** DAISUKE **
There was something nuzzling at my arm when I started to lazily drift awake for the second time. I groaned a little, feeling cold. The warm presence above me was gone.
My angel left me? I was a little surprised, and a lot disappointed, but the thought got me drifting toward consciousness again. I knew that the angel who had pulled me out of the lake was probably gone, but I was still half-hoping to see those breathtaking blue eyes again.
My eyelids slid open reluctantly, but there were no blue eyes in sight. Instead, I saw a mass of bronze on my right side, nuzzling my arm to try and make me respond.
"Vrekk?" I mumbled, struggling to sit up and clumsily reaching out to pat him.
// You’re awake! // He "sounded" relieved and happy, and he didn’t stop nuzzling my arm. // When I found you, you were so still… I was afraid you were dead! //
"Naw…" I managed to grin at him, despite the fact that I felt totally exhausted. Besides that, I was still a bit damp. "I’m okay. an angel pulled me out of the water and saved my life."
Vrekk looked puzzled. // Angel? //
"Yeah… All I saw was this really nice set of blue eyes." I sighed. "I didn’t get a very good look, but it had to be an angel. I’ve never seen anything like it!" And I wish I could again…
// Are you sure? // Vrekk felt dubious. // Maybe it was just a dream. And did you see Gyvera or Ayviar around here anywhere? They weren’t flying near us, were they? //
"Gyvera or Ayviar?" I frowned. "No way! Hikari’s with Takeru, and Iori’s looking after Miyako! What made you think they were here?"
// Half the lake is frozen… //
"What!?" I stumbled to my feet, ignoring the leftover shakiness, and stared out at the lake beside me. Half of it was perfectly normal, soft waves lapping against the shore. The other half was immobile, all the way through to the bottom. A solid, blue, lake-shaped ice crystal.
"Oh man!" I breathed the words out, awed. "Who did that?"
// It looks like something a cool-colored dragon would do, // Vrekk answered, also staring at the frozen half of the lake. // One that really knew what they were doing! I’m not even sure if Gyvera or Ayviar could do that! //
"Maybe it was that angel," I mused. "Angels have all kinds of powers, right? I’ll bet an angel could freeze that water up for sure." I felt warm inside, thinking about my angel. Especially remembering that kiss, and the hand over my heart… So nice.
// I don’t know, but we’d better get out of the mountains before more Daeaphon come after us. // Vrekk arched his neck and glanced around nervously. // Besides, the others will be getting worried about us. //
"Yeah… Hey, what happened to those little creeps, anyway?" I looked around. "Did the angel drive ’em away? Tell me what happened."
// That happened. // Vrekk pointed his head toward the half-frozen lake again. // I was going back to save you, but the water turned cold, and then all the Daeaphon were trapped in that ice! And they can’t get out, for some reason. //
I glanced back at the lake again. He was right; there were lots of blurry, frozen grey shapes visible through that icy coating. "It must’ve been the angel!" I decided, out loud. "I felt the water go cold, too – right before I got pulled up and then went unconscious."
// Well, whatever it was, let’s get out of here! // Vrekk suggested. // I don’t want to get chased around some more when the rest of those things all decide to come looking for their friends! //
"Yeah, all right." I took hold of the front of his saddle and climbed up easily. "Just don’t forget that all my saddle-straps are ripped. I’d rather not fall to my death, thanks."
// Don’t worry about it! // Vrekk took off smoothly, and I leaned forward without thinking about it, knees digging into the saddle to give myself a better grip. // I wouldn’t let you fall. //
"I know. Just making sure." I smiled as we started to pick up speed. Flying was so great; I loved having the wind rush into my face, through my hair. Speed… I craved it; loved it; lived for it! It made my blood race, and exhilaration run through me. I sat up a little and closed my eyes in bliss, resisting the urge to let out a whoop and throw my arms in the air. Noise would just attract more dangerous things to us, and I needed my hands for balance.
// Well, there’s nothing in the way this time! // Vrekk told me, after about a half-hour. I could feel how much he was enjoying himself – it was at least as much as I was. // We’re just about there; I can see where the mountains end! //
"Too bad." I knew we’d have to slow down once we met up with the others, or else they wouldn’t be able to keep up. I wonder if my angel can fly… I’ll bet they’re real good at it, angels…
// There they are! // Vrekk’s "voice" was a mixture of satisfaction and regret. // They’ve landed; I guess that means I have to land, too. // He ducked toward the ground, and made a perfect landing beside my friends.
"We’ll fly together later, after we get home," I promised, sliding off his back. I didn’t get much chance to say or do anything else, because my friends were all of a sudden assaulting me, with relieved looks and a lot of questions ready.
Miyako summed it all up pretty nicely. "Where have you been?"
I felt myself grinning, and couldn’t stop. Just wait ’till they hear it! The Daeaphon… drowning… that angel… "Have I got a story for you guys!"
** IORI **
Miyako looked incredulous, and I didn’t blame her, really. Daisuke may have been totally convinced that an angel had pulled him out of the water, but I had a little trouble with the idea.
We were back in the air, and headed toward home again. Daisuke rode in front, as usual, but this time he had Miyako and Hikari on either side of him, and was earnestly telling the story of what had happened when he’d been separated from the rest of us.
Strangely enough, Hikari’s obvious interest in his adventure wasn’t affecting him the way it always had before.
"That’s right, an angel!" Daisuke sighed, and looked as if he was staring off into space dreamily. "I only saw their eyes, but they were the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen! I wish I could’ve seen more – I’ll bet the rest of my angel was just as perfect."
"Your angel?" Hikari grinned at him.
Daisuke turned his head to look at her, and I noticed his blush. "Oh… well, the angel saved me… and I got to see those eyes… and I… well… they were so perfect, and… I wish they could be my angel!" he finished, looking down and rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.
"That’s so sweet!" Miyako actually smiled at Daisuke.
Hikari was smiling, too. "So go on – tell us the rest!"
Daisuke was more than happy to oblige. "Well, after my angel pulled me up, I sorta blacked out," he explained. "But when I woke up, I was being kissed – like, to keep me breathing," he added hastily. "My angel was leaning over me with a hand on my heart." He looked off into space again, happily. "I can still feel it…"
Miyako looked starry-eyed. "Oh wow… Daisuke…"
"That’s beautiful!" Hikari added, looking not as dreamy but definitely interested.
"I opened my eyes then," Daisuke continued, obviously enjoying the attention. "And it was real blurry – but all I could see was a pair of beautiful blue-violet eyes, and I’ve never been so happy as when I saw them. I swear it was an angel! It had to be!"
"You’re so lucky," Miyako sighed.
Hikari grinned. "Daisuke, you’re totally smitten!"
"You think so?" Daisuke didn’t look upset because of her assumption – and he sounded bemused as he said, "Well, maybe I am… But who wouldn’t be, with an angel?"
Miyako looked just tickled, and Hikari smiled again.
"Why do they think it’s so interesting?" I asked Takeru quietly. He was flying beside me, and the two of us were just behind Hikari, Daisuke, and Miyako. The three of them were still talking about Daisuke’s "angel".
"They think it’s cute because of how obviously smitten he is," Takeru explained. He smiled at me, and I felt my heart jump a few times. "It’s like reading a romantic story – except in real life."
"Daisuke didn’t say whether this "angel" of his was male or female," I pointed out, a bit hesitantly.
"You noticed that too?" Takeru’s smile got wider. "Actually, Iori, I honestly don’t think he cares. He’s in love with a pair of eyes; if he saw them on anyone, he’d fall harder than twenty tons of gold bars!"
"Well, I mean, it’s not like it’s a big deal," I said, tentatively.
"No. Not really."
"It’s perfectly all right for a boy to be smitten with another boy," I went on. "I mean, look at Taichi and Yamato. They seem perfectly happy together, and they’re both boys."
Takeru shrugged. "They are happy."
"So, it’s normal." I glanced over at him, heart pounding hard. "Isn’t it?"
"Yeah, of course it is!" Takeru answered, sounding as if he was surprised that I had even bothered doubting it. "People can’t help the way they feel. They only difference between two guys in a relationship and the usual sort is the fact that those two guys couldn’t have children."
"But they could always take in a child from an orphanage," I added.
"Right." Takeru nodded. "So there you go." He glanced at me sideways. "Why are you asking, anyway, Iori? Are you having feelings for another guy?"
That was it; a cold sense of dread had settled in my stomach. The question. I wanted him to ask it, so I could find out what he thought of me once he knew. But at the same time, I didn’t – because then he’d know. I couldn’t lie to Takeru… "Would it be bad if I did?"
"No." Takeru grinned. "It wouldn’t be bad at all. It’d be… good."
"Good?" My heart was getting carried away again. Maybe he loves me… maybe he’s glad that I like guys because it means he has a chance with me! "Why do you think that?"
"Because it’d mean you’re learning about yourself, and admitting what preferences you have." Takeru shrugged. "That’s good. If you were denying it, you’d have some trouble."
"Oh." I was disappointed, but didn’t let it show. "Yeah, I guess you’re right."
"Thanks. Hey, look!" Takeru straightened in his saddle, and pointed ahead of us. "We’re just about back home!" he explained, as we all turned to look at him.
From the distance we were at, I could only just see the irregular shape of stone buildings, and light from people’s windows cutting through the dim light of early evening. Our home city of Eira seemed to move steadily toward us, growing larger and more familiar as we flew over the miles of ground beneath us.
Home. I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or relieved to see it.
** HIKARI **
"An angel, huh?" My brother grinned at Daisuke, looking amused. "With big white wings, a holy light, and the whole big heavenly deal? I’m surprised you’re not wearing a halo by now, Dai."
"My angel had blue-violet eyes," Daisuke insisted. "I saw them!"
"So? How d’you know it was an angel?" Taichi raised an eyebrow, still grinning.
"Because it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life, that’s why!" Daisuke smiled to himself, staring dreamily off into space. "Besides, who else could freeze up half of that lake?"
"That’s what I’m worried about," Yamato put in, wrapping an arm around Taichi’s waist and giving him a warning look when he opened his mouth to tease Daisuke some more. "As far as I know, cool-colored dragons are the only ones with that kind of power. But Kari and Iori weren’t there?"
I shook my head. "Gyvera wouldn’t leave Pekkue, even if we’d had the chance. There was too much danger."
"I had my hands full just keeping those Daeaphon away from Miyako and me," Iori added.
"So what does that tell us?" Yamato asked.
"We were silent for a moment.
"That it really was my angel and you guys are just being stubborn?" Daisuke suggested.
"Be serious, Dai!" Taichi told him, waving a negligent hand. "You were just imagining things, that’s all. You said it yourself: you blacked out. So how do you know that this "angel" wasn’t just a dream?"
"I saw it!" Daisuke protested. "I’ll never forget those eyes, not in a million years! Besides," he added, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly, "if I just dreamed it all, then who rescued me, huh?"
"Well, maybe," Yamato began slowly, "there is another cool-colored dragon out there. That would explain the frozen lake, and who saved Daisuke. And it would make me feel better, because then I’d know that this new dragon isn’t a threat to my kingdom – not if it’s saving DragonRiders."
"But there aren’t any other dragons!" Takeru protested. "Pekkue told me there’s just the five of them! And didn’t they all say that they’d know if any more were born out of the Mist?"
"Yeah…" Something about his words tugged at my memory… "Wait! When Gyvera told me about how they were born, she said that dragons usually come out in pairs. Do you guys remember anything like that?"
Next to me, Miyako was nodding. "Hukaan was born with her."
"And Ayviar with Pekkue," Iori agreed.
Daisuke looked bewildered. "I never heard that! When I asked how he was born, Vrekk just said he came out of that mist stuff!" He scratched his head. "Why wouldn’t he tell me?"
"I’m not sure," I admitted.
"Maybe he didn’t know," Takeru suggested. "What if something happened to separate them just before they came out of the Mist? It’s possible that he thought he came out alone."
"I’ll ask him," Daisuke offered. "I gotta go out anyway – I promised Vrekk we’d go flying." He turned and hurried out, not even trying to hide his eagerness at the prospect of escaping the dull talk.
"He’s never going to change," Takeru murmured, to me.
"But that’s his appeal." I grinned and gave my best friend a nudge.
"That’s over!" he protested mildly.
"Very over." He turned and gave me his full attention. "He didn’t even know about it. And besides… you remember what I told you? Well, it hasn’t changed. And it’s probably not going to any time soon."
Yamato cleared his throat. "Takeru, are you paying attention?"
Takeru gave his brother a quick smile. "No, not really."
"Well, you should be." Yamato shot him a ‘look’. "Because you get to inherit my lovely throne some day, unless some miracle happens that permits Taichi to start having children."
"Yama!" Taichi gave him an overly exaggerated "shocked" look. "What kind of thing is that to say?"
"Some people call it ‘the truth’." Yamato smirked. "Unless you’ve been hiding something from me…"
"Ah, I hate to interrupt," Miyako interrupted. "But do we really need to be here to watch you two play? I need a nice long nap." She tossed her hair carelessly, and I watched out of the corner of my eye, secretly admiring her. I loved Miyako’s hair; it was absolutely beautiful.
"Naw, we play better when there’s no one else around." Taichi grinned at Yamato.
"We get the point." I smiled, raising an eyebrow. "Let’s go, guys."
I don’t think any of us looked back to see if Taichi and Yamato had actually waited until we were gone before they started "playing". I know I didn’t…
Takeru fell in beside me. "So, how are things with…?" He shrugged, keeping his voice quiet. We both knew who he was talking about, though; Takeru and I had very few secrets from each other.
"The same." I sighed. "It’s not that I think she’d react badly…" I stole a glance back, to where Miyako and Iori were talking. She looked up and I turned my head quickly. "I’m just afraid to actually know how she feels. At least if I don’t know, I can still hope, right?"
"I know what you mean." Takeru put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "I’d tell you to go and confess, but I haven’t done that even once before, so it would make me a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?"
"Yeah, it would." I grinned. " But I’ll tell you what: if one of us confesses, the other has to as well." I held out my hand. "Does that sound fair enough to you?"
"Sure does." He clasped my hand. "Bargain struck."
Now if only we could work up a little courage…
** DAISUKE **
"Flying time!" I whirled around, holding the new saddle straps, and laughed out loud as I faced my Bronze. "Let’s see how far we can get in an hour! In two hours! We’re the fastest things alive, Vrekk! With you carrying me, I move like the wind!"
He snorted, and excitement went all through my head as he answered, // You said it! //
"Hikari said that dragons usually come out of that ‘Mist’ stuff in pairs," I began, firmly attaching the new straps to Vrekk’s saddle. "How come you didn’t? Were you alone?"
// I’m… not sure. // Vrekk seemed confused; he was silent, thinking about that for a moment as I finished with the straps and hoisted myself expertly up into the saddle. // I thought that there were two of us for a little while, but when I came out into the world… it was just me. //
"Huh. Weird." I rested my hands against the base of Vrekk’s neck as the Bronze got ready to take off. "So Yamato was right – there really could be another dragon around somewhere!"
// And that’s who saved you! // Vrekk took off, rising quickly, and the familiar rushing exhilaration took over us both as he did.
I laughed for a moment, delighted as always, then paused to think about my partner’s statement. "No – my angel saved me. The dragon saved us, freezing the lake and all."
// I wonder if we could meet them… //
"I’d like to," I admitted, scanning the landscape. It was truly beautiful, going past us at a thrilling speed, growing small beneath us as we rose up into the clouds. There was a quickly dwindling view of the city behind me, and ahead…
"Vrekk!" I leaned forward, staring. "Look at that!"
Ahead of us, something shone with a brilliant silver light, like the sunlight glinting off of a polished surface. A surface like the scales of a dragon.
// Another dragon! // Vrekk turned and headed for the silvery light. He felt awed.
"It’s silver," I mused, out loud. "Is it Gyvera?"
// No… And it’s not silver, // Vrekk told me, drawing closer to the new dragon. // Look again. //
I looked. He was right; the sunlight had given the dragon a silvery look, but it seemed more silver-blue as we got closer. In seconds, I saw that the silver was totally illusion. The new dragon was blue.
"Holy gods…" I gasped. The dragon wasn’t wearing a saddle, but there was a human-shaped form on its back. "Vrekk! That dragon has a Rider! Just like us! Get closer so I can talk to them!"
// Got it! // Vrekk swooped up, toward them.
The Rider seemed to have been anticipating that, because before we could get close enough for a good look, the Blue shot straight up into the clouds, quick as a crossbow bolt. The thick fog stirred where they had gone in, leaving an obvious trail for us to follow.
"Let’s get ’em, Vrekk!"
// All right! // We flew up into the clouds, after them.
It was grey and murky up there. I couldn’t see the trail any more, and I was pretty sure that Vrekk couldn’t, either. We slowed down, and I waved a hand inches from my face. When I couldn’t see it, even with my eyes wide open, I started to doubt my choice to chase after the mysterious DragonRider.
"Maybe we’d better go back," I told my partner, reluctantly.
He’d just started down again when something jostled us. Vrekk made a surprised noise, and I felt something crossing over top of his neck, just by my hands. "What the – ?" I started – and didn’t get any further.
Somebody’s hand caught my chin, and then I was being kissed.