A thousand torrents of thoughts surged through the emerald dragon's mind as it did all it can to distance itself from the two. Questions raced through its reptilian mind: Why was that man able to communicate with him in that manner? What made that mortal different from all others it had encountered before? Why did it feel a profound mixture of excitement, giddiness and fear each time they saw each other? What was it supposed to do? Many possible answered surfaced but few seemed to make satisfactory sense.
All Savati knew for certain was that what was transpiring was something altogether different. And yet far too strangely familiar.
* * *
"Nicodemus," Vandross slammed his fists at the talons that were holding him aloft, "The dragon. We have to catch it."
But the saffron dragon refused to take chase. Instead, it continued to hover in the air where it had caught Vandross. With effort, Vandross could still make out the rapidly fading form of the emerald dragon that shot towards the distant horizon. He knew that in the few seconds that remainded, the dragon could vanish in the distance and the chances of tracking it would be next to impossible.
"Nicodemus," Vandross called out again, but this time using a softer calmer tone, "The dragon-"
Clearly in response, the saffron dragon suddenly opened its talons and allowed Vandross to drop. Gravity imposing its will upon the dragonrider, Vandross immediately began to plummet for the watery sands below. Pulling his legs close to his chest, Vandross maneuvered himself to catch the wind as he fell, then at the last second, twisted his body to rechannel the force of impact into a rolling motion. Water sprayed into the air as Vandross struck the ground, and wet sand sloshed outwards in a violent display as Vandross allowed his body to redirect the force of the impact into a less damaging blow.
Almost mockingly, Nicodemus descended gently to the drier portions of the sand a few yards from where Vandross had struck the ground. With a swipe of its taloned claw, the dragon brought forth a dense growth of moss and grass to rise, providing it a cushion to rest upon.
The dragon thrusted its other talon into the earth in response. WIth the defiant gaze of its vertically slit eyes never breaking contact with that of his dragonrider's, the dragon tore a portion of the wet sand from the ground and allowed a thorny vine to rise in its place. Vandross watched the vigorously intertwining weed almost tear itself into shreds and deciphered Nicodemus' words.
In some ways, Vandross was already anticipating what his Onus Bonded dragon had to say.
"You know why. That green dragon... Savati... and I share some connection. Some bond which rivals even the one we have forged. You and I are Onus Bonded, Nicodemus. You are privy to both my thoughts and feelings. You know how Savati's mere presence affects me. You know this isn't-"
The saffron dragon slammed its tail into the ground angrily. It was very clear that Nicodemus was not happy. But what suprised Vandross was how violently his dragon was reacting.
"Savati is my Other. Don't you understand that?"
Nicodemus trembled with contained rage. The dragon felt its emotions well up, rising into a terrible wave of anger that was fueled by both jealousy and pain. But at the same time, it felt the pain that Vandross himself was feeling. It felt the part of Vandross that hated the fact what was transpiring was hurting Nicodemus.
It buried its talons once again into the sand. This time, rather than angrily communicating, Nicodemus struggled to regain some level of its composure and gently manipulated the sand to explain its words. From the sand, a sapling rose and began to expand. Small circular leaves began to erupt as the plant's tip opened to reveal a rapidly explanding fruit. A sweet ripe scent began to fill the air as the fruit shifted from its greenish tones to a more yellow shade of ripeness.
"I know," Vandross admitted as he tried to rise back to his feet. His legs still throbbed with pain from the fall. "And all that time we have spent together has not suddenly lost all importance, Nicodemus. You and I have gone through a lot. You and I have survived many challenges... many tests. It is even possible that you and I owe each other our lives more than anyone else can ever owe another in this whole world. But Nicodemus.... Savati. Savati is my Other. I can't explain how I know this for certain. But you can sense thanks to our Onus Bond that deep down, amidst the whirlwind of emotions that I am struggling to tame, I know this to be true."
The fruit's silken skin broke open. The yellow tone began to shift into the red shade of overripeness.
"And we would both be a fool not to see where this ends."
Nicodemus slowly nodded. Vandross was right. Even among the dragons that believed the time of man should come to an end, the idea that a man and a dragon who would regard each other as absolute equals was at best a legend. An impossibility. For many dragons, the idea that man would ever view a dragon as such was as likely as a the sun gaining the ability to weep. For other dragons, such an event was deemed proof that the Ancestral Dragons allowed the era of man to come after the fall of the dragons, because the third era to follow was one where both deemed each other to be true equals. And Nicodemus had long believed in the latter.
It was only jealous at the fact it was not to be the dragon that accomplished the impossible.
Vandross walked up to the overly ripened fruit and tore it free from the weighed down stalk. He stared at the now sour-smelling thing and watched as its sticky nectar began to drip down to the ground. He looked up at Nicodemus and slowly shook his head.
"Do you not care for me enough to want me to see this to the end?"
* * *
Savati glanced back and saw nothing but clouds behind it. The yellow sands below had long been replaced by the verdant blur of endless green. Far from the lands of both the Faith and the Febhed, Savati hoped that Vandross and his dragon would not dare chase after them. This deep into the wilderness, there were other powers and domains that claimed authority of both the skies and the land.
But distracted by the concern of its persuers, Savati failed to notice the descend of dark feathered things that held a glimmering net between them. In a silent calculated stroke, the dark fliers crossed paths and entangled Savati in their enchanted web. Azure fire surged through the threads as the net's magics worked to bring the emerald dragon down. And just before Savati felt all semblance of consciousness and strength fade from it, it saw riding upon one of the dark fliers the form of a woman dressed in formal red velvet hunting garb with a grinning ivory face crafted from bone.