Chapter 12:

A Dragon's Awakening

To Know You

“You made my armor?” Shane asked. Bookmark here

Reka sniffled. “I-I’m so s-sorry! I didn’t h-have a choice!”Bookmark here

Shane put a hand on his shoulder and couldn’t help but think how frail it seemed. “You said they didn’t treat you well…is this what you meant?”Bookmark here

Reka nodded, putting down his bowl and wiping his tears away with the back of his hands as he tried to speak. “I was so excited when I got accepted as an engineer in the Winslet Armory. It’s world-renowned! I thought I’d finally found a place to belong.”Bookmark here

His lip quivered, and Shane put his bowl to the side so he could pat him on the back, trying to get him to calm down so he could gather his thoughts. “My superiors were really impressed with my skills, and eventually I got assigned a major project.”Bookmark here

“What project?” Shane asked. Reka’s refused to answer, his silence answer enough for Shane. “It was a project to create living armor, wasn’t it,” Shane finished.Bookmark here

Reka wrapped his arms around his knees. “I tried to refuse, but they forced me into it. My mentor always told me bio-magical weapons and armor should never be created. He never told me his reasoning for thinking that way, but now I think he must have been involved with it himself and realized how terrible it was to mix living and unliving things.”Bookmark here

The implications for what was involved in creating living armor was…horrific. Trying to harness the energy of living beings into armor, could only mean that life had been lost to pour life into it. It may give the best protection in the world, but it came at a price—the inevitable sacrifice of life. Bookmark here

Shane didn’t know why he never considered how living armor was made before now. He just thought it was possessed. A lot of species and races were created when a roaming spirit possessed an inanimate object or warped its shape into something else more to its liking. He thought this was a similar, but rare case. Maybe he didn’t want to think about it, or maybe he was too preoccupied during the war and after that, with finding Maya, to worry himself over how the armor came to be. Bookmark here

“I’ve heard of living armor before, but it was something I heard was extremely rare. Why did I buy it from Winslet Armory for so little then?” Bookmark here

“Because you were… a test subject.”Bookmark here

“What…?”Bookmark here

“I was never able to perfect the armor, and they eventually gave up on me and had me become one of the merchants peddling our wares. That’s actually how I met Maya. She realized I was trapped, and she rescued me. After I left, they must have decided that rather than risk any of their own people to test the armor, they’d sell it to someone in the war to test drive it.”Bookmark here

“And I was that person,” Shane said.Bookmark here

“I promise I didn’t know anything about their plans to do that! Had I known…no, even if I had known, I doubt there was anything I could have done to prevent it. I really am sorry.”Bookmark here

Shane didn’t accept the apology, not really seeing any sense as to why Reka felt the need to apologize to begin with. He was forced like Shane into circumstances beyond his control, and Shane couldn’t blame him for not being braver, being stronger and putting his life on the line. After all, for the longest time, Shane didn’t risk his neck anywhere except on the battlefield. Bookmark here

Apologies aside, Shane also didn’t know how to feel about this new information that he had essentially been used as a human experiment of sorts for the armory. In the end, everything was connected back to that war. This revelation all but confirmed his suspicions about at least one thing: whoever was in charge of Winslet Armory perpetuated the war for their own gain. They must have been watching him closely during that time, and he wondered if they were watching him even after he left the war. Bookmark here

“You don’t need to apologize. I don’t blame you for any of this. If there’s anyone I’d like to blame, it’s the Winslet Armory for using us in such a cruel way.”Bookmark here

“I a-appreciate that you don’t hold it against me, but you really should. So many people and creatures died because of me. I was part of the armory that fueled a war that used you as an experiment and caused Letitia’s siblings to die.”Bookmark here

“Wait. Letitia’s brothers fought in that war?”Bookmark here

“She said she mentioned it to you…do you not remember? Is this a new side effect of the armor?”Bookmark here

“Of course not,” Shane said, easily brushing him off. “It’s just…which side were they on?”Bookmark here

“Elganter.”Bookmark here

“Elganter…that means we fought on the same side. What is Letitia’s last name?”Bookmark here

“Komain. Letitia Komain. She had two younger sisters and one brother. Did you know them?”Bookmark here

Shane ruffled his hair, feeling a growing sense of distress. “I did,” Shane said, the stew that had settled so pleasantly in his gut now feeling as if it was poison. He remembered them. They were always together. Fighting, hanging out, drinking. They had died on his watch, in one of the last battles before the rest of the encampment quit due to Maya’s interference. Bookmark here

“They served under me, and I let them die. You may have fueled the war, but I directly participated in it.” Bookmark here

“I’m afraid to tell her,” Reka whispered. “She treats me like a little brother, and I don’t want the way she sees me to change.”Bookmark here

“Honestly…I don’t either. She’s a great sparring partner, and the first person to welcome me to Bai Hu. I respect her. I don’t want her to lose respect for me because of this.”Bookmark here

Shane was being a coward, he knew. Eventually, it would come up, but bringing up these old wounds from the past when they have to take on a god in his own domain starting tomorrow, Shane just didn’t think was practical. When the time was right, he would bring it up. Just not now.Bookmark here

“So, is there anything we can do about the armor?”Bookmark here

“Your armor is definitely a prototype. It’s possible that they’ve made more progress since I left, both thanks to you and their own efforts to create more. Right now, the best way to deal with your armor when it’s really hurting you like earlier is to give it blood, or another life source. It’s amazing it took so long for you to feel any negative effects like this, truth be told.”Bookmark here

“The armor is conscious, I think. I don’t know how much it’s doing on purpose or not, but it’s listened to me before.”Bookmark here

Reka offered him a small smile, the first since he had arrived. “That’s good. It must like you.”Bookmark here

Shane laughed. “Yeah, until today that is. It must not like how rough my fight with Riolet was.”Bookmark here

Reka hummed thoughtfully. “If you hadn’t damaged it before this point, it might explain why it was so desperate for nutrients. The armor has to recover from its injuries too.”Bookmark here

“Do you think they’ve improved on the armor enough where it doesn’t need nutrients like that?”Bookmark here

Reka shrugged. “I’m sure we’ll find out. They have close ties to Sasha in Lumiere. As a matter of fact, I think the CEO of Winslet Armory lives there.”Bookmark here

“You mentioned that so innocently and yet…” Shane could tell that wasn’t a harmless comment.Bookmark here

Reka looked at him, his eyes filled with icy determination. “I want to stop what they’re doing, Shane. If we can cut off Winslet Amory, it will make it a lot easier to get to Sasha, and I might even be able to find a way to help you with your armor.”Bookmark here

Reka stood and offered Shane a hand. “I owe it to you and Letitia, who were the victims of my creations, to put an end to the creation of bio-magic armor and weapons.”Bookmark here

Shane took his hand and got up. “Don’t think of it that way. Just think of us as fellow Bai Hu members you want to protect and get vengeance for. I’d much rather you see me as a friend than as a victim,” Shane said with a smile.Bookmark here

Reka’s face scrunched up as he tried to hold in his tears. He squeezed his hand tightly. “Thank you, Sir Shane. I’m so glad that you joined Bai Hu.”Bookmark here

“…Somehow, I’m starting to feel glad I joined Bai Hu too.” Shane had been reluctant because of Maya, and suspicious of Bai Hu in the beginning, but now, he felt as if joining had actually been a good thing for him. He’d made new connections, rekindled his relationship with Maya and was…going to overthrow the evil gods, apparently. Bookmark here

He had been living the past few years of his life, and even some of his time with Maya, in isolation. Most Fishing Masters fished alone, with no one else by their sides as company. Joining Bai Hu had given him a chance at connection again, and he was grateful.Bookmark here

“C’mon, let’s go out there and see what they’re up to.”Bookmark here

Reka sniffled and wiped at his eyes one more time. His nose was still red, but he looked much less like the nervous wreck he was when Shane first met him. Maybe he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders now that he was finally able to express himself. Whatever was the case, Shane was glad.Bookmark here

Once Shane stepped out of the tent, a smile still lingering on his face, he froze. He slowly looked down at his feet, trepidation filling every part of his body. There was a glowing white magic circle underneath his feet.Bookmark here

“Oh no,” he said, before getting blasted a good twenty meters in the air, a strangled sound ripped from his throat as he was blasted with ice cold water magic. As violently as the literal torpedo blast of water came, it left, leaving Shane to fall mercilessly back down to earth. He just barely managed a safe landing, his whole body shivering as he knelt on his hands and knees, the dirt underneath his hands now turned to mud.Bookmark here

He could hear laughter floating over him as he tried to catch his breath and knew who the cause of this was immediately. “BRINE!” His voice carried itself like a roar, the force of it blowing the fire out like a candle and sending a wave all throughout the forest, the trees bending to his voice as if to say, “After you, your highness.”Bookmark here

While the rest of the camp was left stunned by the admittedly unexpected power of Shane’s roar, Brine just popped his head out from behind him, cackling madly. “You fell for it! I knew you would. You were talking so seriously you didn’t even notice I was there! Did that lighten you up a bit?”Bookmark here

“Are you saying you blasted me with freezing cold water to cheer me up?” Bookmark here

Brine title his head. “Yes? Braqueans love this sort of thing since most of us live in cold water. If we’re feeling too hot or we’re far away from home, we blast each other like this. Nice, right?”Bookmark here

“I’m not even sure how I should respond to that,” Shane said, getting to his feet and pulling Brine into a hug. He squeezed him tightly. “So I’ll just do what I normally do when I’m trying to cheer someone up in exchange.”Bookmark here

“Hehe, thanks!” Shane squeezed him a little tighter. “Um, Shane? That’s a little—! Tight!” Bookmark here

“What, you want me to squeeze tighter? Anything for my best bud.”Bookmark here

“Eeek! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m tapping out! I’m tapping out, see?”Bookmark here

Satisfied that he had made his point, Shane let him go, leaving Brine stumbling before he ran off into the forest again, probably to the safety of the waterfall.Bookmark here

“Are-Are you okay, Shane?” Stendle asked. Bookmark here

“I’m freezing after a near death experience. What do you think?”Bookmark here

“I think…it would be nice if you could restart the fire, so we don’t all freeze!” Maya said.Bookmark here

Shane wiped the water off of his face, turning the water into flames and flicking them into the pit, bringing the fire back to a roaring blare that had the group scrambling back. In the process, he heated the surface of his skin so he could warm up his body and his soaking wet clothes.Bookmark here

“Are you trying to burn us to a crisp?” Riolet asked. “Because I’d rather not repeat what happened yesterday, thanks. Your fire is beautiful, but it also was also powerful enough to burn me, a goddess.”Bookmark here

“You should see how hard he kicks. I ended up with broken ribs after one spar with him,” Letitia chimed in.Bookmark here

“He’s still having trouble controlling his fire,” Garrette said, standing and dusting himself off. “That roar, and this fire…it might be that your dragon characteristics are coming to the surface.”Bookmark here

“Does that mean he could transform into a dragon?” Maya asked excitedly.Bookmark here

Garrette came over and examined him. “Your eyes are sharper than usual. It looks like there’s fire burning in them. Did you notice?”Bookmark here

“No, I didn’t.”Bookmark here

“Did any of you notice anything?”Bookmark here

“Not really,” Stendle said.Bookmark here

“Even during our fight, he didn’t look like that,” Riolet added.Bookmark here

“I see. Maya?”Bookmark here

“She shook her head. “Shanes’ been fine up until now. Then again, he wouldn’t tell me if something was wrong unless I pointed it out either.”Bookmark here

Shane’s heart clenched. “Maya, I…”Bookmark here

She raised a hand. “We’ll work on it, so don’t make that face, okay? It’s been a rough day for you.”Bookmark here

“Thanks,” Shane said, truly grateful for Maya’s graciousness in these circumstances. “So, is my dragon really coming out? Why now?”Bookmark here

“Brine probably triggered it,” Garrette said. “Rage can fuel transformations, and you were pretty angry at him.”Bookmark here

“What should I do about it then?”Bookmark here

“I think you should try to transform.”Bookmark here

“Is that really a good idea?” Reka asked peering his head out of the tent. He must not have wanted to risk coming out after hearing Shane yell. He felt kind of bad about it, especially after the heart to heart they had moments prior. He didn’t want him to be afraid of him.Bookmark here

“Why not?” Garrette said. “He doesn’t even know what his true form looks like. Shane has a right to know what he really is.”Bookmark here

Maya came over and slipped her hand in Shane’s. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said. “But if you’re holding back for some reason, just know that it’ll be okay. Nothing is going to change between us, Shane. I swear on my name, that I’ll always accept you for who you are.”Bookmark here

An old memory surfaced in Shane’s mind at her words, of the day that he decided he wanted to marry Maya. He had broken down and cried in her arms, all of the trauma he had gone through and the suffering he had caused coming down on him all at once. I’ll always accept you for who you are.Bookmark here

“You said that to me once before.” Shane laughed and his voice trembled. “Do you remember?”Bookmark here

“I do,” she said, squeezing his hand. “The more time I spend with you, the more I remember. And I remember saying that to you. So, what do you say, Shane? Want to be my dragon husband?”Bookmark here

“You just want to ride on my back as a dragon,” he said, shaking his head.Bookmark here

“Guilty!” she said, her white teeth gleaming in the dark as she grinned.Bookmark here

“Let’s move further away from the forest. Who knows what kind of damage I’ll do if stay here.”Bookmark here

While they were already pretty much camped out in the open, Shane moved as far away from their campsite into the opens fields as he could. Everyone decided they wanted to come to witness this transformation, so they all followed along, chattering amongst themselves as Maya and Shane continued to walk hand in hand ahead of them.Bookmark here

“You did a good job; they’re getting along great.”Bookmark here

Maya swung their hands between them. “Honestly, it’s a huge relief. After what happened with Florence, I didn’t want there to be any discord within Bai Hu.”Bookmark here

“Something like that won’t happen again,” Shane said confidently. “Everyone here believes in you, so they won’t abandon you.”Bookmark here

“You believe in me too?” Maya said, her voice almost drowned out by the sound of the elven birds twittering in the trees.Bookmark here

“My doubts about this never had to do with whether you were capable or not,” Shane said. “It had to do with my own issues, and the matter of whether you would be doing any of this if you had your memories back."Bookmark here

“You’re being surprisingly open about this.”Bookmark here

“You did say we would work on it, so I’m…trying.”Bookmark here

She giggled. “What?” Shane said. “I was being serious,” he said, a blush starting to creep onto his face. Bookmark here

“I know! It’s because you’re so awkward and earnest that I can’t help but laugh. I genuinely appreciate the effort, though.” After her laughter died down, she looked at him thoughtfully. “What about me in the past made you question why I would do this?”Bookmark here

“You were against violence, and you were a devout follower of the gods. I think it’s only natural that I would be skeptical of how you’re acting now.”Bookmark here

“Seriously? I was like that?”Bookmark here

“Seriously.”Bookmark here

Maya considered his words in silence, her face returning to that blank one he could never figure out. “I think…even if I do remember, and that’s true…I won’t regret anything I’ve done.”Bookmark here

She looked up at the stars, the sky dotted with millions and billions, bright enough that they could still make out what was in front of them. “This was probably my fate, to fulfill this prophecy, and lead Bai Hu. Right now, I’m not ready to fight the goddess of Fate, and I don’t want to.”Bookmark here

Maya made everything that Shane was agonizing over seem so simple. Her memory loss and the truth of her past, despite all of that Maya had made peace with her path and was going to move forward.Bookmark here

It was something he had discussed with Gariel, and he felt it now; how their relationship would become something new and beautiful, maybe even more than it was in the past.Bookmark here

Eventually, Garrette determine that they were far enough from camp from camp, and they stopped walking. “Please step back, everyone! I won’t be responsible if something happens to you if you don’t!”Bookmark here

Maya and Shane dropped their hands and she moved away to join the others. Garrette came up to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t think about it too hard. If there’s something inside you that feels like it’s going to burst, let it burst. Don’t hold back. I’ve set up a barrier, so worst comes to worst you won’t destroy us and everything in the area.”Bookmark here

“That’s not very encouraging.”Bookmark here

“I’ve got your back, man. I’ve read extensively about dragons; you’ll be fine as long as you do what I say.”Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

Garrette gave him a thumbs up and lightly jogged toward the others. Shane watched as he set a large clear barrier around Shane, one that the rets of the members were standing outside of. Shane took a breath, and let it out, the flames nearly touching the top of the barrier they climbed so high. Bookmark here

He could feel what Garrette was talking about dwelling inside his chest. It was tied up by something, and he began to struggle against it, kicking and punching flames into the air. He felt the flames come from his eyes, his ears, and eventually every pore of his body until he was totally consumed by the flames. Bookmark here

The tethers holding that bundle in his chest back frayed and snapped, and Shane cried out as he began to transform. It was a freeing feeling, and a comfortable one as he left himself be swaddled in the flames before spreading his wings, shooting bursts of flame everywhere, like an exploding supernova. He flapped his wings, feeling a little unsteady. He did some careful practice flaps of his wings, tentatively flying around before quickly getting the hang of it. He looped around the barrier, going considerably slow compared to the sheer speeds this body felt like he could achieve. Bookmark here

He swirled up toward the sky before diving straight toward the ground, only spreading his wings gracefully at the last second to avoid falling, the constant flow of flames supporting him. All of his senses felt enhanced in this state, so much so that he could even hear the conversation going on below.Bookmark here

“Garrette! I thought you said he was a dragon!” he heard Maya yell over the gusts of wind that Shane was kicking up.Bookmark here

…What?Bookmark here

“I only said it was possible that he was one! It wasn’t hundred percent certain when I tested him!”Bookmark here

Shane looked at each of his wings. Rather than the rough skin and huge wings of a dragon, he found wings made of pure blue flame, and when he looked down, he noticed that his legs were tucked underneath him so that he couldn’t see them, and his tail was a long, beautiful swirl of pure flames. Bookmark here

“He’s a phoenix,” Riolet and Letitia said in awe.Bookmark here

Shane would have laughed if he could. Instead, he cried out, making a noise that sounded like the melody of a thousand birds at once. It was a beautiful sound, and from his bird’s eye view, he could tell they were enchanted by his voice too.Bookmark here

It wasn’t long after that that he felt himself begin to falter, his flames tapering out and the fierce energy he had let loose now retreating back into its core. He landed on the ground and waited for the flames to recede, his wings retreating and revealing his arms, as his feet took shape beneath him.Bookmark here

He opened his eyes and looked up at the group, feeling exhilarated and breathless. “Garrette, Riolet.”Bookmark here

“Yeah?”Bookmark here

“I just want to say, you both have terrible judgment.”Bookmark here

“Hey, I told you that it could be wrong from the start! The energies are very close. Now that I’ve memorized your, energy I’ll never make the same mistake again,” Garrette said.Bookmark here

“You were just so strong during our fight; I couldn’t think of anything else you could be besides a dragon. Phoenixes are considered fairly delicate.”Bookmark here

“We still might not be entirely off,” Garrette said, thumbing at his chin thoughtfully. “You may truly have dragon blood, but it’s been diluted by your phoenix heritage. It’s possible you’re just mixed species.”Bookmark here

“Well, one thing’s for sure. I’m definitely a phoenix.”Bookmark here

“Maybe that’s why your flame magic has always been so unstable,” Reka said. “Phoenixes basically are made of fire, so their fire always exists in a somewhat unstable state.”Bookmark here

Shane looked down at his hand, wondering much the same. All this time he had been focused on controlling it, but that only made it act up even more. In fact, it might even be the reason those restraints existed around his core in the first place. He felt much better, knowing what he was, and that holding it back wasn’t the way to approach his fire. He should just let it be free, and it should bend to his will and need naturally, as a natural extension of his being. Bookmark here

Shane clenched his fist and grinned. “I think I know of a way we can get into Lumiere now.”Bookmark here

“What, riding on your back? You’ll burn us alive!” Letitia said.Bookmark here

“I know you’re feeling excited, and you’ve probably got a bunch of adrenaline going through you right now, but us breaking into Lumiere on your back is a little lacking in subtly. We don’t want a fight on our hands as soon as we get inside. I admit that would be awesome though,” Stendle said.Bookmark here

Shane drooped, feeling disappointed that his plan was so quickly shot down. He really must not be thinking straight if he thought that was a viable plan. Shane got up off the grass. “I should thank Brine. If he hadn’t pranked me, I don’t think I would have triggered it.”Bookmark here

Maya laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted if you offer to let him test more traps on you.”Bookmark here

“Ugh…never mind, I’ll just call it even with him.”Bookmark here

“Alright everyone!” Maya said, projecting her voice. “Let’s get back to camp and get to bed. We’ll make a plan about how we’ll get into Lumiere in the morning.”Bookmark here

The walk back to the camp was a long one, and Shane’s heart was racing in his chest the whole way. He felt like the skies were calling him as the wind brushed against his cheeks. “Come, come, play with us,” they whispered.Bookmark here

He resisted the temptation to answer their calls and ducked into his tent. He was kind of disappointed not to see Maya there, instead having to squeeze in with Stendle, Reka, and Garrette, who seemed to all fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Bookmark here

Before he began his careful navigation around his fellow tent mates, Maya grabbed his arm. “Wait.”Bookmark here

“What is it?” he said, stepping back out of the tent and back into the stillness of the campsite. She grabbed his face and kissed him. Shane made a surprised noise before reciprocating, nibbling at her lips a little before pulling away. “Good night, my phoenix.”Bookmark here

Shane reached up to touch his lips as he watched Maya go back to her tent, a coy smile on her lips. “What an embarrassing nickname," he said, a breathless, happy laugh leaving his lips. “That’s my goddess.”Bookmark here

Real Aire
You can resume reading from this paragraph.