Chapter 12: "Dinner"
I woke up with a lurch from my dreamless slumber. Sitting up so quickly turned out to be a huge mistake. Groans of suffering escaped my lips as pain surged through my stomach. Clutching at my torso in a futile attempt to ease the agony, I moved away the blanket pooled at my waist to see the scar from my previous stab wound. Oddly enough, it seemed more faded than when Rebecca first healed it despite not having been healed for that long.
"You're awake," Rebecca's voice drew my eyes away from my scar. I looked up to see her sitting at my bedside. We were in a tiny room with only the bed and a dresser used as decorations. Her torn dress from before had been discarded in favor of a fluffy pink sweater and silk black pants.
"Ugh," I blushed slightly at being shirtless in front of a girl while in such an intimate setting, even if she was a dragon. My thin, pale frame suddenly seemed like a much bigger deal than ever before. "What happened?"
Rebecca released a sigh, "I carried us out of the storm and brought you to my home. The healers fixed up your wound the rest of way. My first aide kept you from dying at least."
"Thanks," I slowly nodded, "How long was I out?"
"A few hours," Rebecca shrugged. "Luckily, you didn't slip into a coma or something."
"Good," my eyes trailed back down to my stomach. "Thanks for looking after me."
"No problem," Rebecca gained the smallest of smiles. "After all this crap, I think that we're pretty much stuck together. I've invested too much time into you to let you die."
"That's good to know," I slowly moved my legs over the edge of the bed. Fortunately, the healers did not remove my pants with my shirt. If they had, my initial embarrassment would have soared to new heights. "Could I, uh, get a shirt or something?"
Rebecca nodded. She stood up from her chair to move over to the dresser. While she walked away from me, I used her chair to help myself up. My legs wobbled beneath me, but I did not fall. After a few seconds of glancing through the dresser, Rebecca pulled out a white polo shirt. I caught it out of the air when she tossed it to me. The process of putting the clothing on was slow with my side continually aching, but I was fortunately able to cover myself without the embarrassment of having her help me.
"I probably need to be getting home soon," I noted. "My parents must be worried sick."
Rebecca tilted her head to the side, "It is rather late for a school night, but I wouldn't suggest moving too much yet. Call them to tell them that you're okay, but let me feed you first. I'll tell the cooks to prepare food which will increase your healing process."
"Alright," I caught the phone that she tossed at me. A quick look at it revealed that it was mine. It was oddly intact considering everything that I went through. Right before I called my parents, I paused. "Hey, let me give you my number so that you don't have to show up at my house again and freak out my parents."
Rebecca shrugged, "Alright. It will make this process easier, I guess."
After transferring contact information, we exited the tiny room. While I called my parents, Rebecca led me through the massive hallways of her home to get to the dining hall. Mom immediately broke out into sobs upon hearing my voice. She wouldn't let me speak for a few minutes, so it took a while to convince her that I was fine. With a heavy heart, I lied to her about my health and said that I was completely unharmed.
"Yeah. Not even a scratch," I traced my new scar over my shirt with my free hand. "Everything went perfectly fine. Rebecca's insisting that I eat before I head home, though. I'll let you know when I'm on my way."
"I'm so glad that you're okay!" Mom's relieved tone filled me with guilt. I was already thinking about how I could never go shirtless around her or anyone else without coming up with some convoluted story about how I got such a nasty scar. "Let me get your father!"
"No, you don't—"
"Elijah!" Dad's voice cut me off. "What happened!? Where did you go?!"
"I, uh," I turned to glance at Rebecca. She had shifted into her full dragon form to fully enjoy the comfort of her home. A tilt of her head told me that I could give them a modified version of the truth. "I went to a shipping yard. They wanted me to find stuff for them and see if people were lying to them. There were no real issues. I went in, saw what was up, and left. It took a while, but it was fine. I'm at their home right now. I don't want to make them mad by turning down food, so it will be about an hour before I get home."
"Well…I'm glad that you're okay. Is there anything I can do to help?"
I sighed, "No, Dad."
Mom's voice called out over Dad's dejected tone, "Tell him to be polite and careful! Who knows what might insult the dragons!"
"I'll be fine," I noticed that Rebecca was opening a pair of massive doors leading to the dining area. "Look, I need to go. Dinner's about to start, and I don't want to make them mad."
"Okay, son. Be careful," Dad sounded extremely tired.
"We love you!" Mom seemed to have pulled the phone out of Dad's hands, because her voice intensely amplified.
I winced from the increase in volume while pulling the phone away from my ear, "I love you too. Bye."
Rebecca eyed me as I hung up before they could say anything else. Saddened by having to deceive my parents so much, I slipped the phone into my pocket. Glaring up to her, I spoke, "What?"
"Nothing," jealousy surged off of Rebecca. "Your family sounds so nice."
"They are," I tried to pull back the rage that was bubbling in the back of my skull. "They don't deserve this."
Rebecca didn't need me to clarify what I meant, "I know. I'm sorry."
"It's…" I sighed. "I'm sorry. It's not your fault."
"Then is it mine?" Archer Silverback's voice made us jump. We finally looked into the dining area to see Rebecca's father staring at us. He sat in his full dragon from at the head of a massive table which was tall enough for someone of his size to eat. Another dragon who looked just like Rebecca except with crimson eyes sat right beside Archer. They both gave us looks of displeasure which were emphasized by the torches lighting the room from the walls.
"No, it's mine," I stated as calmly as I could. "I was the one that got them involved into this…situation."
"I see," Archer gave a slow nod. "Well then, come. Sit. We have much to discuss. Like, for example, why an entire shipyard was destroyed."
Grimacing, I walked with Rebecca to the table. She lifted me on top of the white tablecloth as servants prepared a small personal table for me to sit at. I sat next to Rebecca's massive plate of food made feel like the food that I could probably be to the dragons. While my friend explained our exploits to her parents, I focused on feasting on the grilled chicken provided for me. My stomach rumbled in satisfaction at being filled after so much blood loss. As I ate, I thought about how grateful I was to still have my intestines on the inside of my scared stomach.
"I never expected the explosions," Rebecca noted after she finished her story. "Don't worry. I properly punished Zara for his sins."
"There must have been explosion runes on the stairs to ignite the contents of the secret room so quickly," the other female dragon mentioned. I focused my Perception at her to see that Iris Silverback was her name. Interesting. This new aspect of my power could be fun to use. "I always hated that trick. Even I would have had to examine the carvings for a few minutes to tell even with my linguist skills. Expecting better from you would be unfair."
"Then I suppose it cannot be helped," Archer sighed. "Destroying his own product is an unorthodox move. If he fled, it would make more sense. He was being confronted by a dragon after all, yet he stuck around after stunning you."
"I think he viewed me as a threat," I spoke up without really realizing it. The gazes of three dragons made me flinch. "I, uh, he thought that I would make tracking him simple and that I would get in the way of futures projects so he took the time to try to kill me. That's what he said."
"That does make some sense," Archer looked at me with scrutiny. "Seeing through physical walls shows great growth with your Perception. In time, you probably will become an amazing tracker. So the mission wasn't a complete failure. Still, I will expect better next time, daughter. You must be more careful."
Rebecca lowered her head in shame, "Yes, Father."
I felt the intense desire to stand up for my friend. A quick warning image from my Perception of my limp body being thrown into the far wall stopped me. Speaking out too many times was definitely a danger at this dinner table. Pity for Rebecca surged in my scared stomach. She had to deal with this every day, and I thought eating with overly concerned parents was difficult.
"We will need to use this as an example," Iris mentioned. "If Zara would even consider this, then we have been too lax in our dealings. The Djinn must suffer so that the other species don't get any ideas."
My eyes went wide. They were going to punish an entire species for the actions of a few? I looked to Rebecca. She didn't seem pleased by her mother's suggestion, but I saw no surprise in her. This had obviously always been a logical outcome in her mind. Looking away, I silently hoped that the Djinns weren't punished too severely.
"Crushing the opposition," Archer took a deep breath. "It's been a while since I've had to do that. It feels nice. One's true abilities only truly shine when there's an enemy to bring out your best. Don't you think so, young Elijah?"
I jumped slightly upon being addressed, "Err, I guess?"
Archer nodded, "Good. You agree. Then I will make sure to find more work for you tomorrow. The only way for you to keep growing is to put you into strenuous situations."
"Father," Rebecca argued. "He almost died. His stomach was cut open, and he's still healing. I think that he's earned at least a day of rest."
"And I think that he should work every day to make sure that he is what you claim," Archer stated. "He had his chance to have a safe, peaceful life. This is the path that both of you have chosen."
Rebecca opened her mouth to speak, but Iris cut her off, "Daughter, leave us."
Iris stared at me, "We wish to speak with the human alone. Leave us. We will call you when we're done."
Despite her obvious desire to say more, Rebecca decided that it would be better to stay silent. Giving me an apologetic look, she moved away from the table in order to exit the dining room. When the door slammed shut, I was left completely alone under the scathing glares of two dragons.
"From now on tonight, you are permitted to speak freely, human," Iris noted. "This conversation won't go anywhere if you hold your tongue like you've been doing all night."
No danger warning flashed through my mind, so I spoke, "So no physical violence in response to truthful answers? And no punishing Rebecca for what I say?"
"No," Archer noted. "This is officially an informal conversation. All of it is off the record. To prove it, I will say what we all know. I do not like you."
"I never would have guessed," the sarcasm drifting off my words felt good.
"Our daughter is ambitious and naïve," Iris explained. "That is a dangerous combination. She seems to think that she knows more than us despite only being in existence for sixteen years. Not even one hundred yet, and she's trying to take her place in our society. I would be proud if she wasn't going about it in a foolish way."
"You are but a tool for her plans," Archer lifted up a massive wine glass with his clawed hand to take a sip through his scaled lips. "She thinks that you justify her strange fascination of humanity. Did you know that she chose to go to human school?"
"She did?" I blinked.
"Yes. Most of the other species don't have a choice, but dragons do," Iris sighed. "Instead of learning useful things, she wanted to interact with humans. She says that your species is the future…that your potential for growth is what will help bring our world into the next stage of evolution. I would say the opposite. Humanity's contributions are staggering, but so is the pollution, hatred, and murder that they provide. We have long since realized that humanity will go extinct within the next few hundred years."
"Maybe we won't go extinct if you let us grow," I suggested. "You were just going to throw me into a zoo. How is humanity supposed to improve if you smack down every sign of potential growth. After all, you were the one that said that people only grow when faced with opposition."
"And you've viewed me as opposition even before I spoke to you," Archer tilted his head in curiosity.
"I heard you in the forest," I noted. "I heard you hit and degraded Rebecca."
Iris and Archer shared a surprised look. The male dragon spoke, "I see. You're a more skilled liar than I thought. Do you think us monsters for raising our child this way?"
"Yes," I glared at him. Rebecca's pain that day was one of the things I remembered the most. She never reacted that way to anything else. "You hurt her. Not really physically, but I can tell that this isn't exactly a warm family."
"You dare…" smoke began to rise from Iris's nostrils. "You are lucky that we gave you our word. I have killed greater beings than you for lesser transgressions. We love our daughter. We love our kind. We love this world. You think that you, a sixteen-year-old bug, knows better than us? We have lived longer than six generations of your family, and we will still be around when you are long since dead and gone."
"Maybe that's the problem," I saw that they were slightly intimidated by my knowing gaze. "You've lived so long that you've let the hardships of life harden you too much."
Archer actually laughed at my words, "Boy, you are an interesting conversation. That I will give you. Let me ask you about a scenario that you would understand. If your father saved you from drowning by grabbing your hair and dragging you out of the water for air, would that be wrong?"
"No. He would be trying to save my life."
"That is what I was doing for Rebecca. I was trying to keep her from getting herself killed by challenging our laws."
"I don't think that's a good comparison. My dad would hurt me to save my life if I only had seconds left to live. You made the deliberate choice to hit her out of all the other options because it was the easiest way," I stared at him to see his mindset recognize the truth in my words. "I may not be a dad, but even I can see that this is an emotionally distant home. Why is that? I can see your love for her, but it's muddied. Are you afraid of getting hurt? Is it that she might die? No. It's that she's the only child that you two have ever made after years of trying."
The dragons' eyes were wide.
Their pasts were open for me to see. I couldn't stop myself from voicing what I witnessed, "So many of them were lost. The dragons are dying off because of breeding issues caused by…I see. Do you secretly want the other species to go with you?"
"Enough!" Archer slammed his clawed hand onto the table. "You are no longer allowed to speak!"
I went silent.
"Your vision keeps improving," bitterness laced Iris's voice.
"Indeed," Archer let out a breath to try to calm himself. "You will keep this to yourself, human. We are trying to keep things in order, and you are an outlier which disrupts everything. I wanted to deal with you in a kind way, but you chose this path. Dragons haven't had true enemies for a long time. That's why we've become stagnant. Perhaps this will fix that. From this moment on, boy, consider me your enemy. Let's see if you can evolve quickly enough to stay alive."