We had been flying in relative silence for some time. I was uncertain as to what I should say. A simple greeting seemed odd under the circumstances. I had no interest in hearing remarks of gratitude or praise. There was no necessity for such things between friends, after all. I had tried to select my words carefully to avoid sounding as though I did, but had elected to remain silent. I would allow her to begin the conversation. I know not whether she was experiencing shock of some kind or was having difficulties deciding what to say as well. She eventually did break the silence, though.
“I was worried about you,” Illyana said. “Are you feeling better?”
“I have recovered to a perfectly functional degree,” I said. “Refrain from shifting your weight too much. Flying with a passenger is no simple matter.”
“Sorry,” Illyana said. “I’m still a bit sore from the cell.”
“I will return you to Wicadia shortly,” I said. “However, I can land if you would like to stretch.”
“It’s fine,” Illyana said. “This feels nice. The breeze is lovely and I feel almost like I’m floating.” I was left wordless. Illyana had always tended towards granting menial activities a bizarre wonderment that was somewhat disconcerting.
“Hey,” she said. “What’s it like for you? Flying, I mean.”
“It is what it is,” I answered. “I flap my wings and I fly. On occasion I use magic to make the winds more favourable and I am capable of moving more swiftly.”
“You make it sound so… unremarkable,” she said. “Most humans would love a chance to fly.”
“Some races lacking the ability does not imbue it with supernatural properties,” I stated.
“And some races having it doesn’t make it any less stunning,” she countered. She waited in silence for a moment. “Did you change your mind about facing Sadow again?”
“The confrontation will certainly happen,” I answered. “I simply heard rumours of your peril and felt your safety was more important.”
“That’s sweet of you,” Illyana said. “I don’t know how quickly Drake would’ve been in getting help.”
I came in for a landing at the outskirts of Wicadia. “Assume a direct path and you should arrive at the city gates within minutes.”
“You aren’t coming along?”
“I am not,” I said. “I must resume my mission.”
“Without a plan?” Illyana asked.
“I do have a plan,” I said.
“You aren’t strong enough!” Illyana declared. “Why do you have to rush this? You’ll just get yourself killed.”
“I am prepared for that eventuality,” I said. “I have trained my entire life. I am as ready as I can be.”
“If that were true you wouldn’t have lost!” Illyana said, she sounded infuriated.
“Excuse me,” an elderly woman approached us. Her back was hunched and she moved with the aid of a stick. Odd, that I had not heard her coming. Illyana seemed surprised to hear her voice as well. Odder still that my appearance had no discernible effect on her. “I don’t know if you want an old woman’s advice, but fighting is about more than training. If you really wanna be ready for a fight, there’s still things you’re missing.”
“What would that be?” I asked.
“Experience boy, experience and companions!” She waved her stick in front of my face. “If you really wanna win, you need to practice with some buddies.”
“I lack the time required for such an endeavour,” I said.
“Nonsense,” she said. “You have a long life ahead of you if you play it right. Besides, you can get all the experience you need quickly, if you go down to the arena in Orontios. The cage fighters there get quite a few showings, and they have team matches.”
I was about to respond when she turned her gaze directly on me. That was when I noticed her eyes. I had seen them before… No, that was incorrect. Other draconians had seen them. Those piercing grey eyes could only belong to one being. She was allowing me to see through her disguise.
“Who would I fight beside in these team matches?” I inquired.
“Maybe someone beside you,” she said. “Maybe someone’s in the city already looking for a partner. Maybe a bit of both.” She walked away with inhuman speed. Her laugh echoed behind her.
“There was something strange about her,” Illyana said. “I trust you noticed?”
“She was Athena,” I said.
“The Goddess?” Illyana asked. “Are you sure?”
“I am quite certain,” I said. “It is not easily explained, but my people have encountered her many times and in multiple forms. However, there are always two consistencies. Her eyes and her presence.”
“I felt the presence too,” Illyana said. “I can’t say I noticed the eyes. So, are you going to take her advice?”
“I am,” I answered. “Even though she is not the Goddess I have dedicated myself to, she has still proven herself a steadfast ally of my people and she has never led us astray.”
“Makes sense,” Illyana said. “Just let me grab Drake and talk with Professor Mord and we’ll leave.”
“Of course,” Illyana said, smiling wryly. “After all, Sadow is trying to kill me because of you. So I’m in this too. Besides, she did say you should look for allies beside you. As far as I know, I’m the only one she could be talking about.”
I had intended to leave Illyana behind, in spite of her protests, however, what she said did have a fairly strong rationality behind it. If Sadow was trying to kill her, then she would certainly be safer. I would certainly be damned before allowing him to harm my friend as he had harmed my people. His attempts on her life may even provide me with a chance to finish him. And the only other person she might have been referencing was preoccupied and would certainly not be participating in any crass arena matches.