I was glad to be out of the house and office for once, taking my bike out of the garage. Well-oiled, it purred as I pushed the throttle down. The feel of the wind on my face woke the dragon inside. It was flying on land. The roar of the engines rumbled through my jeans and up my spine. Cars and other vehicles whizzed past in a blur. I was flying and I didn't care.
When I finally reached the gate of the house, I knew something was not right. There was a silver car parked right in front of the porch. Its design was familiar. As I rode the bike right back into the garage, Mat stood at the doorway, a silent observer. Old canny harimau, he had smelled something in the wind.
"Be careful" were the words he said in English, whispering into my ears before backing out into his garden where I knew he would remain watching.
Stepping into the house felt as if I was stepping into a power keg. There was a petite woman sitting gracefully on the sofa, her legs neatly tucked in, She wore an expensive tan suit with impeccably-tailored pants. Simple black court shoes. She sat as if she were a queen. In a way, she was. I could sense that from her. The air crackled with subtle electricity. I tasted something else: earth. Like moist dark earth, right after a storm had passed. Two shadows shifted: her bodyguards.
Drakes could see past the disguises we normally wear to fool humans. Her ears were tapered at the tips, her cheekbones sharp. It was her eyes that attracted and instantly cautioned me: a cold silver light, like full moon light on frost.
I knew what and who I was looking at.
At the corner of my eye, I spotted Filipe. Smart boy. He was hiding. But I didn't think they had not noticed him. He was unusually attentive, ramrod straight, staring ahead. I remembered, very vividly, that he was also half-duende.
Unlike the pacifist Taoist Elves, these elves I now dealt with would mess you up and then spit you out, bones and all. All the while they had been toying with us, like cats with mice.
"What do you want?" The tone was my Father's, but coming out from my mouth.
The woman bowed her head slightly, an incline of her elegant face. Her gloved hands were folded on her lap. She darted a look at Filipe's direction, before gazing directly at me. The smell of earth grew stronger. The words she said did not surprise me the least.
"I am Sigurd Earthsdottir, lady of my people," the woman said with accented English. "I seek an alliance with your clan." Her voice was the ice of her homeland.
"Why?" I felt as if I stood in the midst of a blizzard. Filipe's eyes seemed to be saying "Don't do it, don't do it!"
The woman smiled and it was not a warm smile. I was reminded of frozen plains and windswept mountains. "Because, my dear boy, I believe you can unite the drake clans for peace."
I chuckled softly, without much humor. "I already got that advice from my own clan. What do you want from me? You demanded a blood price - me. My father refused to fulfil his promise and now he's dead. Why?"
Sigurd drew herself up. "Honor. A value that's gone from the world. Honor, when our words mean something."
"In the end, my dear lady, lives were lost at both sides," I pointed out. "Is the Maleficent out of control?"
The mention of the word changed everything. Sigurd gasped, her hand flying to her chest, visibly and physically shrinking. She made soft moans, as if she choked on the words she was about to utter. The two goons slipped out of their shadows and held her upright.
"It's coming for us, it's coming for us..." Sigurd whimpered, so unlike the regal queenly figure she was a few minutes ago. "Help us. Help. Us."
The air turned frigid. I swore icicles hung on every item in the room. Suddenly there was a roar and a large feline shape crashing through the door. Mat had sensed the change in the environment and had arrived just in time. He stood before me, growling deeply, tail lashing, head lowered. Daring the dark elves to do... anything.
Sigurd struggled to speak, pushing away the hands of her bodyguards imperiously. She had some fight left. "Help us. The Maleficent... eludes us. It will kill us all."
My heart pounded. It was now or never.
"Anak!" Mat's snarl sharpened my focus.
Filipe had fainted.
The drastic changes would give anyone whiplash. Sigurd stopped hyperventilating and ran over to my half-brother who had collapsed from his spot. The freezing air reverted back to normal tropical temperatures, though I swore there was condensation on the furniture and windows. The wall panel I touched was moist. The two bodyguards halted behaving like over-protective hens and went back to being silent observers.
Mat remained in his tiger form. Wise old man. Things could go pear-shape instantly. By the time I reached Filipe, Sigurd was cradling his head on her lap. She seemed to throw protocol out of the window, looking more like a worried grandmother instead.
"I think he fainted out of sheer shock," she muttered when I knelt down beside her. She smelled of an old forest I visited a while back.
"There's the matter of the Maleficent," I reminded her gently, watching Filipe stir. He would be alright. Sigurd looked at me steadily.
"It's out in the world, monsters that have not gone politely back into their prison, but only hiding until the right time," Sigurd said, stroking Filipe's forehead. "I will forgive your father, Lord Sutherland, on the account that we are indeed facing the same enemy again."
I slowly got back to my feet, feeling deja vu all over again. "Not more blood price. We face a timeless evil and we are fighting over promises. I give you my word."
Sigurd eased Filipe back onto the floor. He groaned softly. She waved away her bodyguards, straightening gracefully.
"Your word is as good as mine," she smiled once more. "Perhaps I am more compassionate than my sister, the spirits bless her soul. We will speak again, Lord Sutherland. The war is at our door."
Her bodyguards escorted her to my door. Mat paced beside me, still growling. "We need to have a plan?" I said helpfully.
"Indeed," Sigurd smiled once more and slipped into the passenger section of the silver car. "We have."
The silver car sped off. The late afternoon light had turned the garden into gold, the leaves of the trees gleaming. I didn't feel that optimistic.
"Gabriel?" Mat patted my hand. He had resumed his human form. Yet his eyes still glowed the harimau's glare.
"I will save my clan," I turned to look at my most trusted friend. "I will save my clan."