Before I Doubt my Memories, My Memories Doubt Me

“I know you,” the wind dragen said. “We met… when you first arrived.” He set a hand on his chest and said, “Denair, remember?”

Aram blinked and shook his head, not wanting to bring those memories to the surface. They came anyway, of course. He did remember the other dragen. “You… saved me,” Aram whispered.

“I don’t know about that. I just gave you the same advice I got when I arrived,” Denair replied. He looked up at Poppy and explained, “The demons would use those who had particular gifts for entertainment or other such things. Those who had… no useful skills…” he trailed off, uncertain about how to finish.

“They killed them,” Aram said softly. “They made them lay so many eggs… so very many… that – that they died and them they ate them. Sometimes they ate them while they were still alive. They screamed a lot then.” Aram put a hand to his ear, as if to block out the cries he’d heard from the demon’s victims.

Suddenly strong arms were around them. “It does get better,” a soft voice said into his ear. “It takes a long time, but it does get better. You’re safe now. You’re home and you’re safe.”

Aram realized he was shaking now. “Thanks,” he said, his voice hardly audible.

Denair nodded, stepping back. “If you ever want to talk. I’m at the Icewind Caverns. You have only to call. We can talk over the summoning stone or I can come here.”

“Thanks,” Aram repeated. His single wing flapped and he tilted his head curiously. “Why are you living with ice dragens?”

Denair shrugged. “When I called my family to tell them that I’d survived, they… didn’t want me back. Too many bad memories, I guess.” He looked ready to say more but stopped himself. “Anyway, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who got out of there. That seems to be the one good thing that comes of this rogue earth dragen. Even if he doesn’t mean to every time he goes to the demon realm, the dragens held there as slaves see him. They gain the hope of escape.”

“That would be one reason not to just go ahead and seal the gate completely with a revised spell,” Jesin said softly. “How many dragens are they holding?”

“I don’t know,” Aram whispered. “There were a lot. More when we first got there. When they… grew tired of a particular slave…” he trailed off, shaking the dark thoughts away.

“There were a lot,” Denair repeated. “Some… almost happy with their fate. Others… hopeless, not seeing a way out.”

“Not happy,” Aram corrected. “Comfortable. They made do. They didn’t want to be there but… it was better than the alternative. If you pleased the masters, they’d let you live a little longer.”

“Some never got comfortable,” Denair said. “They constantly tried to escape – whatever the punishment.”

“We all had to watch the punishment too. We didn’t understand a word the demons were saying but we knew what the dragen had done to earn their ire. A lot of dragens lost hope, just seeing the price for a failed escape attempt,” Aram added softly.

“How could you… survive that?” Elder Bricen asked. “I would think you’d start… wishing for death.”

“Some did,” Denair replied. “That’s what my folks expected of me. That… They thought I should have killed myself rather than serve the demons. But I couldn’t give up hope. I just couldn’t. I had to keep on believing that there was a way out. They’d brought us there; there had to be a way back.”

Aram nodded. He understood the feeling. He’d had it too. The stubborn will to gain his freedom. No matter how many times he was punished for insolence or trying to sneak away into the strange world that the demons called home. He couldn’t simply give in. He toed the line when necessary but he never gave up.

“That’s so horrible,” Elder Paesha murmured. “Your own family.”

Denair shook his head decisively and said, “Myro’s my family now. Myro, Grandfather Ryden and Saira… and the little one on the way. They’re my family. It’s a strange family… but it works. It’s a different home, but I’ve made it my own now. I’m glad my parents and brother and sister made it through the war relatively unscathed. But they’ve severed all ties with me. There’s no point in fretting it.”

Aram smiled suddenly. He realized how very lucky he was. His parents and brother and sister had not only accepted him back into the family with open arms, they’d gone to great lengths to make him comfortable. Mommy hadn’t even returned to her home caverns yet, allowing her sub-elder to handle the reigns of leadership. If his family had been changed by his disappearance, it had been for the better. The loss had drawn them closer together. Denair’s family seemed to have gone in the opposite direction.