Ferocity couldn’t stand the hover chair any longer. He complied with Agent Brzko’s request and used it until he was at the bottom of the stairs. With Nguvu’s assistance he stood. Empress Nalau could hardly wait for him to stand before she embraced him. They stayed like that for several minutes – his large, now scarred wings wrapped around her. The last time she had seen him he was on a planet being consumed by a red giant, a planet with no breathable atmosphere – she was devastated to think that she’d lost one of her dearest friends.

Once Lelelu had also had a chance to confirm that Ferocity was indeed alive, he took a seat on the stool next to Brzko. “Pour a Dragon a drink, will you Lord Brzko?”

Brzko, well everyone, turned and looked at him. “Really?” Brzko asked. “Are you well enough to drink?”

“It will soothe my throat and help me relax. Nekmid if you like.” Ferocity said slowly.

Xiix was up and offering him a glass with each of his lower hands – espidrun in one, nekmid in the other. “Your choice…” He projected.

“Oh! I see you have a partner in crime now.” The Muse of Mischief teased.

I know of no one else that can debate the nuances of every opera in this galaxy, I am honored to provide him comfort.” Xiix projected.

Ferocity took the espidrun from Xiix’s left hand, and then quickly grabbed the nekmid in his right. He held a drink in each of his scarred hands looking back and forth between them, making everyone laugh.

Are you really OK Ferocity?” Brzko projected privately.

Yes, Lord Brzko. I assure you, I look worse than I feel.” He responded without looking away from the glasses he held

“I don’t know which to take first.” Ferocity teased.

“So are you on medication Ferocity? You seem a little… uninhibited tonight.” Lelelu asked.

“No, no medication Lelelu. Taking your last breath, on a planet with no atmosphere, can cause one to gain a new perspective. Nguvu!”

She had been quietly standing on the outskirts of the group, almost unnoticed. “Yes Ferocity.” She said as she came forward, toward him.

“Find a stool and join us. Tonight you join us, as an equal.”

She followed the direction of her mentor, rescuer, and closest companion, and pulled up a stool near Ferocity. He handed her the nekmid and raised his other hand in toast.

Xiix quickly refilled the other glasses with espidrun, everyone lifted their glasses and waited for Ferocity to find the words.

“Nguvu, you are like no other. You are strong, independent, and wise beyond your age. The mission to Jastea MJ was dangerous and difficult, but you performed the mission with the inner strength and discipline of a mature Dragon and put the needs of the evacuees before your own. While I’m happy to continue as your mentor, you’ve demonstrated that you are ready to determine your own path through life. To Nguvu!” He lifted his glass a little higher and then tossed it back.

The others mimicked his sentiment. “To Nguvu!”

Nguvu was smart enough to sip her first nekmid.

Empress Nalau caught The Muse of Mischief’s eye. She didn’t have to say anything, M knew exactly what she was thinking. She got up and walked to the edge of the deck for a little privacy.

She activated her earcom link. “Hey, old man. Are you in bed yet?” She was of course calling her oldest friend, Emperor Bartala.

“No M, I’m up, waiting for my wife. But as usual you are keeping her busy.” Bartala fired back playfully. “What are you two doing tonight, planning another rescue mission?”

She ignored his question. “Can you sneak out? We need you here with us.”

“Yes! Meet me in your rooms, I’ll be there in two minutes.”

Without saying a word to anyone, The Muse of Mischief disappeared from the deck. She returned almost instantly with Bartala.

“Bartala! Welcome.” Brzko called to him.

“Thank you Agent Brzko.” He said as he walked over to Ferocity. “Ferocity. I…” He didn’t know what to say.

Ferocity stood slowly and embraced him with his wings. After a moment he released the Emperor of Ploosnar and took his seat again. “I’m OK Bartala, thank you for coming.”

Bartala was having a difficult time pulling his attention away from Ferocity but Xiix was there to help. “Here, you have some catching up to do Emperor!” He projected to everyone as he shoved a steaming glass of freshly poured espidrun toward the Emperor.

Emperor Bartala immediately tossed it back and held the glass out toward Xiix, while he turned to look at his wife. “Darling, as always you are a vision of beauty.”

As soon as his glass was filled he went and sat with her.

“Emperor?” Ferocity said.

The Emperor didn’t answer, he just looked across the deck toward the Dragon with a raised brow.

“May I share an image with you?”

Bartala didn’t really know what to say, or what that really meant, so he just nodded. Suddenly it was as if he was standing on the deck of the Dragon ship. The ramp was down, open to a fiery red planet. In the distance he could see the red giant, pulling the planet’s atmosphere toward it – everything glowed a hostile shade of red. At the base of the ramp stood his wife, the Empress of Ploonar. She donned a brilliant green bodysuit. Every part of her body was firm and tense, ready for action. With a pulse weapon strapped to each thigh, she stood ready with her feet at a shoulder’s width, ready for action. She turned and looked toward him, she was of course looking toward Ferocity – this was his memory. Bartala had never seen the love of his life look more beautiful – not even in her most elegant gown decorated with jewels. As quickly as it came, the vision ceased. Bartala looked up, across the deck toward Ferocity.

“Thank you.” He said as he tried to discreetly dab the edge of his wet eye.

Ferocity just nodded to him.

Empress Nalau leaned toward her husband and whispered in his ear. “What is it darling, are you alright?”

He kissed her forehead. “Yes my love.”

The Empress sat back in her own chair, “So Nguvu, have you given any thought to bonding?” she asked.

Bartala’s hand was casually resting on her thigh, but when she asked Nguvu about bonding he squeezed in excitement.

“Empress Nalau I…” Nguvu started. But she was interrupted.

“Hey! You started the party without me!” Zri said as he came down the stairs.

Lelelu was up, and in her lover’s arms in a flash. Zri embraced her, and the moment he let her go he went to Ferocity.

“Close call huh Ferocity.” He said patting his shoulder.

Ferocity didn’t answer, he stood and embraced Zri. At first Zri was completely rigid, unaccustomed to being touched by anyone but Lelelu. But there’s something about being wrapped in a Dragon’s wings that relaxes even the most rigid.

Ferocity released him without a word and sat down. Xiix was right there handing Zri his first espidrun of the evening. Zri took it with him, and sat down with Lelelu. Xiix made the rounds and refilling glasses. He saved Nguvu for last. “Nguvu, would you like another?” He asked as he extended the arm holding the nekmid bottle.

“Only if you are having another Xiix.” She said extending her glass toward him.

They all laughed. “Nguvu you fit in perfectly.” M teased. “So, before Zri arrived, you were about to say something about bonding…”

Nguvu took a breath, about to respond but was interrupted again.

“Please forgive the interruption.” Whotov as he descended the stairs. “But I’m quite sure you are in need of refreshments, especially you Ferocity. You need to keep your strength up.” Once again, the Ploosnarian butler that served Ferocity the Dragon, came to everyone’s rescue. He was balancing an unbelievably large travy, filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and lusimis. He set it on the table and turned to leave, he noticed the Emperor and simply nodded to him. Knowing that the Emperor of Ploosnar is not supposed to leave the planet without a full escort of palace guards, he was uncomfortable with openly greeting him but at the same time accustomed to seeing him here.

“Thank you Whotov. You always know just what we need.” Agent Brzko said as Whotov ascended the stairs.

“Pleasure!” he called over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs.

“Remember Whotov, we’d be happy to have you back at the palace anytime you tire of this Dragon.” Bartala called after him.

Whotov just waved his hand and kept heading up the stairs. He was glad that they couldn’t see his face, he couldn’t hide how happy it made him to hear these things from the Emperor of Ploosnar, whom he had served for decades. But he wouldn’t leave his post with Ferocity for anything. He often bragged about his position to family and friends, sharing tidbits of his most interesting days.

Glasses were filled again, snacks were grabbed from the tray, and the group settled again. As usual, they were quite a sight – two Clyreans, two Dragons, a Suus, a Trelod, a Gaznzulian, and the Emperor and Empress of Ploosnar. But there never has been, nor will there ever be, a tighter group.

M was afraid that saying anything would interrupt anything Nguvu may have to say. So instead of speaking she leaned forward and look past Brzko and Ferocity toward Nguvu, catching her eyes.

“Yes Muse of Mischief.” Everyone went silent when Nguvu spoke. “I have spent time considering the possibility of bonding. I’ve spent time on Dragona with unbonded Dragons that devote their lives to politics, or other duties of servitude. But I’ve also spent time with Ferocity, a bonded Dragon. And recently, I realized that I am in a unique position. Ferocity’s bond to Agent Brzko was arranged, as are most bonds. But because I was in stasis on the VReoria ship for so long a bonding was not pre-arranged for me. I have the luxury of having a say in who I bond to, and I would like to be bonded.”

He couldn’t help himself, Emperor Bartala blurted out, “Would you consider being bonded to our son Wisssi?”

The only sound was the waves of the Shwarth sea crashing below. Everyone was looking at Nguvu. She was looking at the ground in front of her.

Ferocity attempted to come to her rescue. “Perhaps…” Nguvu looked at him and he stopped speaking.

“Emperor Bartala, Empress Nalau, I would be honored to be bonded to Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai when he is ready.” She said.

“Ready? I do not understand.” Bartala said.

“A bond cannot be undone, it is for eternity. He has to be old enough to know what it means to be bonded to a Dragon before I can be bonded to him. And it needs to be his choice.” She said.

Bartala just looked at her, then finally said, “You, Nguvu, are more insightful than I imagined.Would you consider spending time getting to know him, before he’s old enough to make a decision about bonding?”

“Of course.” She answered. “I think we will have a great time getting to know each other.”

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