Chapter 46: Day Zero
After a while, we must have dozed off, as I woke the next morning in the truck, while Fenek had somehow ended up on the ground below the vehicle.
By the time I made my way back together with Fenek, who seemed to be in a better mood, Victor nearly ran right into me, saying something about dragon affairs.
Muttering about work, I asked, "What?"
"The ambassador wants to discuss things about people from their side visiting ours. The civilian side is asking for you to go there as an advisor." he subsequently looked me over, "Seriously! Where the hell have you been the whole bloody day?! I've gone round the town three times already and still cannot find you! And if you say that you were on a roof, I'll slap you so hard..."
I couldn't help but flash a smile. "No, I wasn't on a roof. I was in a truck. Long story. What time am I supposed to go down?"
Victor huffed. "After lunch. Truck huh."
"Like I said, long story. Is it lunchtime already, or breakfast?" I replied with a shrug.
"Lunch, you lazy-ass lizard." He replied, jabbing my snout jokingly before he left.
As we made our way to the house, I turned to Fenek, "Eh, you can stay at home if you don't want go."
Fenek nodded. "I'd rather go with you just in case."
"Then you'll end up pouting your face off tonight. I think it's better for your own well-being if you stay home. That's an order if it has to be one. Go get some rest. Maybe disturb Agenor and his girlfriend if you want." I replied while closing the door and heading to the kitchen. Ambassador or no, they would have to wait till I had eaten.
Fenek made no protest, much to my surprise, and settled down at the table to wait for me to finish cooking. I wasn't too sure whether or not the rest had eaten, so I began preparing food for two.
However, as the rest of them streamed in, I paused to check with Atheros, who mentioned that it was not only not quite time for lunch yet, they had also not eaten yet. He did, however, seem rather keen to help, so I got him to go and chop some meat for the fried rice, while I went about scaling up the portion accordingly.
"Where were you last night, Father? I was worried." Atheros asked, while he chopped away at the meat. I paused to stop him from snacking on some of the raw stuff.
"Long story. Ended up sleeping in a truck. Fenek had issues....which had more issues on my end and led to one big mess and generally complicated a simple matter." I replied, chopping up some long beans, "Oh, and if you're going to insist on stealing some of the meat, at least be a little more discrete, especially after I already caught you once." I added, chuckling.
Atheros gave a slightly sheepish look, before moving on to what was left of the meat. "I'm apologise, Father. I missed breakfast as Uncle asked me to help in the search for you as well. May I ask why you're frying the rice which is already cooked?"
"You need to use already cooked rice for fried rice, overnight rice if possible." I replied, while heating up the wok and pouring in some oil. I noted that the rest of the kids were watching, while Sythes hovered somewhere in the background. He seemed to want to speak with me, but motioned for me to continue with my cooking first.
Now that I had time to think about things, I realised that the dragon children, or hatchlings as they were supposed to be called, were probably older than my modest twenty plus years, and yet they treated me as their elder. Come to think about it, it was actually quite awkward. But then again, they had been doing so from day one, and I was not about to start distancing myself from my own family.
Meanwhile, Atheros was trying again to swipe some of the meat as the oil heated up on the modest wood stove. I gave him a halfhearted glare before tossing in the meat and starting to stir it around the wok with a spatula.
However, after a while, I realised that the one spatula was doing a rather pathetic job given the sheer amount of meat in the wok, so I got another and began doing it with both hands, pausing here and there to toss in some mixed vegetables, rice then a whole lot of eggs.
I didn't quite realise that everyone had crowded round until I picked the wok up and brought it to the table, where the whole bunch of dragons followed me to, and sat as I doled out their portions.
The general questions revolved around where I learned to cook like that, and I ended up telling stories about the Old World over dinner.
"You think this is good? You should have seen how the actual hawkers did it. We used to have huge buildings, full of stalls, all selling different types of food. Fried fish, stew, barbecued pork, anything! And on top of that, it was cheap, really cheap. I used to drive to the other side of the island just to have some good beef noodles! Singapore is the country of food, man! I'll see if I can cook something interesting for dinner if I don't get held up."
The dragons were too busy salivating to really say anything. So much for sleeping the evening away.
Sythes, who had been sitting on my right broke out in a huge smile, which was actually slightly unnerving given the visibility of his fangs, adding, "You must have many tales of the Old World, yes? You must share them with us! Besides, I believe you have to share some long overdue quality time with those of your bloodline, no?"
I smirked and nodded, while chewing. "Can't argue with that."
"Especially since the war is no more....for now. You have no more excuses to vanish, Brother." He added with a chuckle.
I echoed his laugh, sipping my water. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear people talking about these things. I didn't exactly sign on to fight, you know."
A chorus of skeptical snorts and huffs ensued, while Fenek actually giggled. "What is the point in joining an army if you don't desire to fight?"
I couldn't help but to smirk at the absurdity of my own statement, despite it being the truth. "Eh, don't get me wrong, I took up arms when the call came, but otherwise, we were a peacetime army. I wanted a stable job and good pay, and although this kind of thing isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea, I didn't mind so I signed the contract. Remember, back then, dragons were myths and legends. So much for that huh."
This, of course, led to some awkward silence, and I took the opening to continue eating, only to be interrupted after only two mouthfuls. It was Sythes again, though I didn't blame him for being curious. "How did you move around? I'm sure the army kept their machines to themselves, and walking is hardly a very fast method...nor is using those two-wheeled things humans call bicycles."
"I had a car." I replied, and continued eating, only pausing later on to explain what a car was to the whole bunch of confused reptiles. As to why we had found none presently, I had no idea.
Either way, Victor came in halfway to rush us, while also unwittingly saving me from any more questions. I hurriedly finished up my food and made my way to the embassy with Victor hurrying me all the way. Fenek didn't seem too happy about being left behind, but I could tell that he agreed that it was for the best.
Already, people were calling this Day Zero, since it was the first day of peace for goodness knew how long, with no fear of sudden attack, or bullying dragons. People were celebrating, and the streets were filled with the scents of assorted good foods...
Of course, the military and the civilian government were all too busy settling administrative and operational matters. The City Hall was shrouded in an aura of seriousness with a pinch of haste thrown in, while as I approached the embassy, or rather, the forge that had been repurposed as the embassy, I could already hear the sounds of an argument floating down from upstairs.
In the end, i decide to postpone my own suffering by returning home again to get my wallet. Subsequently, I detoured to a random shop and bought myself a large bottle of juice before finally making my way in.
I was led into the small building by one of the staff. A human guy, probably of chinese descent, who pointed me up the stairs and to the first room on the left.
Taking a swig from the bottle, I made my way upstairs after thanking the man, who seemed to more or less be the receptionist. It looked to be a boring job, sitting in the mostly empty main atrium at a lonely desk, only with a sofa and a table for company.
Knowing that I was already late, I loped up the stairs, trying very hard not to trip over my own claws and end up rolling down on the way. Thankfully, that did not happen, and I found myself at the door in relatively short order.
I knocked and the door was opened more or less at once, and I was hustled in by a man who introduced himself as the guy in charge of immigration. He seemed to be under a great deal of stress, with sweat matting his brow and eyebags that could possibly have had eyebags of their own. He seemed to be of eurasian descent, with a head of messy brownish hair, and a pair of clear blue eyes.
I was sat down next to the man who introduced himself as Smith, and across the table sat Drak'rrth along with a green dragon that I didn't recognise.
The green was introduced as Zooks, one of Drak'rrth's assistants, who would take down the details of any finalised agreements and send them along.
"So, what's the situation?" I asked as soon as I had settled into my seat.
However, Drak'rrth seemed concerned about something else. "This is unacceptable! I sent for you in the morning and they only found you at noon! What treachery is this?!"
Sighing, I attempted an explanation, "I slept in a truck because I spent the night ironing out some issues together with Fenek. My apologies."
Drak'rrth's expression changed entirely at the mention of Fenek, and his frown turned into a smile. "Ah, you were doing your duty as a Rider and slept late as a result. That is understandable. We may resume our discussions."
I took another mouthful of my juice before repeating my question.
Smith stepped in to answer, "Nothing much since they want us to open our borders unconditionally."
"If they reciprocate, that shouldn't be an issue..." i replied, glancing to Drak'rrth.
However, things were not going to be that easy. Drak'rrth huffed. "The Council does not wish to open our borders to you at this time."
"Then it's hardly a fair agreement if we open up but you do not." I replied flatly, already mentally prepared to watch the talks collapse. If they had indeed begun in the morning and had been stuck at an impasse like this for so long, I doubted if my presence would do much good...
Smith nodded in agreement, "That's what I've been trying to tell him for the whole morning!"
"And I've been saying that it cannot be done!" Drak'rrth shot back, evidently annoyed at the apparent lack of progress.
"Okay, okay, guys, relax. Perhaps we can compromise. Look, Drak'rrth, we're not going to let anyone and everyone in here without a background check, and I doubt if your side is going to either. I propose we both open borders, but on the condition that both sides collaborate to ensure their own security and we should draw up some documents to facilitate movement between the states." I hurriedly cut in, hoping to shut the whole argument down before it heated up again.
Smith agreed readily enough with my idea, however, Drak'rrth seemed unmoved. "No, I already said that we will not open our borders to you!"
I stared the black drake in the eye, "In that case, no deal. I already stated that that arrangement is unfair to us. You either go back and tell your Council to be reasonable, or the border will remain closed."
Drak'rrth growled, glaring at me and holding my stare evenly. "Ach! The Council didn't want this treaty in the first place!"
I found myself snarling as I slammed my fist onto the table and surged to my feet. "You committed yourself to it! And on top of that, this was your bloody idea! The least you could do is to support your own damned treaty!"
"Or what? You’ll go back to war with us?" He snapped, snarling and standing up.
I held his glare, "I'll be damned if I fire the first shot, but if it comes to that, I'll blast your sorry asses to hell."
"We outnumber you! You won't win!" Came the reply.
I scoffed. "So what? We out gun you, literally. One of my men can kill five of yours. I don't need numbers."
To this, Drak'rrth had no reply. I sat back down. "Don't forget, this is not your world." i added coldly, "Now, do you want to talk reason or not? I have a family, and I'd rather be home with them than trading threats in a pointless exercise here."
Drak'rrth sighed. "Very well. I will speak to the Council, and we present your idea to them. We shall resume on the morrow."
I nodded and left with Smith, who seemed to be much paler now.
"You know, I knew that dragons could get loud, but that was somewhat beyond what I expected... You do know that you nearly started a war, right?" Smith remarked as we made our way down the stairs.
I just shook my head, sighing. "He was bluffing. Whether or not the Council really wanted this, I don't know, but it was his idea. I doubt if he'll throw it all out the window over this nonsense. Still, their reluctance is intriguing."
With that, we exited the building and went our separate ways. I was only stopped halfway when Drak'rrth shouted for me to stop. Somewhat confused, I turned to face the dragon, who handed me my drink.
"You forgot this." he remarked, as I took it, "Ah, and regarding your training, the Rider Academy has admitted you. I will give you the details soon. You should be there for a few months. I trust that it shouldn't be a problem?"
I shrugged. "Shouldn't be. I'll just hand my duties over to someone and go. No issue unless there's a big event during which I get recalled or something."
"Big event?" Came the question with a cocked head.
"Border incursion maybe, invasion definitely." I replied with another shrug, "Thanks for passing me the bottle. Good luck talking sense into that Council of yours."
Drak'rrth nodded and returned to the embassy, while I went home.