Noah’s Boy – Snippet 33

“Don’t look at me like that.  There were other life forms on Earth.  We should have suspected that from the existence of primitive shifters,” Bea lifted her chin, as though braving their scorn.  “But I know evolutionarily we keep thinking we have the date of the emergence of modern humans pinned, and then we find another one, older.  And we now think that humans pretty much merged with every hominid life form on Earth, except perhaps the Flores hobbits.  Perhaps that’s not just because our species is really randy.”  She blushed.  “Perhaps it is that we were designed with bits and pieces of the DNA of every humanoid species on Earth, and other life forms too, including some that were extinct at the time, but whose DNA might still be available.  It’s clear that the designing of our people took science that we can’t begin to comprehend so why not?  If the purpose was to hide, we should be able to hide among the hominids in our human form.  I just wonder why the human form…”

Jao cleared his throat.  “They say… the legends say that we look like… like people did before they went incorporeal, so…”

“Yes, that could be it.  The form they were pursuing might be the form they originally had,” he said.  “Or as close to this as the material could have.”  He cleared his throat again.  “The legends said that leaving bodies behind would lead to evil.  I don’t know.  I understood though that our people were escaping sure death, and this was the last of many worlds they ran to.  And that they somehow crossed through… through doors between worlds.”

“Makes sense,” Tom said.  “Sorry, I’ve read a lot of science fiction.  I used to crash at shelters for runaway teens, and they had them.  Portals between parallel worlds, likely.  And we somehow closed them from this side, if what old Joe says is true.”

As though awakened by reference to his name, Old Joe lifted his head.  “Yes, but they have found us, after all the many, the thousand thousand year, they have found us, and they are trying to open the door.  Someone…”  He shrugged.  “An enemy mind is on this side and… and trying to open it.  That… being has taken the Great Sky Dragon and killed him.  I think the long sleep, not real death.”

Jao sighed.  “Why would you think so?  What would the long sleep do for them that real life won’t.”

“Easy.  When you wake from death,” he looked thoughtfully at Bea.  “You’re helpless.  Can’t shift.  Can’t fight.  And the Old Sky Dragon is an old man, not strong and combative like dragon-boy.  He’s been alive many thousand years, and he is aging.  If someone takes him, waits for him to come back from the long-sleep, then it will be easy to hurt him, to… make him use the artifact and make him remember how to open the gates, then force him to.”

There was a long silence.  Whether it was caused by Old Joe’s sudden eloquence, or by the thought that the Great Sky Dragon might be held, hostage in temporary death, until —

“The time to return from death is around three days?” Tom asked.

“Three days is usually the shortest,” Jao said.  “Might take as long as two weeks.  The median is about five days.”

The silence returned, then Jao said, “But I don’t think the person… That is, whoever killed The Great Sky Dragon, your venerable ancestor, even if they took the body, can’t be counting on using the Pearl of Heaven on him, because the Pearl of Heaven disappeared a week earlier.”

Before silence could return, Conan groaned.  “I wanted to have a singing career,” he said, as though out of deep and unavailing grief.

* * *

“You’ll have a music career,” Tom said, getting up from the foot of the bed.  He sat the empty bowl on a nearby table, walked to where Conan sat on the cushion, and touched Conan’s shoulder in reassurance.  “Hell, Conan, given your voice, I don’t think we could stop you.  I think once that video on Facebook went viral, all we could do was keep your fans from tearing us limb from limb if we tried to keep you from them.  By the end of this year, you’ll have to hire concert halls to fit all your local fans, and if you’re not selling like crazy with whatever label or on your own, I’d be shocked.”

Conan looked up, his eyes dark with something like fear.  “But I can’t, don’t you see.  It’s just not possible.  You’ll have to be the Great Sky Dragon, and I might as well guard you, because no one else has the kind of loyalty –”

“No,” Tom said.  It was absolute.  Decisive.  “I’m not going to be The Great Sky Dragon.  Oh, for a while at least, if I have to.  And clearly someone has to, because someone has to direct the search for the real Great Sky Dragon before he gives away our secrets and lets these baddies from other worlds in here.”  He looked at Jao and grinned, though he could feel as though his face would crack with the effort.  “But mind you, when the Great Sky Dragon comes back, your goal is to get him to have another son.  Or perhaps you can find a nice dragon-girl for my father.  Hell, he might even like it.  Myself, as much as I like Bea here, I can’t marry her.  You see, I’m already engaged to Kyrie Grace Smith.”  He looked at Kyrie, begging her, with his eyes not to blow his cover, and not to protest at being proposed to in this very odd way.  If he was right, and he thought he was, the upside of the triad’s traditional ways was that they were all about family and dependents and the promises made to those around you.

Jao looked at him, then at Bea.  He licked his lips.  “I don’t suppose you’d consider marrying one and keeping the other as your second wife?  It is why our line has survived I think, while the other shifter lines have been lost.  The Great Sky Dragon always had more than one wife.”

“No, I wouldn’t consider it,” Tom said and smiled, this time a genuine but tight smile.  “You might think that would be a survival enhancing trait, but not after Kyrie separated my head from my body.”

Kyrie shook her head slightly, but smiled at him.

“So,” Tom said.  “I thank you for your hospitality here, and the great honor you’ve tried to do me.  But I can’t be your leader.  And now, if you excuse me, we need to go.  We have a diner to run.”

“You can’t go.”  Jao looked like he was about to have a heart attack.  He actually grabbed onto Tom’s arm.  “Don’t you understand?  Whatever is out there will try to kill you or capture you.”

Tom hadn’t understood.  He hadn’t thought about it. And he still didn’t know why any enemy would want to kill him or capture him, except that of course they might think he would interest himself in the affairs of the Great Sky Dragon and try to find him.  But if that was the case…  He looked at Jao…  If that was the case, then the fact that he wasn’t living here would keep him safe.  “I think they’re less likely to come after me,” he said.  “If they think I’m not interested in being The Great Sky Dragon.  They’ll think that because of that I’m not interested in finding The Great Sky Dragon.  I’ll be safer in the diner than here.  And you can set up someone here in my place, and pretend he is The Great Sky Dragon.”

“But what will we do?” Jao asked.  “Suppose you’re right, or he –” A meaningful glare at Old Joe.  “Is right.  What do we do?  How do we find him and rescue him?  How can you help us if you’re not even here?”

“Think in my direction really loudly,” Tom said.  “I seem to have the same facility The Great Sky Dragon has for getting inside other dragons heads.  But I won’t.  However, if you think in my direction, I will hear you.  And just find someone to play the part of Great Sky Dragon while I’m left free to look.”

Seeing Jao look at Conan, Tom extended an arm and pulled Conan to his feet.  “Not him.  He’s going to be a singing star.  And he’s coming with me.”  He put his other arm around Kyrie.  “She is too.  And so is he,” He refused to embrace Old Joe, but he gave the old man a meaningful look, and Old Joe got up and shambled towards them.  “We all leave,” he said.

Bea got up and dusted herself.  “I do too,” she said.  “If you tell me where my truck is, I left a gentleman alone who will be wondering where I got to.”

Jao looked at her.  “You can’t leave.  What if you’re not safe?”

“I’ll be safe.  And what he said, about getting the old dragon or his father to marry a female dragon shifter?  Find another one, it won’t be me.”

“Sir!” Jao said.

“You heard the lady,” Tom said amused.  “It won’t be her.  Now, where is her truck, please?”

“In the back.  In the employee parking,” Jao said, looking at Tom.  And for the first time Tom understood the power he had.  Jao was afraid of him.  Not just in the normal way people could be afraid of Tom when he’d forgotten to shave and was wearing his black leather jacket, not even afraid of Tom’s dragon and what Tom’s dragon had done to the brothers Liu out there.  No.  He was afraid of Tom in the way everyone had been afraid of the Great Sky Dragon.  As if Tom could do horrible things to him without even trying.

As soon as he had a quiet minute to himself, Tom was going to go through those files in his mind and find out what, in them, could make a member of the triads so scared.

But for now, with his friends around him he left the secret room of the Three Luck Dragon and walked along the deserted restaurant to the door.

There were two very large dragon shifters at the door.  Tom could see they were dragon shifters, though they were in their human form — both taller and bulkier than Tom.

They were blocking the door.

For a moment Tom thought that he would have to fight.  Then he remembered the dragon egg, as Old Joe called it, which he had received from The Great Sky Dragon.

He reached into his mind and found the link to the minds of those two particular dragons.  Now, he said, mentally.  You want to move.  I don’t want to have to take over your bodies and make you.  I’ve never done anything like that, and I might accidentally hurt you.”

He touched their minds in just the way that betrayed that, yes, he could make them do what he wanted.

They moved.  They moved out of the way very fast, and Tom and his friends emerged onto the parking lot, and to the breaking light of a new day.