Author's Note: It would appear it's been another long wait between chapters. At least from the story stats page I know people are still reading this story, and I apologize for the wait. I don't really have an excuse. My ideas were going all over the place, and a few more story beginnings showed up on my computer. I wasn't sure quite how to write this chapter, which is partially why I've delayed so long. I would sit down in front of my computer and do just that—sit. I wasn't very productive. And then, today, I sat down in front of my computer after a long wrestle to get the internet working—and voila! I typed up this entire chapter. Here you go, readers, a few months late, and I hope it's not too terrible for having been written in a day.
Half the Power, Twice the Spirit
Part Four: How a Dragon's Soul Shines Through
The murky sunlight didn't make the town the Rat halfling and Prince Heir were traveling through look any better. Dilapidated shacks thrown together from driftwood and salt-encrusted ropes crowded the ashy-dirt road. Pale faces flashed in openings that may have once had glass in them but now were nothing more than air.
The horse's hooves stirred up the soft silt that was a mixture of decaying dirt and fine ash as well as—occasionally—a small pebble or two. Kygo remained perched on the beast's back; the moment they had arrived in the desolate seaside town Ido had slid off and now walked beside it, albeit reluctantly. His rat's ears were flattened to the back of his head as his eyes flashed across the buildings, searching for the Hua of the Ox halfling they had come to find.
Whoever remained in this village stayed well within their huts; maybe it was the sight of the travelers themselves, but Ido was firmly entrenched in the opinion that it was him, as a halfling, that kept the people away. Not that he really minded; with them all tucked away he could scan their Hua easily. So far he had found nothing but the silver of humans—weak, sputtering silver, but silver all the same.
"Found him yet?" Kygo's voice sounded faintly impatient; with his face mostly concealed beneath the scarf, Ido couldn't be sure if he was frowning or not, but the look in the prince's eyes told it all. The Rat halfling shook his head once. "All I see are a load of humans. But he has to be around here somewhere; he can't have gotten too far from us."
Kygo harrumphed, flicking the reins through his fingers. His eyes flashed from hut to hut, though he could not slide into the energy world as seamlessly as Ido; as well as the fact that he had never been able to see the Hua lights of others' spirits—he could only bring into focus the dragons, and even then they were blurrier than he'd like them to be. There were few in the Empire, however, that could teach you such a skill like the mind-sight.
Especially now that it seemed as if the very world were decaying before their eyes.
No, Kygo told himself. The Spirit Dance will save the land. The dragons will bring back the life energy to the Empire. They have to! I will not watch this land—the land my parents and my family has fought to keep safe—I will not watch it die without knowing I have done everything I can to save it! As his eyes swept across the village spread out ahead of him, his fingers clenched over the reins. We will stop this.
Oblivious to Kygo's moment of doubt, Ido had carried on searching, stopping just ahead. His ears perked up and his tail swished as he turned back towards Kygo. "Here." He indicated a shack that appeared much the same as the others—driftwood patched together to form walls, haphazard pieces of wood and fragments of stained cloth—retrieved from the wreck of a boat, Kygo imagined—forming the roof of the structure. It was literally swaying in the wind, and Kygo had half the thought to walk up to it and push a wall, just to see if the whole building would simply collapse on itself. It didn't seem very sturdy at all—but he supposed, you worked with what you had. This was as good a place for a halfling to dwell as any.
Kygo slid down from the horse's back, loosely tying the reins to a nearby fence railing before moving to join Ido. The rat halfling walked to the door, eyeing it warily as if expecting it to fall on him, before pushing through it, eyes narrowed. Kygo followed in his wake, muttering out of the side of his mouth, "You could have knocked."
Ido rolled his eyes slightly. "Ox!" he yelled, his voice surprisingly loud in the enclosed space. "I know you're here! You might as well come out of your hiding hole!"
There came a rumbling noise as a cascade of clutter rolled past them from the force of a figure standing. The Ox halfling had the horns, sticking out horizontally from the sides of his head, a faintly ox-ish nose with flared nostrils, and there was the faintest flickering shadow of a slim tail from behind him. Dark eyes turned from Ido to Kygo and back again, as a deep voice spoke.
"Well, well. The Rat halfling and a human. To what do I owe this pleasure?" He tilted his head to the side, making his horns look suddenly lopsided.
Ido crossed his arms. "This one—" he gestured towards Kygo "—needs all the halflings in the land. Says we might be able to bring back the flow of Hua in the earth. And the dragons have ordered me to gather all of us, anyways. You're the first one to be found."
The Ox halfling's eyebrows rose slightly. "Oh?" He didn't seem very surprised. "That's one I haven't heard yet."
Ido snorted. "You can't possibly have anything better to do, Ox. Look where you live." He swept a hand out towards the walls of the shack. "One gust from a fierce ocean breeze and this whole building—no, this whole town—would fall apart."
"I have a name, Rat." The Ox halfling's eyes narrowed. "And it would do you well not to make light of my home's condition. It was not like this before."
"Then, surely, you would want your home to be a better place?" Kygo spoke up for the first time, meeting the halfling's eyes. "This is your chance. You have the power, you and the eleven other halflings—you can revive this land. No more will you be despised for your appearance. You will not have to hide away in a crumbling hut, you will not have to make yourself a thief for a living—" here he looked pointedly towards Ido, who huffed and looked away "—all you have to do is come with us. Perform the Spirit Dance with the dragons. Etch your name into history as one of those who gave back the life to the Empire of the Celestial Dragons."
The Ox halfling was silent for a long time, considering. His dark eyes, different from Ido's amber ones, showed nothing of his decision as he moved forwards, studying first Ido and then turning to Kygo. "If you ask this of me—I wish to know what kind of human would travel with halflings. Who has bid you do this, and what does that make you?"
Kygo was still. At last he sighed, and, tugging the scarf away from his face, muttered, "I suppose this is how it will be for all of you." The purple dragon's halfling stared at him a moment, clearly trying to work out where he'd seen that face before. Finally he dropped into a low bow. "Greetings, Prince Heir." He straightened. "You say that we might be able to change this…death plague that is crossing the Empire. If we have been given this chance…I will take it. I will accompany you to find the other halflings, to whatever your end destination may be."
"Thank you." Kygo acknowledged the halfling's words, retying the scarf about his face. "You may call me Kygo. I would rather not draw attention to my station while we are traveling. The Rat halfling's name is Ido. And what are you called?"
The Ox halfling smiled slightly. "My name is Tyron."
Eona decided she liked Ryko.
He was an islander, from the other coast; he had dark skin and dark eyes and a kind face. He also didn't run away when he saw her dragon attributes, which may have been the more deciding factor, as she could think of only one person who didn't immediately make themselves scarce in her presence—and that was her mother.
Ryko bowed. "It is an honor to meet the Dragon halfling."
Eona raised her eyebrows. "Some—most—people wouldn't think of it as much of an honor." Her wings twitched at her back and she carefully pushed them back into place. Before her mother had taken her to meet Ryko she'd gone on another short flight, to prove to herself that she could indeed fly on her own, and not have to rely on the dragons to be there to catch her.
Ryko straightened up—he was a lot taller than her, she noticed; the horns on her head barely made it to the height of his chest. "Then they are gravely mistaken. They do not understand."
Eona nodded absently; she wasn't sure how much there was to understand about being a halfling—you had half a dragon's power and you bore the traits of the animal in the dragon's name. And people generally were not fond of you. That was all she saw in it. "You'll accompany me, then?"
"Yes. I'm headed in that direction anyways; may as well keep you company."
Eona thought of what the dragons had told her. "I'm looking for the Rat halfling and a human traveling together. I don't know why…" She shrugged. "But the dragons seemed to think it was important. And you don't say no to a dragon."
"Indeed you don't." Ryko nodded. He glanced about the little village, perhaps comparing it in his mind to the one he came from; the houses had been constructed from things the sea had spit out onto the beach; there was even one house completely constructed of sea shells and mortar and the occasional coral chunk. Most of the others were a combination of driftwood, the long tufts of grass that could formerly be found growing near the entrance of the village, large flat rocks and mortar, along with whatever else could be found whilst combing a beach.
"When do you wish to leave?"
Eona considered this. She turned away, spreading her wings carefully. "Wait here a moment." She took a running leap and her wings caught her on the descent, pushing her into the sky. The Empire was spread out below her in a panoramic view; and she imagined it must have been a beautiful sight, before the sickness or whatever it was came to the land. She could sense the dragons, higher in the air above her, but she did not focus on them; she turned her gaze to the Hua glows that, combined with the grayish tone of the earth, appeared almost like stars.
She let her gaze wander, lightly touching on each of the glows of the halflings, separate from the silver stars of the human population of the Empire. Eona looked—and found—the blue Hua of the Rat halfling; for it would be nearly impossible to search for an individual human amongst all the others.
But, curiously, the Rat halfling was in the same place as the Ox. She felt a brief flicker of confusion. The dragons had told her that they—the human and halfling—would come for her. The spirit beasts hadn't said why. But they hadn't mentioned that the other halflings might be being gathered as well.
Now she looked up, towards the circle of twelve dragons above her, their jewel colors a stark contrast to the death below. "For what purpose?" she whispered to them, feeling her hands clench over the gritty, dirty essence of a nearby cloud—it crumbled against her touch, falling as ash towards the earth. "Why do you need us?" Unconsciously her gaze sought out the great ruby eyes of the Mirror Dragon.
"Why?" Eona asked.
The red dragon arched her neck, her mane flashing in the dim sunlight, making her appear even brighter. Eona felt something twist inside of her; these creatures were otherworldly, and though they could commune with the land—did they truly wish to save it? What was the purpose of the halflings? Surely the dragons did not mean for their children to be so…despised. Eona couldn't count how many times she'd seen a ward-evil sign flashed in her direction, just by walking through her own village.
But the Mirror Dragon did not offer an answer. Her head swept up, revealing the bright glowing gold pearl beneath her chin, pulsing with bright gold Hua, the brightest star amidst smaller stars.
Eona could feel the very energy pooling from the beasts and into the air, but it never reached the ground below; it dissipated into the sky, barely moving the ashy clouds from their positions. And suddenly, quite suddenly, Eona was angry. The dragons had all this energy at their command, and they didn't use it, they sat up here in the sky and watched, just watched the land die! How was that 'good fortune'? How was that in any way a reason to revere such creatures? "Why aren't you doing anything when we need you?" she yelled.
Eona didn't realize she was shaking until the dragons swooped down around her, and she felt the brush of a claw or a wingtip or a scaled hide. The Mirror Dragon loomed before her, and in those eyes Eona saw a terrible, terrible sadness. There was a raging sea held within the female dragon's eyes, and Eona was drowning in it, even before the dragon queen's pearl came to rest lightly upon her head, between the curling dragon's horns taken from the dragon herself, bringing the torrent of emotions spinning into the Dragon halfling's mind.
She smelled the cinnamon on the Mirror Dragon's breath; the jewel colors of the other dragons flashed into her vision—the emerald of the Tiger Dragon, the copper of the Snake Dragon, the coral of the Rabbit Dragon. Four words echoed into her mind with the resounding crash of peals of thunder:
We need you, Eona.
Then the Mirror Dragon retreated, the contact with her disappearing the moment her pearl left Eona's head, and the resulting sudden loss of the wave of emotions left her head spinning.
Thus, released, she fell back towards the earth, winging her way shakily back to the village. The words were still there at the forefront of her thoughts. She hadn't realized the dragons knew her name. She hadn't realized…they needed her. They needed the halflings.
She found Ryko, still standing in the place she'd left him. "Is tomorrow too soon?"