The man raised his hands towards the sky, slowly opening his hand to motion his fingers towards the clouds. Immediately in response, the sky changes. The clouds break away and reveal a clear shimmering sky. Fading hints of where the stars once shone could still be glimpsed, had one known how to look.
With a motion of his other hand, the waters began to grow calmer. The rhythmic motion of waves settled down into a barely perceptible stillness. The froth of the waters faded away. The whole ocean settled into a placid glass-like surface, reflecting the clear sky above.
The man looked down upon the mirror-like water and stared at the reflection that gazed back. The tired skin. The angry eyes. The broad nose. The imperfect growth of hair upon his chest. The man was old. Perhaps within his late sixties. The face was familiar.
"Your mindscape image," a voice asked and the whole world seemed to darkened in response. Clouds suddenly emerged from the clear sky. The waters began to tremble. The beach shifted as rocks began to emerge from the very earth. "That image is that of your Other?"
"Why are you here?" the man in the water spat out towards the sound of the voice. He sought the source of the intruding presence and immediately found it a few yards by the shoreline, standing a few feet from the very sands. The intruder stood in a non-threatening stance, with his hands held loosely at his sides. His hair danced with the sudden onset of wind. His eyes looked at the other nervously. It was clear the intruder knew his presence here was not welcome.
But the man in the waters who could shape the world instinctively could not deny what he was seeing. Here, in the mindscape of a dragon, the truth was impossible to conceal. Here, in the mindscape of a dragon, the Other's face could be seen.
"Nicodemus," the man by the beach called to the other, "I... really am sorry to intrude upon your mindscape. I heard the sounds of battle. I could not see what was going on from where I had been imprisoned. But I could feel..."
"Savati," the man standing amidst the water shook his head, "You should not have come here."
"I just think that..."
"Haven't you have done enough damage?" Nicodemus snarled back. The clouds thickened now into darkening mountains. The tide had begun to rise. The waters had turned rough. "Haven't you realized how much you've complicated everything else? Vandross was my Onus Bond. He was the one I had chosen to become tied to in both soul and life. And you had to come and ruin it all? Complicate things into this... this..."
"Nicodemus," Savati raised both hands in hopes Nicodemus would stop and give him a chance to explain. But the act merely incensed Nicodemus further.
"YOU RUINED IT ALL!" Nicodemus howled and the world howled with him. Lightning tore through the sky, as the waves violently rose and crashed against the sands. The winds howled into monstrous surges that cut through the air and left thunder in its wake. Mountains rose from the sands, then buckled against their own immense weight, crumbling into landslides and massive fissures that attempted to swallow the sea. "YOU RUINED THE BOND I SHARE WITH VANDROSS! ALL THOSE YEARS OF TRUST, OF SECURITY, OF SHARED STRENGTH AND PASSION! YOU CAME INTO OUR LIVES AND RUINED IT ALL!"
Savati was thrown from the invisible place where he stood by a massive wave that towered over forty feet high. The sands opened like a hungry maw as he tumbled backwards into the ground. Lightning then struck and one side of the rocky mountain exploded, becoming a terrible landslide of boulders that sought to bury Savati beneath the earth.
"I HAVE BLED FOR HIM! I HAVE SERVED HIM AND CARED FOR HIM! I HAVE PROTECTED HIM, FED HIM, WATCHED OVER HIM! I HAVE DONE ALL THESE THINGS AND ALL YOU HAVE DONE WAS COME AND MAKE EVERYTHING THAT I HAVE DONE POINTLESS! MEANINGLESS! DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH YOU'VE DONE?"
Nicodemus rose from the waters now, his body effortlessly rising from the chaotic weather that reflected his rage. He rose higher and higher, until the very beachside he stood before was now an island before him that became the focal point of a massive uncaring storm.
"Nicodemus please!" Savati cried out but Nicodemus cared not to hear a single word. Though Savati could very easily fight back and affect the mindscape as well, he had hoped Nicodemus would instead try to see.
All Nicodemus had to do was see, after all.
The mindscape was the shared mental link all Dragons could enter at will. Like a sanctuary from the real world, the mindscape was a world of perceptions and time outside that of the physical realm. Older dragons referred to the mindscape as the Internal Song of every Dragon. A world of music that was instinctively shaped by a dragons' own thoughts and feelings. And any other dragons in the vicinity could easily visit another's mindscape by merely resonating to the dragon's internal song. While the mindscape was immaterial and purely musical imagery, it offered a safe ground for dragons to challenge one another, to communicate, to train and learn the many intonations and harmonies of their ancestors and one other final purpose: in the mindscape, a dragon manifested in the form of their Other.
The oceans rose like massive fingers, then closed upon the beach like a crushing watery fist. The island was drowned by the golden waves and vanished from the mindscape.
"WHY COULD YOU NOT JUST LEAVE US ALONE?!?"
The storm slowly began to abate. The waters began to settle. And where the island once was, Savati began to emerge, rising slowly from the depths unharmed by the illusionary assault.
"Because I can't," Savati sadly admitted, "Look at me, Nicodemus. Look at me."
Nicodemus looked at Savati now. It wasn't the first time, truth be told. Back upon the vessel when Nicodemus and Vandross first encountered Savati, the dragon had instinctively reached out through the mindscape to ask why the other dragon was stealing from the humans. Even that early, Nicodemus had seen what Savati's mindscape self appeared as.
Nicodemus could not deny the familiar face. The muscular form. The dark hair. The deep, penetrating gaze of his eyes. The uneasy smile on his face. Savati's mindscape self was the exact image of Vandross.
"You can see," Savati asked, as he rose from the waters even higher, floating upwards til he reached Nicodemus' level in the sky. In some ways, neither of them had moved at all. It was the rest of the world moving to bring them to the same level. "You can see why I can't just go."
"But what about me?" Nicodemus begged, "What about everything I have done? What about the sacrifices I have made? We all see in the mindscape the Other we are meant to find, but in this massive world of billions of faces, the chances of finding the Other are next to impossible. That was why the Onus Bond was originally forged among our kind with the humans. So we need not feel alone. So we need not feel incomplete."
"But Nicodemus," Savati reached out to the other, who at first pulled away. "This was not my choice either. I did not come into your life seeking to take Vandross away. You know that to be true. In our mindscapes, we can see what our Other is like. We know in some ways what our Other is, but we never really know who he or she is. We never even know their names, not until we see them at last, in both the mindscape and in the physical world. In this case, I found him. Or maybe he found me. But ultimately, this was not planned. This was not planned."
"What are you saying then?" Nicodemus spat back, "This is destiny? This is fate? This is the improbably becoming possible? What makes you more special than me? What makes you deserve him more?"
"I don't know," Savati shook his head, "And I don't even believe in those things. I've always believed in freewill. I've always believed that our own choices govern our destiny. Nicodemus, I would walk away if I must. But I would be a fool not to see this through."
"BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?" Nicodemus roared back. "Do I just get thrown aside? Do I just have to move on? Handle it alone? Deal with the shattered bond as if it never was meant to be?"
Savati could not give an answer. Inwardly, he wanted to remind Nicodemus that his own Other was still somewhere out there. He wanted Nicodemus to realize this was something bigger than him. Bigger than Savati. Even bigger than Vandross. This was something that just had to come to pass. He wanted Nicodemus to realize what all dragons knew: that the Onus Bond was believed by humans to be like the finding of one's Other. That there were dragons meant to be bound to another. But in truth, the Onus Bond was meant for a dragon to choose a human match, because the search for the Other often lead to failure.
But here, Savati and Vandross found each other.
Despite all odds. Despite all circumstances. Despite the time, the distance, the separate lives and diverse backgrounds and events that shaped them, their roads lead to that one single moment when they found each other.
"You," Savati found himself saying before thinking, "are a fool if you think you can stop this."
* * *
"What do you mean?" Vandross rose from Nicodemus side and approached Savati angrily. Though unarmed, the archer reached out with one hand and grabbed a hold of Savati's collar. The green dragon, in the form of Mesin, struggled to retain her footing as Vandross pulled her close to him. "What have you done to Nicodemus?"
"The truth--" Savati gasped between breaths, "I've only told.. your dragon.. the truth.."
Alucita and Sunaj knew better than to interfere. Vandross stared into Savati's eyes. His anger found itself challenged by feelings of recognition. Just as he could read from Alucita that she was being honest and sincere, he could see in Savati's eyes that the dragon was being the same.
"Can you help Nicodemus?" Vandross whispered, almost pleadingly to Savati, "Can you?"
Savati closed her eyes. Tears threatened to fall once more. The dragon held them at bay, however, hoping the archer had not noticed them. "I... how can I if I am the source of the problem?"
"Nicodemus means a lot to me," Vandross admitted, "The bond I share with Nicodemus is precious to me. Do you understand this? What... you and I share... the connection we have... what I have with Nicodemus... does only one truly have to exist?"
Both turned to see Nicodemus already standing. Vandross wanted to rush forward to embrace his friend but the saffron dragon motioned him to wait. Alucita stepped back, feeling slightly uncertain if their captives would now use their superior numbers against them. Savati pulled back, fearing Nicodemus' rage.
The saffron dragon plunged one claw into the ground. From it, a single stalk grew and began to unfurl into a larger healthy plant. Flowers bloomed, waned then fell in a quickened pace as if the passage of seconds tracked the turning of months. Vandross easily deciphered the words.
"No," Savati cried out, understanding Nicodemus' intentions, "That's not true! You don't have to!" Her protests fell upon uncaring ears. With a shove off the ground, Nicodemus rose into the sky, leaving a trail of lazily dancing petals falling in its wake.
"Where?" Sunaj asked aloud, only to see Alucita motion him to stay close to her. "The golden dragon has chosen to fly back to the Faith. To report that Vandross had found his Other," Alucita explained, having deciphered the Dragon Song from the communication Nicodemus had left. Vandross fell onto his knees. His head bowed low, but it was clear it was not exhaustion that prompted him to do so.
"Is that a good thing?" Sunaj whispered back, unfamiliar with the ways of the Faith.
"Typically yes. All among the Faith seek to find their Other. However, if the Other is found, it is uncertain what will happen to the Onus Bond. Among the Faith as well, you see, the Onus Bond is inviolate. This is the first time for one already in an Onus Bond to ever find his Other."
"Then what will happen to the gold dragon?"
Alucita stared at the now disappearing golden shape in the sky, "We do not know. But somehow, I am certain it will not be something good."