Vandross continued to fall. The air rushed past him like a raging river of cold and mist. The pull of gravity upon him seemed to grow stronger with each passing second. Vandross could still feel his bond to Nicodemus and resisted the urge to call out for help. He was falling faster and faster as the rock face of the cliffside behind him simply vanished into a gray and white blur.
The dragon remained at the cliff's edge, seeing the black form of its Onus Bonded rider getting smaller and smaller. It felt the fangs of anxiety biting deep and resisted the urge to launch itself back into the air and chase after him. Vandross was, after all, in many ways a part of Nicodemus' own body and soul.
They had first met seven years ago.
It was a warm bright morning when Nicodemus first saw Vandross. Barely an active member of the Faith, the young man was standing across the dragon pen and staring at the many dragons that were busily feeding. Nicodemus saw the excitement in the young man's eyes and sensed the passion deep within him. He was unlike most members of the Faith who seemed more anxious to serve the Faith and spread the song of the Ancestral Dragons. He was truly fascinated with dragons and sought so much to find the one who could forge a true bond with.
The days transformed into weeks. Vandross visited the pen almost daily. Nicodemus would see the young man approach the pen, taking small tentative steps as if he was afraid coming close too soon would scare the dragons away. Some of the other dragons have noticed Vandross in the past and amongst themselves have discussed how naive and young the candidate was. None felt the semblance of the Onus Bond with the young man. None felt he had either potential or promise as one of the Faith. But Nicodemus saw something else. While it was undeniable how unexperienced the human was, Nicodemus could see a truth that existed in this young man. The innocence and enthusiasm in his eyes was pure.
As was the love.
The young Vandross had a passion for dragons. The young Vandross truly sought to find a dragon whom it would forge a bond with. The young man truly felt incomplete until he found the dragon that made them whole.
And Nicodemus wanted that for him as well.
"No, Nicodemus. Don't."
The dragon watched as the tiny speck of black that was Vandross began to fade into the clouds far below. Panic began to grow within the dragon's heart. Was this the day that Nicodemus would lose his Onus Bond? Was this the day that all the sacrifices and the decisions made before would cease being part of its present life and become part of the memories of what has come to pass.
Seven years ago, the young Vandross approached the pen as he had very many times. Beside him walked the man called the Voice of Faith. Vandross stared at the many dragons and Nicodemus could remember his words so clearly.
"He's here, Tajuc. I know he is. The dragon whom I am intended to forge the bond with."
The Voice of Faith warned Vandross then. Warned him that not everyone finds their dragon. Warned him not everyone can forge the bond. "Most seek to forge a bond and merely find momentary ties forming. Others never even find one that resonates with their own song. Vandross, if you cannot feel the Onus Bond form, do not think you lack-"
"But he's here! I know it," the young Vandross ran into the pen and began walking past the many dragons that were feeding. Nicodemus felt in its own heart the yearning that the man would succeed. Nicodemus wanted the man to find his dragon. He wanted him to be happy.
"Vandross, don't search. Feel the song. Let the song guide you."
Nicodemus stared directly at the young Vandross. It saw the sweat dotting the human's skin. It smelled the excitement surging through his blood. It heard the joy in his voice. But as Nicodemus watched the man, it realized the man was staring straight back at him. Tajuc walked to Vandross' side and looked up as well to see which dragon Vandross had chosen.
The dragon realized both humans were staring back at it.
"He's my dragon, Tajuc. He's the one," Vandross smiled as he stepped forward. The young man had no fear of Nicodemus. While it has happened in the past that a dragon feels uneasy by a human's approach and attacked in self defense, Vandross seemed to have no such fears of Nicodemus. "He's the one I feel the Onus Bond with."
Tajuc raised his gaze higher and offered a whispered song to the Ancestral Dragons. He then brought his gaze down and looked at Nicodemus. His right hand motioned towards Vandross. "Dragon, you stand before a candidate of the Faith. The man before you is Vandross, child of Oyen and Rafteg. He comes before you offering the Onus Bond, that you and he forever be forged into one soul and one heart. That your talons be his hands. That his lips be your voice."
Nicodemus could only stare at Vandross. He could see the excitement in the young man's eyes. He could see the hope, so fragile and yet so strong, that he was right and that he had chosen the dragon meant for him.
"Dragon, the song of your Ancestors rings in my ears. They have named you Nicodemus. If this man is he whom you shall share the Onus Bond with, then let your own song be sung that the harmony of your two destinies be made known. Let your song be sung that you two be tied to each other, sharing life and death, pain and hunger, fear and exhaustion, strength and memories for as long as you both remain as you are, half souls lacking the Other that completes you."
Vandross' eyes grew wet with the threat of falling tears. He felt something was wrong. He felt the dragon hesitate.
Nicodemus saw the hope tremble. The dragon felt the joy ebb. The dragon closed its eyes, took a deep breath of air, and chose to sing.
"Nicodemus, please. Don't come after me."
The dragon was the speck vanish into the clouds below.
Every urge and instinct screamed inside of it to move. To act. To fly. To take chase. To catch his Vandross before he hit the ground. Seven years they were bound to one another. Seven years they carried each other's burdens. Seven years they were one life.
But deep inside itself, Nicodemus knew it had made a decision that day many years ago. And it knew now that today it had to make a decision as well.
The voice faded away. The dragon could no longer hear Vandross through the bond.
With a cry, Nicodemus launched itself into the air and with a song, the dragon dove to chase after his rider into the clouds.