, nor can they block Auberon completely. For he has a magic that transcends all the others, he exists, everywhere, in everything, and one need only to reach for him to touch him, to call on him to be heard.
This the place where Ico first met her dragon, the waterfall under which she made love to him, and the power of that union, the mingling of magics, still pervades the area. Ico is not lost, for Auberon still feels her, but she is surrounded by magic meant to hide her, and he has had difficulty connecting to her.
He enters the waters, her essence, to better feel her, and it is in the waters that he hears her call. She cannot speak directly to his mind, to tell him where she is or what her situation, but he can feel that she is unharmed, but frightened. Not for herself, for the dragons around her protect her, but for her kind. She wants, desperately, to speak with him, to tell him something she knows, something he must learn from her.
"You must find Ico, Moth," Auberon says.
Moth's wings tremble and flutter in fear.
"Yes, the dragons are frightening," Auberon agrees, "But Ico has an important message for me. You must go to her, and approach her when she is alone, out of hearing of her dragon companions, and tell her you will deliver her message to me." He touches Moth's head, transmitting the location of the water Ico bathed in when she called for him. "Only you can do this, Moth. Only you are small enough to pass the dragon's protective spell. I am counting on you."
"Will you tell us more about your kind?" Riain asks, glancing at Ico over his shoulder. He had thought all day about how to ask her about the fairy he'd rescued, without revealing the secret of their encounter, and decided finally to approach her with a general line of questions.
"If you like," Ico answers.
Riain puts Talfryn down and crouches by the fire next to where Seirian and Ico sit.
"Do you have only one form?" he starts with his first question.
"We are not like you dragons," Ico answers, "We have only one true form. Some of us can take another form, but it is an imitation of other creatures, not a form that is truly our own."
"Can you do that?' Brys asks.
"No," Ico shakes her head, "I am a sprite of the waters, and I can take no other shape."
"Water," Seirian muses, "Aymeri is a water dragon. That may explain your...affinity for each other. Are all fae creatures of the elements, as we are?"
"I didn't know you were creatures of the elements," Ico says.
"We are," Seirian says, "Tearhne is a fire dragon, fierce and powerful. Aymeri is water, deep as the ocean, Brys is lightning, flashing bright, striking fast, I am air," he says, not qualifying his own element, "And Riain is an earth dragon, slow to anger."
"That's why he's the gentlest of your nest," Ico surmises.
"I am not gentle!" Riain protests.
"I didn't mean to offend," Ico retreats from her statement.
"Gentleness isn't a quality dragons prize," Seirian says with a laugh, "Though I suppose we are all capable of it," he continues with a nod toward Brys, comforting their young one, "Even him. But don't make the mistake of thinking any of us truly gentle. This nest is more peaceful than most, we don't fight amongst ourselves very much. That's Aymeri's influence, he demands our cooperation, or face his anger. But other nests..."
"Before I came of age, I saw the my mother's first kill three of his brothers in challenges laid against him. Until he was killed by one of his brothers, who took his place," Riain says.
Seirian nods, "My mother's nest was much the same."
Ico shudders at the thought, determined more than ever to protect her people from the wrath of these creatures.
At dawn, Ico wakes before the dragons, hearing a tiny voice calling her name. She follows the call to the shore at the edge of the nest, and finds Moth.
"I am pleased to see you, Moth," Ico says with a smile as the timid fairy lights on her outstretched hand. "You must tell Auberon that the dragons are talking of war against the fae," she says, explaining about the secretive nature of the dragons, and their laws, and telling him also of Aymeri's attempt to stop this war before it happens.
"You should not stray so far from the nest," Seirian says, coming upon her. Moth flies away from the approaching dragon as quickly as possible.
Ico gestures at the tents, visible through the trees, "I haven't left your sight," she says.
"Still, it's best you stay close," Seirian says, the firmness of his tone seeming more threatening now than it would have before last night's conversation. She is a prisoner here, she thinks, and she'd do well not to forget that.
Riain watches the turtle make its slow way to whatever destination it heads toward. The shell protects it, but it didn't create its armor, Riain thinks as he turns his thoughts again to the strange new creatures he encountered and killed the other day. Before now, the only being he knew of that possessed intelligence also had magic. These new creatures seem to have the one, in a limited sort of way, and none of the other.
Magic. He feels her approach before he hears her hooves disturbing the ground beneath her.
She touches her nose to his hand, showing her recognition, and giving her thanks for his rescue. And so, she did see him, Riain thinks.
"I am happy to see you well and uninjured, fairy," he says to her, stroking her neck. Riain has no intention of carrying out dragon law today. He has been seen, and he does not care. He will not take this life, no matter the consequences.
"Do your kin know of me, now, too?" he asks, "Or did you keep me a secret?"
She nuzzles against him, and though she has no words in this form, he understands her meaning, she did not speak of him to the other fairies.
"It's against our laws to be seen," he explains to her as her rests against her, sitting together beneath the sheltering trees.
She tickles him with her nose, questioning.
"Well, it's an old law," he says, "I don't know why it is so, it just has always been so. And for all this time we have remain hidden, none of your kind has met with mine. You've seen us fly, and hunt, but never have seen what we are. I suppose it twas bound to happen someday."
Riain hopes that Tearhne and Aymeri are able to change the law and stop a war between their peoples, but what if they fail, he wonders? He doesn't speak to her of his fears, but he wraps his arms around her muzzle, and promises in a whisper to protect her from all harm.