“Emine.” Sanni stroked Emine’s hair back, the few strands that were even long enough to reach her face. “I don’t want you to worry too much, but apparently we’re having troubles with the shades.”
Emine tried to remember anything about the shades. “They… they’ve taken over the southwest coasts, right?”
Sanni nodded, leaning back in her chair. Emine liked their new rooms better than Sanni’s old ones. Though she continued to regret saying as such to Sanni. “They massacred the merfolk. It’s why they’re extinct. We’ve kept them at bay… They haven’t been seen outside the water in over twenty years. Since I was your age.”
The dragons spent long enough discussing other things before acting sooner than anyone else might think. “What does that mean?”
“A lot more motion. They won’t suffer a shade on their land.” Sanni’s smile turned a bit wry. “What we have to worry about are tempers. I can count the dragons on one hand who can keep their calm completely when dealing with shades.”
“Ramar more snippy?”
Sanni’s smile twisted as she tried not to laugh. “Don’t let her hear you say that.”
As hard as she tried, Emine still felt nervous around the dragons.
How could she not? They could crush her with a single motion. They could do so even with the strongest person. They could do so to Sanni, who she believed could probably wrestle her own father into submission. Emine still felt as though the dragons looked somewhat unnatural. Avian serpents with mammalian features. A few of them moved like spiders or centipedes. Emine’s mind swam.
As long as she kept working though, she could handle it.
“My Farris needs assistance.”
Emine tried not to squeak. She hadn’t even heard Andra approach. He didn’t even blink as she jumped and then tried to turn around as though she hadn’t been startled. “Um, I’m tending to Arvid right now while Ramar is gone.”
Andra snorted. That was a pretty consistent expression of frustration that one could say they might share with humans. “True. Well, it can’t be helped. Do you know if Sanni is free?”
No Unbonded was truly free – there were just less urgent tasks to do. “I believe so.”
“Good.” Andra scampered off, the sound of his talons in the cavern a distant echo. Emine wondered how he could be so quiet. That in mind, she returned to Arvid.
“Time to divert it now.” The large dragon with the black and silver feathers usually came up with the solutions. Or was the one to say it out loud. Her name was Norro. Emine didn’t think Norro liked her. She had yet to acknowledge Emine’s existence. “Ramar?”
Ramar seemed pleased. “I’ll sculpt the mountain. I’ll not divert.”
“I’ll keep Ramar from destroying anything,” Andra commented. He had feathers of blue and talons of white. He was a little larger than Ramar, but his feathers looked longer, sleeker.
Emine frowned. Arvid chuckled. “Ramar doesn’t need help,” he assured her. “She just wants the company.”
“Sculpting a mountain is lonely work,” Ramar said to the two humans, voice quiet enough not to carry around to the other dragons.
“I’d go with you, you know.”
The sound Ramar made was almost a long inhale, but not the type to fill her lungs. Emine had become aware that was a way dragons expressed frustration. “You will not, my pet. You will be tended to here.” She focused on Emine. “Emine will tend to you directly, won’t you?”
Emine focused on the bridge of Ramar’s nose again. Despite the order, she didn’t mind it at all. “Of course. I like Arvid too.”
Arvid chuckled. Ramar seemed pleased.
Working in the Alcoves was harder than working in the town. Emine could point at the reason for that in a heartbeat. The dragons. They certainly acted as though they were in control of everything.
And they were. Emine had no way of forgetting, like she had before. The dragons were definitely in control of everything here and the rest of the country. They didn’t seem to mind if a small creature walked through the room as they debated how to take care of issues in many different places. She hadn’t even been aware there were so many problems in a country.
“The next earthquake that hits, that mountain is going to fall on all of them.”
“Well, it’s about time for it to crumble.” Ramar snorted, preening her wings with her hands. It was toward Ramar that Emine went.
Not for Ramar though. She walked over to Arvid, who sat at Ramar’s side, leaning into her feathers. Emine offered him the drink she was sent to bring him.
The older man smiled at her. “Thank you, Emine.”
She liked Arvid. Which was why she didn’t like his cough. Ramar’s feathers bristled, no matter how quietly he did so. It made Emine like Ramar better, though she wished she didn’t have to. She was hopeful this medicine would make him better soon.
Sanni said it would and Emine believed her.
“Do people make the jump to Unbonded often?” Emine asked Sanni. She stayed close to the woman’s side, staring at a place made by dragons for dragons.
Sanni smiled down at her. “Well, sometimes. Usually though, they come back with someone from another place who wants to come serve them. The more common change is Unbonded to Bonded. Dragons don’t choose lightly. They usually will have someone around for a while before they decide they want a specific person for themselves and not for the horde.”
While Emine wanted to ask why they were going to be Unbonded now, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. Sanni had been so calm and stable, but Emine could tell there was uncertainty under the surface there. She didn’t know if that had always been the case with Sanni or if it had only come the more and more the dragons had paid attention to the both of them.
The Alcoves were set into both sides of the valley that contained the town. From the bottom, from the town, the only sign of life were the holes set into the tops of the ridges, where the dragons came and went. There was an opening (okay, more than one) for people who couldn’t fly to make their way into the caverns.
They stood there now, each holding what they hadn’t wanted anyone else to move for them. Emine hadn’t had much she was attached to. It fit in the same bag she brought here.
Sanni brought just as much, but it had to be a greater sacrifice. Emine took her hand. Sanni squeezed it and they entered the Alcoves.