The Prime had his guards escort Delevy to his chambers. She thought the ruler had heard about her caring for the beast and was going to punish her.
“Have a seat,” the Prime said and waved her to a chair in front of his desk.
Delevy had never been in the Prime’s office. In fact, she had never been in the assembly itself. She had been appointed keeper to the Sandcor by the head jailer based on her work, not by royal decree. She could feel the sweat trickle down her back as she took a seat on the most expensive looking chair she had ever seen. The cushion was red velvet with gold tassels. The chair itself was hand carved, by a talented artisan. It had the royal seal carved in its back. She tucked her booted feet under the chair and tried to make herself as small as possible. The Prime was all powerful. He could declare life or death for his subjects.
“I hear you have taken to caring for the beast,” the Prime said, as he picked up the crystal glass at his elbow and took a sip of wine.
Delevy nodded her head afraid to speak. Was she even allowed to speak to the Prime?
“I saw it a few days ago. It tried to attack me,” the Prime went on. He swirled the liquid absently in his glass as he spoke.
The mural behind the Prime depicted him in battle with transports and troops all around him. Delevy recognized it as a depiction of the Battle of Alstaires. She has seen a smaller version in one of her textbooks as a child.
She shouldn’t have helped Aon. He tried to kill the Prime, but then he hadn’t made any move against her. He had been trying to communicate with her. He was so lost.
Delevy cleared her throat. “I know I was not told to care for him, Prime, but I could not bear to see him lying in his own vomit.”
The Prime leaned back and fixed Delevy with a pointed stare. “The head jailer tells me you have been trying to establish communication with the beast.”
Head jailer indeed, Delevy thought. He was the one who told on her, and the Prime didn’t even know him well enough to know his name. She shook her head.
“I have, Prime. He is an intelligent being,” she said and straightened up a bit taller in his chair. “He learns quickly.”
The Prime leaned forward with interest. “Really? The jailer tells me he does not speak our language. What has he learned?”
“Well, we are not very much further than the basics,” Delevy said. “His name is Aon, though I admit I do not think I am pronouncing it correctly.”
The Prime came to his feet. “Who sent him? Was he sent to kill me?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” Delevy answered. She had not realized the Prime was so tall, so formidable looking in his dress blues with its gold buttons behind his expansive desk.
The Prime came around the desk and stood hovering over her, his presence meant to intimidate.
“I want to know these things and more,” he said in a threatening voice. “I want to know his makers and if there are more of his kind.” He circled her like she was prey. “We know the Sandcor have been quiet for much too long. We know they are formulating a new offensive. Our spies tell us they are working on some secret weapon that would give them an advantage in battle. I want to know when they are coming and how many. We cannot allow them to get the upper hand as they did in the last millennium.” The Prime struck the top of his desk with force as he came back around in front of her. The noise ricocheted through the room like a shot.
Delevy cringed before him.
“You will continue to work with the beast,” the Prime ordered, as he rounded back to his side of the desk. “You will make it your priority to find out these things. You will report back to me daily on your progress.” He waved a hand. “You are dismissed.”
Delevy hurried from the room.
“On the fourth day Tal’on woke up ravenous and shivering, sure indications he was going into stasis,” Mul’drak said. “Of course, Graf’tal had told him what to expect, but he had also told the youngling that he would be there for him to guide him through. The Great left the details of the journey through the mental muck of stasis to the time when it came, so as not to frighten Tal’on.”
“So, in short,” Rudd’ard added, “he knew little of what was about to befall him.”
Tal’on couldn’t remember ever being this hungry. Even the first few days without food when he arrived in this place did not compare to the gnawing emptiness he felt. When Delevy arrived with his meal he knelt, bolting it down half chewed and raised his platter to beg for more. He was not adverse to begging. He had an almost primeval desire to eat and it was all he could do to keep from thinking of Delevy as his next meal.
“Morrrrr…Pleeez,” he begged.
The female responded well to the magic of the ‘Pleeez’ word. She hurried off and brought back another tray in record time. By the time he got to the bottom of that heaping platter the edge was taken off of his hunger enough for him to notice he was freezing. He also had difficulty swallowing the last few mouthfuls. The collar they put on him was uncomfortably tight. He ran a long claw between it and his neck. There was a lot less room compared to before he fell asleep.
Delevy saw his action. Her eyes squint in question. She tapped her wrist and then made a motion with her other hand indicating the shackle. She clutched her wrist tightly. ‘Was the shackle too tight there too?’
Tal’on lifted his hand. The ring around his wrist used to hang loss. Now it was so tight his scaly skin bulged to either side of it. It was the same with the one around his ankle. In fact, now that his hunger had been sated he realized his hand and foot tingled. They were half asleep. The shackle was cutting off the circulation. The Early change…could it be?
Delevy didn’t understand what was happening to Aon, she just knew his restraints were too tight. Perhaps what she was feeding him was making him bloat up. The food certainly did not satisfy his hunger as it should. He ate more than any Knot she ever saw.
Delevy knew the Prime would be very angry if she let anything happen to Aon. She decided to take it upon herself to make sure nothing did. She slipped the key to his shackles off the ring at her belt, tossed the key at Tal’on, and ran for the door to his cell to put the bars safely between him and her.
Tal’on freed himself and massaged his neck, wrist and ankle until they stopped tingling. He tried to rise to his feet, but found that his legs would not lift him. He was overcome with a severe chill which racked his body. He went to pull the things Delevy called blankets up over his shoulders, but found that the lightest touch of the cloth upon his back sent stabbing pains from shoulder to waist. He curled over in pain, kneeling with his head on the floor. He couldn’t move…couldn’t think…The mere idea of sitting upright made him want to retch.
“Tal’on didn’t know how long he huddled there, trying to still the pain in his back,” Rudd’ard said. “He eventually fell asleep, but that was worse than the wakeful pain.”
“You see,” Mul’drak chimed in, “we dragons have very active minds both waking and sleeping. Our dreams are vivid with color and full stories. The thing a youngling in stasis loses is that dream state. Stasis is a void, a black hole that a youngling cannot escape. That is what we Greats do for our charges, we fill that void with pictures. We guide them through the void. We make the unbearable, bearable.”
“Tal’on had no guide until Delevy, in her desire to help what she took to be an injured charge stepped in.” Rudd’ard rose to his feet. “Delevy guided Tal’on through the stasis to the other side without really knowing what she was doing.”
“Or how important a task she had taken on,” Mul’drak added.
“Or what her action would lead to.”
It could have been minutes or hours. It felt like days or maybe weeks. Tal’on couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. The world around him had disappeared. He was alone, stumbling through an endless void. Tal’on was lost. He could not hear or see. He could not feel anything but the excruciating pain. His mind was totally empty until he heard a faint sound…a voice far away…and he began to follow it. Follow it through the dark murky vales of smoke and ash that surrounded him in this frightening place.