The Cat’s Eye Nebula of the Draco Constellation 3,262 Light Years from Earth
Nearly two dozen ships were assigned to follow Allanah’s vessel to her home-world in order to receive the upgrades that Doctor Linnaeus had spoken of. Citlally was surprised that the best-kept secret in the galaxy had so many ships to spare for this part of the mission; there were plenty of others who weren’t flying to Lorata.
“This group,” Citlally said to Xingfei as she and Endan walked through the hallway together, “sure is big for being such a secret.”
“That’s true,” the blue-skinned man agreed. “A lot of us aren’t on this station at all. I haven’t even met everyone who… who does this kind of stuff. I just know we have to… to…”
They had just rounded a corner, and Xingfei was slowing down, staring at someone in the crowd that filled the main hall. His tail was twitching like an angry cat’s, and his ears were folded backwards.
“What’s wrong, lad?” Endan asked him.
Xingfei shook his head and turned away. He resumed walking, a little bit faster than before, but nothing that would garner him extra attention. Once they were in the next lift, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“It was a friend of the K’zzyrch,” Xingfei explained. “Those giant green aliens…”
“The ones with the yellow splotches down their arms?” Endan asked. “They look like they hardly fit through the doors here.”
“Just about,” Xingfei agreed. “They – the Bangorans – are so mean and nasty that even Jalingan finds an excuse to not take jobs that involve working with them. I don’t know how they survive as a species when they fight with everyone – even their own kind.”
“And they’re allowed on the station?” Citlally asked.
“Eta Scorpii doesn’t discriminate – at least not as much as it should,” Xingfei explained. “If he wasn’t acting wild when he requested to dock, he’d have been let onto the station. I’m just glad that there’s a general expectation that unruly behavior will get you removed.”
“So you don’t fight those things?” Endan asked.
Xingfei shook his head. “Not in person, anyway. If we’re out there – flying – I can take him down easily. In here, he’d just crush me.”
The lift took them down to the docking bays. Xingfei hefted his bags – including one that contained the things that Jalingan had left behind – off the ground and led the others into the hallway. They walked a short distance along the hall before he entered a code into one of the door panels. It opened to reveal a small ship, not much bigger than Jalingan’s star-skipper, made of a dark metal alloy that seemed to absorb all of the light that fell on it.
“Wow, this is your ship?” Citlally asked.
“Fantastic, isn’t she?” Xingfei asked with a proud grin. “I call her Shadow Feather. She’s great for slipping through the darkness of the æther.”
“I’ll say!” Citlally agreed. Then she looked down at Jalingan’s leather bag. “Do you want me to take Jalingan’s things? There’s more than enough room for them on the Lionstar.”
“Not at all,” he told her, shaking his head. “I know Mannarius well enough to realize that he wants nothing to do with his cousin.”
“Ye know about that, too, lad?”
Xingfei nodded to Endan. “I was with Doctor Linnaeus when he went to see his son in the medical center,” he explained. “That’s how I first met Jalingan.”
“You mean,” Citlally said, “right after that failed mission? When Mannarius…”
“Hurt him, yes. Although… The mission was not a complete failure. I suppose that’s besides the point, tough.”
“But…” Citlally went on. “I couldn’t help but notice this… Why does Mannarius act the way he does around you? Like he can’t stand you?”
Xingfei thought for a moment. “I guess it’s because I like Jalingan.”
“That’s what Doctor Linnaeus mentioned,” Endan added.
“So now Mannarius thinks that Jalingan can’t have friends?” Citlally asked.
Xingfei chuckled and grinned at her. “I think that after what Mannarius lost, he has a reason to not want Jalingan to be happy. I see things differently, though. I lost my family to the K’zzyrch, but in between trying to stop their path of destruction, I do what I can to be happy.”
“So you mean –”
She looked over to the doorway to see who had interrupted her. It was Mannarius.
“We need to take off,” he told her. “The rest of the fleet is in lift-off procedures. Varilax and Dhruv are already on board.”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Xingfei reassured her. “You go on. We’ll see each other again at Vaharrish the Glorious.” He wrapped him arms around Citlally, patting her back. When he glanced over shoulder and saw Mannarius scowling at them, he only grinned.
“We have to go,” the Lion reminded them when Xingfei moved to hug Endan, irritation filling his voice.
“Relax, Mannarius,” Xingfei said. “I’ll have those signal jammers set long before you get to Eta Serpentis.”
“Well, if you like those two so much, you’d better,” Mannarius grumbled, “or the Lionstar will do what supernovas do best.”
He left without another word, and Citlally followed close behind, waving one last farewell to Xingfei.
The fleet that the Lionstar was joining was led by an Epsilon-class ship called Teh Jzoorasythe. It was an immense vessel from Allanah’s home-world, which she’d said translated to The Stargazer. It carried a great deal of her guards, plus a full crew to keep it running smoothly. It was round and smooth, with its wings, booms, nacelles, and other external parts shaped just right to make it look like a dragon while still being aerodynamic. Citlally was impressed by it, to say the least.
Aboard the Lionstar, she and Endan sat in the cockpit behind Mannarius, watching the view-screens as they took off from the docking bays of Space Station Eta Scorpii. Citlally pondered as they glided towards the warp gate that Jalingan had gone that way three days ago. She wondered whether he’d arrived at Vaharrish the Glorious already, and what he was up to on that dark and distant planet. She dared not ask anything out loud, though.
They received transmissions from Teh Jzoorasythe, and Mannarius sent in his warp requests. They could not make the jump to where they needed to be in just one go, so they had selected three warps to take. They would take the warp gate from Eta Scorpii to the next station, and from there to another, then finally to a station near the Cat’s Eye Nebula.
“I’ve always hated warping more than once in a day,” Mannarius grumbled as the warp gate powered up.
Dhruv gave his captain a sympathetic look. “It makes my stomach turn, too,” he said. “At least we’ll have a few days’ rest on Allanah’s planet while the upgrades are being done.”
“Yeah,” he replied, though his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.
Within moments, they were making their first passage through the warp gate system, and nobody bothered Mannarius until he was ready to speak again.
* ** *** ** *
The Lionstar followed Teh Jzoorasythe through the pale blue mist of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, Citlally staring out through the windows of their room the entire time. It had turned our that the warp gates took hours to power down and then up again with a new destination loaded, so they had gone to their room after a while to snuggle together on the couch.
She clung to Endan’s hands as the clouds passed by, thrilled to being able to get so close to a nebula. As soon its layers of rings were behind the ship, she could feel the Lionstar shift to a different standard of speed.
“Can you believe we’re in the Draco Constellation now?” she asked her husband. “Anyone looking at the way Draco curls around the Cat’s Eye is looking our direction right now.”
Endan nodded. “’Tis a feat indeed,” he told her. “I never expected to be out this way when we left Earth.”
“And now we get to see Allanah’s planet!” Citlally cheered. “We should get to the bridge. I’ll bet the solar system is coming into view.”
“Aye, lass, as long as ye don’t mind our good friend bein’ less than joyful in there.”
“Of course not,” she replied with a smirk. Then she tugged on his hand and led him out of Mannarius’s room.
The bridge was a busy place, even though it was just Dhruv and the captain. Citlally was secretly relieved that the Varilax had decided to stay in his room for the time being. She and Endan received only a brief acknowledgment before they took their seats and gazed up at the view screens.
“You should be seeing a pale yellow star at these coordinates,” a voice said over the communication channel. There was a beeping sound that meant incoming data. “It will look almost white.”
“We have an F2V star coming into view,” Dhruv told his captain.
Mannarius nodded. “Pale yellow star is on screen, Jzoorasythe,” he said over the communication channel.
“Good,” the other voice replied.
“That must be Allanah,” Citlally whispered to Endan.
He nodded to her, but otherwise made sure that their presence didn’t disturb the captain.
“Remember what we went over before: Ser has twelve planets orbiting it. As we’re going in, the sixth one you see orbits our star among a large belt of asteroids. Keep your shields up; our flight path will keep us out of the thick of it, but there are plenty of stray rocks that could cause a lot of damage.”
“Understood,” Mannarius replied. He turned to Dhruv. “Keep us out of the orbital plane, and check our shields.”
“Of course, captain,” Dhruv confirmed.
Communication went down to a minimum while the ships glided into Ser’s heliosphere. Once they had passed through the termination shock, Mannarius was back on the comms.
“We are within Ser’s helioshpere now,” the captain reported to the Jzoorasythe.
“Well done,” the other ship replied. “We’ll be avoiding most of our planets’ orbits, I am glad to say. Aside from the asteroid field, you’ll just have to watch out for our ice giant.”
“We have visual now,” Mannarius confirmed.
Citlally followed his gaze on the view screen. The planet hung massive in space, blue-green, looming, as though daring any ships to try to visit it. She could just see the edge of one of its moons, and remarked at how it looked like such a subservient follower of the larger celestial body.
“We’ll need to start slowing down now,” the comm told them. “Ætherial speeds will do us no good this close to the planets.”
“Understood,” the captain replied. “Dhruv, switch over to planetary engines. Keep pace with Allanah’s ship.”
“Yes, captain.” Dhruv focused for several moments on typing the correct commands into his console. They felt a considerable shift in the ship’s speed, until they slowed enough that they did not pass the Jzoorasythe. Outside, Citlally could see several other ships coming up close behind Allanah’s. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in a solar system with so many planets.”
Mannarius might have nodded, had he not been so focused on his view screen. Dhruv did not take long to notice it, too.
“Is that ship glowing?” Endan asked.
“It looks like it,” Mannarius replied.
“Oh!” Citlally chimed in. “Allanah mentioned this to me. She said that her star’s light gives a very special glow to everything on Lorata.”
Mannarius turned around in his seat and looked at her dubiously. “Is this some kind of radiation that she failed to warn us about?”
Citlally shook her head. “If it is radiation, it’s not the bad kind. The way she explained it, Ser’s light is the driving energy behind, well… magic, basically.”
The Lion did not look convinced. “Her people have magic?”
Citlally sighed. “I guess it comes back to the age-old adage that anything too complex to understand gets called magic. She admitted that her scientists are still studying what it all means. Anyhow, that yellowish-green glow we’re seeing on her ship is a good thing.”
“And is that going to happen to the Lionstar, too?” the captain wanted to know.
“I don’t think so,” she told him. “Allanah made it sound like it only worked if something or someone was native to Lorata.”
Mannarius shrugged, trying not to act at all impressed. They went on with their approach towards the planet, avoiding obstacles wherever they came up. All the while, the golden-green glow enveloping Allanah’s ship brightened. They slowed as they came up to the planet, ringing the comms as they floated just outside the atmosphere.
“Teh Jzoorasythe is switching to orbital systems,” Allanah told the fleet. “I’m sending over atmospheric entry orders. Be sure to read them over and come down in the correct order. Lionstar, we’re starting with you.”
“I feel special now,” Mannarius replied with a grin. He winked at his co-pilot, who chuckled.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Allanah told him. “My team and I will be in the shuttle in a few minutes. Standby for entry procedures.”
“Lionstar standing by,” Dhruv replied. He set the computer to trail Teh Jzoorasythe until she got back on the comm.
True to her word, a shuttle emerged from Teh Jzoorasythe in only a few minutes. It signaled the Lionstar, then began its plunge into Lorata’s atmosphere. Dhruv raised the ship’s shield before following her in, and made sure that everyone had their harnesses buckled. It was as smooth a ride as they could hope for, all things considered, but Citlally was still relieved when they were through the worst of it.
“Welcome to –” Allanah’s transmission was cut off suddenly, and Mannarius peered out of his window to try to figure out why.
“What is going on out there?” he asked his co-pilot.
Dhruv shook his head. “There’s a lot of static on her comm.”
“Is that what I think it is?” Citlally asked, pointing outside the window, to a faint shape just beyond the shuttle.
“If you’re thinkin’ its a dragon, lass, then I would have to agree,” Endan told her. He could see it, too, and it was approaching them fast. “Didn’t Allanah tell us that dragons lived here?”
“I thought they were friendly to her kind,” Mannarius noted. “This one looks pretty mad.”
“Lionstar!” the comm came through. Dhruv adjusted the signal to make it clearer. “Lionstar, look out. I don’t know what made this beast so aggressive, but he’s headed straight for us. Use evasive maneuvers and get to the landing pad. I will deal with him.”
“Understood!” Dhruv replied. He looked to his captain.
“They have to know better than I do how to deal with that thing,” Mannarius told him. “dragons are the stuff of her legends, not ours.” He pointed a thumb Citlally’s way.
The Lionstar flew in a wayward pattern, meaning to keep the dragon interested in easier prey: the shuttle that was heading steadily towards it.
Citlally stared at the window, awed by the beast’s shimmering copper scales. It was hard not to be awed by it, even though it did carry a terribly large boulder, and it was screeching loudly.
“That thing is pissed,” Citlally commented.
“And we’re staying away from it!” Mannarius replied as he maneuvered down through an especially strong wind stream.
The dragon dove and turned suddenly, and Dhruv gasped. “Jzoorasythe shuttle, watch out!” he shouted into the comm. “You have incoming!”
“We’re already bracing for impact,” Allanah came back. “Just get to the landing pad. The crew down there already knows what’s going on.”
“Understood,” Dhruv replied. He sighed and looked to his captain, who was focused on steering the Lionstar to safety.
Citlally craned her head to keep an eye on the shuttle. She watched with dread as the dragon bellowed out angrily, then reared back to thrust the rock towards the shuttle. The pilot banked left as best he could, but the boulder still managed to hit the starboard wing.
“Allanah!” Citlally cried as she watch the wing crack and fall away.
“Don’t worry,” Mannarius told her. “If that pilot is worth even half his license, he’ll be able to steer that thing into a safe crash landing.”
“That’s a crazy oxymoron!” she said, her voice still tense.
Mannarius turned and looked at her, eyebrows raised. “What did you say?”
“How is a crash landing supposed to be safe?” she replied. “Besides, nothing is down there but ocean, jagged rocks, and those towers.”
“Then he’ll be heading towards the ocean,” Mannarius replied as he turned back to his console.
Dhruv was bringing the Lionstar down onto the landing pad as Citlally shook her head. “They’ll drown!” she insisted.
“If they knew what they were doing when they built that shuttle,” Dhruv told her after he’d keyed in the final landing procedures, “especially in this environment, it will have a flotation system. How about you wait and see?”
“Lionstar, come in,” a voice said over the comm. “This is Lorata ground control at Technor II. Are you receiving?”
Dhruv got back on the comm. “This is the Lionstar, Dhruv Caralynx speaking. We read you.”
“Is your captain available?”
Mannarius got on the comm. “Mannarius Klavernning III, at your service.”
“Glad you made it down, captain. Lady Allanah has cleared you to disembark,” the voice told them, “but for your safety, you should wait for her shuttle.”
“Acknowledged,” he replied.
They stared out the window as the shuttle rounded the tower, wavering as it descended. Smoke began to billow out of the damaged side, and the turbine on the other side was no longer spinning. It made one last wobbling curve around the tower as its landing gear unfurled, then hit the water. It coasted towards the rocks that surrounded the landing pad far too quickly, then came to an abrupt stop among them.
In the next moment, the landing crew was rushing out of the building towards the shuttle, and Mannarius saw his comm flashing. He picked up to have the man on the other end walk him through the airlock specifications. As soon as they were cleared to disembark, Citlally unlocked her landing harness and dashed out of the cockpit.
A few minutes later, she was out in the cool ocean air, breathing in its salty scent as she ran to the edge of the landing pad. It was rather like a dock for an ocean-faring ship, she found herself noticing, but fashioned of metal panels – probably specially-coated to keep them from rusting – and far smoother. There were two trails of lights along its plane, which jutted out over the lapping waves. The landing pad led right into the tower that rose high into the misty air.
Citlally hurried over to Allanah as the uniformed crew helped her out of the shuttle. “Are you okay?”
“I will be,” she replied, limping across the dock. “That was a pretty rough landing.”
A medic was running up to them as the crew sat Allanah down to look her over. Some of them left to get the rest of the crew out of the shuttle.
“Get security to send out scouts,” she ordered some of the crew. “Find out who that dragon was, and why he is breaking the treatises.”
“Of course, milady,” they agreed, and were soon off to carry out her orders.
“We’re supposed to have leave to use the skies as we need,” Allanah explained to her human friend. “It’s not often that we meet a dragon who doesn’t understand that.”
Before Citlally could say anything about that, there came a loud pop from the shuttle, and it tilted over at a steep angle just as the last man climbed out. The shuttle sank several feet down into the water and stopped. It was deep enough that ocean water was able to seep in as the waves lapped against it.
“That doesn’t look good,” Citlally noted.
Allanah shook her head. “No, especially with the tide starting to come in.” She sighed and asked the medic to stand up. She seemed to be fine, except for a few bruises. “And the way the wind is blowing, there’s rain on the way. We should get inside. My crew will get the Lionstar into a bay, then figure out what to do about my shuttle.”
Citlally nodded and followed Allanah. By then, Mannarius and the other men were descending from the ship. Endan took her arm and walked inside with her, smiling at the way she seemed so excited to finally be on the planet inhabited by elves and dragons shrouded in magic and ancient legends.
* ** *** ** *
It rained for the next couple of days. The crew of the facility that Allanah was in charge of had a harder time than they’d expected in getting her shuttle out of the ocean. When they finally managed to get it onto the dock, Citlally had followed Allanah outside. The shuttle had spent over a day and half submerged in the salty water amid the rocks, and though the water was now draining out of it, it was very much damaged.
“The thing is full of eels,” Allanah groaned as she knelt over the opening to one of the hatches.
“Are the eels here dangerous?” Citlally asked as she climbed up to get a look of her own.
Allanah shook her head. “More like delicious,” she replied. Then she hopped back down onto the dock and looked to her technicians. “Get the eels to the kitchen. We might as well save the fishermen some trouble.”
“Of course, my lady,” one of the technicians replied.
“Let the mechanics salvage whatever they can,” she went on. “The metal, the crystals… they’ll know what to do.”
“Right away,” the other technician said.
“I’s great that you don’t let anything go waste,” Citlally told her as the workers set off to start their work.
“Indeed,” Allanah replied. “I was saddened to hear that your home-world took longer to take the practice to heart.”
Citlally gave a disappointed nod. “At least now they’re working to fix all of that. She followed Allanah inside, to where several mechanics were working on the Lionstar. “Oh – how is the work coming along?”
“It’s just getting started, really,” Allanah explained. “They’ve been getting acquainted with how his ship works before they take things apart.”
“What are they going to change?”
“He has a good hull,” she explained, “and good engines. We’re going to give him a specialized shielding system, plus a weapons system that will give him an edge over the K’zzyrch.”
Allanah nodded. “He already knows all about it. We’ll decide later who will be manning the weapons. It’s nice to not have to add so much to one of the ships. The one in the next bay over needs much more extensive work.”
“So now what?” Citlally asked. “We just wait and let your technicians do all the work?”
“More or less,” Allanah replied with a shrug as she began heading back to the main causeway. “We have plenty for you to learn about Lorata, if you like. I cannot promise you any sort of approval to travel anywhere outside of Technor, but there is a lot to do right here. Consider it like a space station, so to speak.”
Citlally nodded. “So… about that dragon…”
“Oh,” Allanah said, pausing to look back at her. “He was from the Dragon Isles. I have… family there. It turns out that while I was gone, their king passed away. Now they are in a state of terrible unrest.”
“It is indeed,” Allanah sighed. She paused to give directions to the mechanics, then led Citlally inside. “My elder brother went there to try to help them sort out the lineage, but the dragons took it as a sign that he was going to take over, so now they’re angry.”
“Wait…” Citlally blinked. “Your brother would have reason to take over a throne?”
“I’m sure that I mentioned before,” Allanah explained as they walked along, “that I’m part of a royal lineage. My grandmother’s line gave up royal power. She wasn’t even a first-born, so she a rescinded any claim to the thrones that the rest of the family occupies.”
“There are multiple thrones?!”
Allanah let out a soft laugh as they turned a corner. “My family branched out generations ago. The point is, My brother and I – and my younger sister – have to be careful when it comes to matters related to the throne. That dragon… I don’t think it really understood that my brother was only their to help sort out the lineage and decide on who should ascend the throne of the Dragon Isles.”
“But it attacked your shuttle! You sound pretty calm about that.”
“We’re used to it,” she replied in a tone of humble acceptance. “We might not be interested in the power, but we still get caught up in the drama. Don’t worry about the dragon, though; he won’t be bothering us again.”
They walked on, talking together as they headed back to the upper levels of the tower. Allanah told Citlally about her family and some of the history of Technor, all of which fascinated the human to no end. When they got up to the level where Allanah’s office was, Citlally stared at the guards.
“I’ve noticed something,” said as they walked into the room. “A lot of the guards around here don’t just keep a gun at their hip. They’re armed with spears.”
“Very much so,” Allanah agreed as she showed Citlally to a seat and then took her own.
“Well… The thing is, it’s strange to see such an old-fashioned weapon right alongside all of this technology.”
“I can understand that,” Allanah replied. “The spear is very important to my family, Citlally. It goes all the way back to our oldest ancestors. We decided not to give it up even in light of all of our advancements. Besides, the guns pack a lot more force, and we only want to use them if we absolutely have to.”
“They’re important to your culture?” Citlally asked. “They were important to my ancestors, too. We called them tepoztopilli. They looked a little different from yours, but they were effective.”
Allanah looked intrigued. “Did you ever train in how to you use one?”
Citlally grinned at the elf, hardly keeping in a chuckle. “Would you believe that I have? Endan always said that it was silly to study something so old, but I told him that if he could practice with a sword, I could practice with a spear.”
“So he can use a weapon, too?”
She nodded. “He’s better with a blade than he is at trying to aim anything. It’s the same with me; I was never interested in firing practice. We just like to keep the ways of our ancestors alive.”
Allanah looked very pleased by the sound of that. “That’s good to know,” she said. Then she called one of her guards into the room and asked him to hand Citlally hes spear. “Can you show me what you can do with it?”
Citlally looked at the weapon for a moment before nodding. “Okay,” she acquiesced, “but It has been quite a few months since I last practiced.”
It took her a few minutes to get acquainted with the heft of the spear, and to get into the stance that she had learned in her training, but her muscle memory kicked in soon enough. She placed her feet just so, bent her knees, and practiced swinging the spear. In a few minutes more, she was showing Allanah her more advanced techniques, the way she could turn and thrust, how she could back away to avoid an attack. Allanah seemed impressed with her skill in using the weapon.
“You should keep it,” Allanah said when Citlally tried to hand the spear back to the guard. Then she told him, “Head down to the armory and get another one. She’s going to need this one.”
“Of course, milady,” the guard replied as he bowed. He left the room and Allanah turned back to Citlally.
“I’m actually relieved that you can use a weapon. That will make things much easier. And your husband can use a sword? We’ll be sure to get him one. We can still issue you guns, if you want them…”
Citlally shook her head. “Like I said, I can’t aim worth anything. I’m better off with the spear.”
“Very well,” Allanah said. She paused and sent a maid off for tea, then sat down again. “I wanted to ask you about something, Citlally. Now that we’re safe… here on Lorata… I was wondering…”
“What is it?” Citlally asked when her elvan friend faltered.
“Could you tell be about your dreams?” Allanah asked. “The one you had when you were first injected with the venom.”
Citlally blinked. “Wh – Sure, but why?”
“Mine were nothing but nonsense,” the elf explained. “Clouds and rain, wind blowing over tall grass, and then a lot of nonsense. Not a single symbol that the K’zzyrch have been searching for.”
“So why mine?”
Allanah shrugged. “I’ve been wondering whether the dreamer they’re looking for is a figment of their collective imaginations, or lost somewhere in the far reaches of the Orion Arm, or…”
“Somehow a member of the galaxy’s best-kept secret?” Citlally finished for her.
Allanah grinned at her. “So what did you dream about?”
“I… I was a queen,” Citlally admitted.
Now Allanah was intrigued. “What else?”
“There… there was…” Citlally paused, trying to sort through which details she actually wanted to share. “I had all of these children, but they were all dragons.”
“You gave birth to them, I take it?”
Citlally nodded. “Yeah… there were no eggs or anything. The weirdest part is, Endan had really similar dreams from the venom. He fathered a lot of young dragons, but his queen wasn’t me. A – and in my dream, the father wasn’t Endan. That was the worst part.”
Allanah stared at her human friend for several moments. Citlally was about to ask her if anything was wrong when she finally spoke up. “I’m so glad that you didn’t say anything before.” She sounded worried, surprised, tense – all of it rolled into one. “Citlally, don’t tell anyone else what you dreamed, okay?”
“Of course,” she replied with a nod. “Jalingan already warned us not to talk about our dreams, but –”
“Jalingan warned you?”
She nodded again. “Yeah, but –”
“Citlally, did you tell him what you told me?”
“Well, no,” Citlally said. “Like I said, he told us not to tell anyone, not even him.”
Allanah looked dumbfounded. “He never wants to talk about the k’zshyrk dreams. I’m surprised he said anything to you.”
“It was when we were on planet Mekse,” Citlally explained. “He said that those symbols are important to the K’zzyrch. The queen, the baby dragons without eggs, things being purple.”
“Did he tell you about his own dreams?” Allanah wanted to know.
“His…” Citlally shook her head. “Not a word.”
“But you know that he has the scar, don’t you?”
“Of course. I just never…” She paused, thinking about Jalingan in the hospital, having the strangest dreams even while he fought for his life. “Do you really think he remembers them?”
“I’m sure he does,” Allanah replied, “but he won’t open up about what they were. He’s been plagued by nightmares for years, but he will never say what they’re about.”
“Years? I thought we just had the dreams right after being poisoned.”
“That’s normally true,” Allanah admitted, “but with the trauma he went through at the time he was poisoned, they’ve persisted.”
“So why do you want to know about Jalingan’s dreams?”
Allanah thought for a moment. “Did he tell you why you have to keep your dream a secret?”
“Yeah. He said that the K’zzyrch are look for the people who have very specific dreams. It’s like they’re afraid of them or something, because they torture and kill anyone who admits to dreaming about certain symbols.”
“Right,” Allanah nodded. “It has to do with them being defeated. The thing is, up until now, a lot of what Jalingan told you has been hearsay, treated as mere urban legends. But if you’ve dreamed of being the mothering queen, and Endan fathered dragons, then the third piece of the puzzle has to be true, too.”
“What?” Citlally asked, narrowing her eyes. “There’s more?”
“Jalingan didn’t tell you?” When Citlally shook her head, Allanah told her, “There’s also the one who dreams of being born a dragon. He – or she, for all we know – is supposed to be the one who brings for the greatest defeat of the K’zzyrch.”
Citlally frowned and sat back in her chair. “I’m surprised he never told me about that part.”
“Perhaps it was because you were in mourning. Listen… we can’t take the dreams literally,” Allanah told her. “They need to be interpreted. From what Doctor Linnaeus and a lot of us has been able to figure out, it goes like this: The queen and her sire are to deliver the conqueror, and that conqueror takes down the highest echelons of K’zzyrch power. They lose their prime lords, their knights, even the Dark Apostates.”
“But they want to be rid of the apostates,” Citlally reminded her.
“Very much so,” Allanah agreed, “but the conqueror also releases a dark power. He opens the way for a mighty and all-knowing being to irrevocably change the face of Vaharrish the Glorious.”
“Change is good sometimes,” Citlally told her. “Back on Earth, we have the story of Shiva, who –”
“I know all about rebirth through destruction,” Allanah cut in. “The thing is, the K’zzyrch will do anything to stop it. They would rather keep on struggling with the apostates than go through any changes.”
Citlally nodded, thinking over everything Allanah had told her. “Do we have to find the one who dreamed of being born a dragon? The search would probably take a long time…”
“It would, but I have a sinking feeling that we already know who it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a crazy theory,” Allanah said, “but Jalingan has always been the most secretive about everything related to the k’zshyrk dreams. He won’t tell his dreams to anyone, not even that silly A’untoren who likes him so much.”
“You really think…”
Allanah nodded. “He knows that the K’zzyrch will kill anyone – without a moment of hesitation, sure and swift – who dreams of anything even remotely like being born as a dragon.”
Citlally pursed her lips, thinking back on everything that she knew about the man. “He’s in a lot more danger than we thought, isn’t he?”
“I’m afraid so,” Allanah told her. “It’s bad enough that he’s a double agent – mercenary as well as part of the rebellion and sabotage – but if he did dream of being born a dragon, then he’s the conqueror. And if any of the K’zzyrch find out that he has the black scar, they will kill him. They will realize that he’s double-crossing them, and they will do what Mannarius tried to do years ago. Except they won’t fail.”
She swallowed hard, staring at Allanah. “He’s a smart guy,” Citlally reminded her. “He’s really good at keeping secrets. I mean, he’s been at this for years; he knows what he has to do.”
Allanah shook her head, as though doing so could shake off everything that was bothering her. “Yes, of course, Citlally. Well… it was just a thought, anyhow. I could be wrong. The conqueror could be anyone. Still, with this mission we have going on…”
“What?” Citlally asked when her friend faltered.
“Well, if we have the queen, and we have the father,” Allanah told her, “it would certainly be nice to have the conqueror. Then maybe this mission could mean the end of the K’zzyrch being a menace once and for all.