The following days were a haze wrapped in pain and comfort. Sometimes I was awake to see Horizon wrapping my wounds and putting me back together again. Sometimes I just slept in a deep, dark state of mind. I struggled with the weight of overwhelming guilt and self-loathing.
This… was not one of my proudest times.
I know if it hadn’t been for the advanced medical attention Horizon provided, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I was aware enough to know that she was treating Levi, too, for his burns and wounds. Neither of us was in any shape to try to make it further away from the crater.
We had enough food stashed for such an emergency, though Horizon had to go forage further away to find plants for herself. The corrupted land didn’t bear any greenery — nothing but the shadows where trees once proudly stood.
In my delirium, I often relived things. Dark things. The First Attack. Facing Bristle. Worry that Horizon would go out to forage and not come back. The Flames did their best to try to work into my mind while I was weak and helpless.
Despite my dark thoughts, and despite the fact I didn’t deserve to live, I continued to reject that pull. I’d already caused enough pain for those around me. I wouldn’t add to it me becoming a creature like Bristle. Not after all the struggle Levi and Horizon went through to fix my broken spirit.
And what had I ever given them in return?
Well, I started with what I didn’t give them. A Chaotic Dragon.
I struggled most with the knowledge that the Chaos had so infested the Dragons I brought to be that they were beyond our reach. The way Bristle spoke, other Dragons had already died to Chaos. To the thing he called the Burning.
My mind shied away from the thought of the torment that he and the other Dragons must have endured. The few words he shared during our battle told me that he both desired and despised the dark energies that consumed him. He was aware of what it was doing, but he couldn’t stop it, nor did he really want to.
It never occurred to me that what I started long ago in the Grove couldn’t be reversed. Couldn’t be fixed. It had all been so easy to manipulate before. Why was it so hard now?
It hadn’t occurred to Levi, either. He’d put all of his hopes into fixing the situation. He sacrificed his good name and image with his own people, releasing me from a much-deserved execution, all with the stipulation that we would mend the broken.
Now, we had nothing to show for it. He had nothing to show for it… except for a situation that was far worse than he imagined. How would he explain this to his village Elders? Would he be able to return there at all?
These thoughts were exhausting.
Horizon didn’t have much to say to either of us for many days. I knew she was more angry at me than Levi. But, she held him accountable as well. He did keep my identity under wraps without me ever asking him to.
Levi also never let her in on the fact that he was a Dragon, as well. I wasn’t sure if she knew that he wasn’t the same kind of Dragon as I or the others were. Given the chance, I’d try to clear that up.
I just never found the chance.
I really couldn’t blame her for avoiding us. She was already forced to wrap our wounds and nurse us back to health, despite knowing I was a merciless slayer of her people. Would I have done the same for one of her kind?
No. Probably not.
During that time, my respect for Horizon grew. Not just because my life was in her hands… but because she could do what I could not. She could rise above her anger and disgust to help someone who didn’t deserve her help.
And she did all this while being an Invader.
What was I in the face of such grace?
How could I ever be worthy of even this little bit of forgiveness?
I doubted it was possible — I’m a pretty rotten person. But it was the first time that my thoughts lingered on such thoughts. It was an important time of change and self-reflection.
Alright. Enough of all that deep-mind talk.
We were all in a rotten situation, and we all had our battles to fight. But, making it out of that place alive meant not falling in too deep. I admit, it took a huge distraction to accomplish that.
Both Levi and I were healing well, and getting stronger each day. We knew that it wouldn’t be too long before we were ready to travel again. Only, I don’t think any of us knew where to go… beyond “away from here.”
Where would Levi go, given that he broke the rules of his village? Where I would I go, given I was nothing but a murdering beast? Where would Horizon go, given the knowledge that her people had committed terrible crimes against the natives of this planet… and were now scattered without communication between outposts and settlements?
Stopping the Chaotic Dragons was a purpose that brought us all together, that pushed us to travel and connect. Now, without that to link us, we were scattered like leaves on the wind.
They say that when one door closes, another opens. That is literally what happened to us the day Horizon returned from foraging with a breathless and frazzled look.
At first, I mistook it for fear or danger. That was the easiest conclusion to jump to considering where we were. Then, I noticed she had a scent about her, one that I’d learned indicated excitement.
“I found something,” she told us breathlessly.
This was the first time she’d really spoken to us, at least, in the casual, friendly way she used to. This discovery must have been something huge.
“What sort of something?” Levi asked. He jumped at the first chance to reestablish communication with her. I knew it’d been bugging him that he had been lumped in the same Dragon camp as the rest of us, but he hadn’t pushed his luck.
She made circular motions with her hands as she stammered. Then she shook her head, “I don’t know how to explain it. Can you come with me? It’s not far, and I’ve seen no sign of Dragons.”
Levi looked at me, and I nodded. It was probably good that I pushed myself to be more mobile than I’d been recently. We broke from under the cover of the transport, Horizon leading us along the dusty path she’d marked.
It must have been important if she risked doing something like that.
My motion was stiff, each step I took jolting my body, causing my wounds to complain. They were closed now, no longer bleeding, but they were still tender and easy to re-open. I was mystified how just about every inch of me had taken some sort of damage — be it burns or slashes. Even some of my beautiful black hair had been singed short.
Horizon kept turning around to observe our much slower progress with an eager eye. The longer we walked to this “not far” place, the more I regretted agreeing to come. My mind lingered on my current pain, and wondered how I’d make the walk back.
Finally, Horizon stopped, spreading her arms. “Here! Here!”
At first, I didn’t know what I was looking at. That wasn’t surprising, considering I’d never seen something like this before. It’d probably never existed in this world until now.
One of the fissures cradled a number of strange, smooth rocks that lay silently in a haphazard pile. They were large, and would require some hefting with both hands to carry. Some of them were dark, turning black, as they were covered with ash and dirt.
I wanted to grumble about risking such a long walk for a pile of worthless rocks. But, I held my tongue, knowing I still had a long way to go to get in Horizon’s good graces.
Levi’s face was as puzzled as my own. He was the first to ask, “What are we looking at, Horizon?”
“Some of them are alive,” she said.
“Rocks?” I asked.
“Not rocks,” Horizon reached a hand out to touch one of the smooth stones. Instantly, it responded, a shivering glow tracing the outline of her fingers. “There is something living inside.”
It took me a moment. My mind wasn’t clear enough to make the connection.
Levi said it first, choking on the word, “Eggs?”
Horizon tilted her head, trying to understand the translation. Then she nodded, “Life containers.”
Breath wooshed out of me as I whispered, “What kind of eggs?”
“No,” Levi paled, “Do you think…”
“The Dragons,” I finished for him.
Why not? They were torn apart by bestial desires, driven by Chaos. Why not act like animals and do something like this?
Horizon frowned in concern, “Some… don’t contain life anymore.”
She was braver than I was. Walking among a nest of Dragon eggs, born of Chaotic beasts. She leaned over each of them, checking for a glow, putting her head near each one, listening.
Levi finally walked forward, too. He touched one of the unresponsive smooth surfaces and frowns. “It’s cold. It feels like rock.”
“These were abandoned,” I finally said the thing none of them wanted to come to terms with.
Chaos, after all, isn’t about creating new life, it’s about consuming. It wouldn’t have any use for helpless offspring. Or maybe, the Dragons still had a shred of parental instinct in them, and abandoned the nest… to prevent the Flames of Bedlam from spreading into the next generation.
Either way, I could sense a churn of Chaotic energies within the life force of those that still survived. It was weak. They were dying. Very soon, they would turn to stone like the others had.
“We have to do something,” Horizon said. The exact words I didn’t want to hear.
I shook my head, “Even if we knew anything about hatching Dragon eggs, they are infected with Chaos. I can sense it.”
“I can, too,” Levi looked saddened by this.
Horizon just looked frustrated. “But they haven’t had a chance yet. They haven’t even been born! Surely there’s something we can do to help them!”
After the failure with Bristle and the other Dragons, this seemed too huge an undertaking to even think of. If we couldn’t turn things around for the adults, why would we have any chance cleansing the offspring of Chaotic beasts?
“I don’t know,” I heard my own uncertainty echoed in Levi’s voice. He, also, had been shaken by the experience with Bristle.
“They are dying!” Horizon exclaimed, trying her best to pick one up. It was so large and unwieldy for her thin frame, I was surprised she didn’t drop it. Realizing she wouldn’t have the strength to lift, much less carry one, she appealed to us again, “Please! Help me! They are dying!”
I felt a sinking in my stomach. I looked at Levi and saw a similar expression on his face. I knew that whether we wanted it or not, we’d suddenly just became adopted parents of a nest of abandoned Dragon eggs.