Noah’s Boy – Snippet 31
When he came out of the bathroom, things made even less sense. For one, apparently the war council was going to take place at the foot of the bed, with everyone sitting on cushions on the floor and partaking from the food on tables around the room, using little bowls and porcelain spoons also distributed around the room. The only person who looked… well, not right, but he never looked right, but moderately natural in that situation was Old Joe who was merrily eating with his hands out of a little bowl, while clacking his teeth and clutching something — was it an extremely dirty trench coat? — to him like some sort of security blanket.
Kyrie and Bea were sitting side by side and seemed to have formed some sort of united front. Part of it, Tom noted, was that Kyrie was wearing a dress, which had to have come from Bea’s closet. The disapproval of this action was written in Jao’s face, as he glared at Kyrie, and the mulish stubbornness of Bea’s look told him she wasn’t about to take much of this.
Which at least was good, right? It meant he had an ally, right?
Tom took a clean bowl, wishing it were much bigger, and piled it high with meat from a nearby serving bowl.
Jao and his counterpart sat opposite Kyrie and Bea. Old Joe sat facing the bed. The only spot open was with his back to the bed, but Tom decided it had been a long time since kindergarten, and he was not going to sit on a cushion on the floor. Besides, his position had few advantages, but one of those was the advantage of his position. If he settled himself above the others, on a physical plane as well, perhaps he’d have more command over the outcome of this.
* * *
Bea’s doubts about Tom got worse, as he came in, walked straight past them, got food — how could he get food after tearing people to shreds — and sat on the bed, staring down at them as if they were unruly children and eating with scrupulous manners.
Yeah, okay, so the idea of taking pillows off the bed, and sitting on them on the floor might have been stupid, but this room didn’t have any chairs for people meeting here, and she’d be damned if she was going to sit on the bed with all these people. Or if she was going to stand while the two Chinese guys sat on the bed and glared at her.
It was bad enough that they’d thrown a fit when she’d lent a dress to Kyrie. Yeah, okay, so that dress was probably never going to be usable by Bea after this. It only fit Kyrie at all because it was stretchy material, but the points at which their figures differed were likely to be stretched out of shape forever. On the other hand…
On the other hand, Kyrie had been blood-smeared from hugging Tom, and she wanted to change, and Bea didn’t understand why she shouldn’t lend Kyrie clothes. It wasn’t as though Bea had chosen, paid for, or had any interest in the clothes in the closet, even if their mimicking of her taste had been deadly accurate.
But they clearly thought this was Bea’s room and Kyrie was an intruder. Bea shivered. Out there, in the cabin in the forest, she’d been getting used to the idea that there might have been a man for her. Oh, it wasn’t love yet, not even a crush, but being with Rafiel felt right. She liked spending time with him, and was more comfortable with him after a day’s acquaintance than she’d ever felt with a man.
For one, she didn’t need to make excuses for her shifting. And yet, he wasn’t a dragon, or part of the dragon hierarchy, and she didn’t need to worry he belonged to a whole mysterious world she’d never understand.
Which, beyond the fact that the man was taken, and that she wasn’t sure she liked him better than half, was the big problem with Tom. He walked in, all arrogant, as though he knew rules she didn’t, between the people sitting on the floor, and plopped himself to sitting on the edge of the bed.
He looked over them, with an amused glance, then said, in a dry voice, “Who cares to start telling me what this is all about?”
Jao started first, hesitatingly, “Your revered ancestor… That is, for some time now, he’s been aware that he’s been in danger, grave danger of the sort that — That is, he knew there was a good chance he might die, and therefore he … made preparations, so that if you stayed behind you’d have dragon descendants who might follow your footsteps, and the line that came all the way from the stars wouldn’t die with you.”
“The stars?” Tom asked, with a lifting of the eyebrows. “I take it you don’t mean Hollywood.”
Jao scowled but hesitated. “It is not stars, stars, though that’s what we’ve always called them. I mean, our legends do not talk of traveling through space in the sense that you might understand it, though there are legends of sailing the ocean of time, we’re not sure that’s time travel, either. It’s just that… Worlds Dragons might be more accurate, as we think they came from other worlds.”
Tom raised his eyebrows further. Was he trying to put them off making him their leader by acting as arrogant as possible? Bea had a feeling that wouldn’t work. These people struck her as the sort of people who would positively enjoy being stepped on and made to behave like underlings.
Jao seemed to be trying to gather himself together. “Your esteemed ancestor, I said, knew there was a threat, there was something coming, and therefore he faced up to it, to protect us –”
The old man Kyrie had brought with her, and who had a truly disturbing habit of clacking his teeth together found an even more distracting way to interrupt the conversation. He laughed, a high, discordant laugh and slapped his thighs while doing it.
* * *
Tom knew it was going to be trouble when Old Joe laughed. “He did not face it. He was dragged. From the parking lot he was dragged, before he could shift. He was killed and … taken away.”
“He knew what the threat was,” Jao said, trying to overpower the old man’s voice. “He knew the threat was coming near, and he bravely defended from it and –”
“Dragged,” Old Joe said, and clacked his teeth with enormous satisfaction, while his eyes looked merrily over the people around him. “And now kept somewhere, though I don’t know where.”
“He’s dead,” Jao said. He looked sour. His mouth set in a straight line. “Which is why it’s so important for the new Great Sky Dragon to –”
“Oh, you want to say that,” Joe said. “And it might even be true. For now. But truth is something different. Yes, Daddy Dragon is dead. Impossible to pretend otherwise and have dragon egg pass to dragon boy. When dragon dies, dragon egg passes. And it did. But death is not permanent for our kind. Or it need not be. And dragon egg does not distinguish, because even temporary death is rare for daddy dragon. And it could always turn permanent.”
Jao opened his mouth, then closed it. “The Venerable one is dead. We must find his assassins and –”
“Yes, he is dead, but was his head separated from the body? Do you want him to be dead, Jao? Is that the game? Do you want him to be dead forever?” Old Joe asked. He clacked his teeth together, while his gaze played, in amusement, over the assembled people. “I wonder why. Are you afraid whoever killed him will activate dragon egg and get knowledge from him?”
“We –” Jao looked at Tom as though for help, though Tom had absolutely no idea what he could have done to help at that point. “We are sure he’s dead,” he said. “The power wouldn’t have passed to the son of the dragon’s son otherwise.”
“Sure, sure?” Old Joe asked. “You have body and are preparing to send him to his ancestors in style?”
Jao opened his mouth, and this time Tom thought he had to intervene. Not to save Jao. It was quite possible nothing could. Old Joe was having his fun, making fun and mocking, jabbing and withdrawing, but Tom was starting to see a shape through the fog of amusement the old shifter projected, and the shape he saw was making the whole thing seem like a nightmare… but also, perhaps offering him an opportunity of escape.
He did not want to be the Great Sky Dragon. He didn’t want to preside over the shady activities of the triad, or to be the leader of a criminal organization. And he didn’t want to marry anyone but Kyrie.
He looked at Kyrie and their eyes met, and he recognized in hers the same thought that had been in his. No. They didn’t want to marry anyone else. And perhaps, Tom thought, it was about time they married each other, if nothing else to keep crazy people from planning marriages for them.
He smiled at her, a little, and hoped she realized what he was thinking, but then he turned to Jao and said, “It bears asking. Do you have the Great Sky Dragon’s corpse?”
A dark blush tinged Jao’s cheeks. “Well, no, but we are sure he’s dead. If this were just the long sleep, the temporary death, then the power and the knowledge would not have passed to you.” Pause. “Sire.”
“No. Drop the sire and tell me straight why not. If the mechanism is set for the knowledge to pass at death, why would it not? The long sleep you call it? Temporary death? Nice words, but if you remember it happened to me and when it happened to me, the doctors said it was death in everything. I was in the morgue, before I came back by some means no one can determine. And when I came back, it was almost instant. So — do you care to explain what it is that makes you sure that it won’t pass on the long sleep? Has it not passed before?”