The mood in the hall was, if possible, more sober than usual as Sean and his friends took their seats in their now-familiar box. They arrived a few minutes early; most of the dragons were already there, settled into their appointed spots, waiting. There was no conversation—no sound at all beyond the occasional rustle of clothing or movement of a chair. No one looked at anyone else.

Sean looked around at his friends, who looked almost as sober as the dragons did. His mind drifted back to an hour or so ago. Ocelot and Kestrel had returned a little after ten and headed off to their rooms to shower; Winterhawk at that point had already disappeared into his own room, leaving Sean staring out the window at the artificial landscape.

Gabriel had come in a few minutes after that. He was already dressed in a dark, rather conservative suit, the bright violet of his eyes his only color. He immediately went to Sean, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Sean nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. Where’ve you been—talking to Neferet?”

“No. Just taking a walk. Thinking.” He paused a moment and then looked Sean in the eye. “We have to leave soon, but I want you to know something before we go.”


“That I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that you are allowed to live. As I’ve told you before, and as I am sure you know, none of what has happened is your fault. I won’t allow you to suffer for something you had no control over.”

Sean was surprised at how intense, how passionate his father looked, even though his face was calm. There was something about those eyes that just burned right into your soul. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling—it was more like an answer to the wish that most teenagers, Sean included, experienced sometime during their years of growing up: the wish that someone out there could simply understand them. Sean had no doubt in his mind that Gabriel understood him.

Still, though, he wondered how far the gesture would go. “How can you say that?” he asked. “I know you’ll try—I know you’ll do whatever you can. But you can’t stand up to all those dragons, can you? If they decide to kill me, what are you going to do, fight them all?”

“If necessary,” Gabriel said. His voice was dead calm, his eyes level. “But I do not think it will come to that. They might require—certain concessions to spare you. If they do, I will agree to them. They’re not unreasonable, Sean, I can tell you that. There are those who do not approve of what I have done, and those with longstanding dislike of my family, but like humans, most of them do not wish to see the indiscriminate loss of life.”

“But—” Sean took a deep breath. “Most of them aren’t like you, are they? I mean, sure they don’t want to see dragons die, but do they care about one insignificant human, especially if he stands in the way of their laws?”

“You are not insignificant, Sean,” Gabriel said. There was an edge of intensity to his voice now. “And you are not human. You are dragonkin. Whether they approve or not, the blood of their own kind runs in your veins. They will not attempt to destroy you without cause.” He paused a moment. “Aside from that, with a few exceptions most of them value life of all types, at least to an extent.” This last he added somewhat reluctantly.

“You mean they think of us kind of like we think of pets,” Sean said, a little bitterness creeping into his tone. “As long as we amuse them or don’t get in their way, we’re okay.”

Gabriel sighed and looked away. “I won’t tell you that there are not some among us who feel that way,” he said at last. “But you might be surprised to know that they are by far in the minority. Most dragons see humans and metahumans as an important part of the world’s plan—as beings who can do many things that we cannot, and as key players in the events that shape the world’s destiny.”

Sean looked surprised. “You mean they actually think we’ve got some use? I mean—I’ve admired dragons all my life, but I always thought they were so far above humans and metahumans that they operated on a whole different plane. I never thought I’d even get to meet one, because they don’t hang around the same places or do the same things we do.”

“You would be surprised,” Gabriel said again. “Dragons, like other intelligent races, are individuals, with individual preferences, desires, and actions. Some, like Ryumyo, are recluses, rarely seen outside their lairs. Others, like Lofwyr, have stepped fully into twenty-first century life, choosing to work with the other races rather than avoid them, even if it is only to further his own ends. Some, like Hualpa and Masaru, have their own causes which require them to interact with other races. Still others truly care about the welfare of humans and metahumans, and enjoy their company. I include myself in this category—for a more famous example, look at Dunkelzahn.”

Sean nodded slowly. He had never thought about the fact that dragons were in many ways, when you boiled it down, simply larger, stronger, more magical, and more intelligent versions of the other races. Sure they had their own agendas and in many cases their thought processes were unintelligible to those who didn’t share their mental and magical keenness, but they were still living beings who needed many of the same things their smaller counterparts did. “So—they might not just blindly follow the law because that’s the way it’s always been done?”

“Not all of them,” Gabriel said softly. “Some will—believe me, you haven’t seen a hidebound traditionalist until you’ve met some of the older dragons. And there are those who have very personal reasons for opposing the creation of dragonkin. But many of them will look at the circumstances, see that they have nothing to fear from me or from you, and decide accordingly.”

Sean nodded again. His mind drifted a little off course as his father’s words brought something back to his mind. Hidebound traditionalists—that was what the woman, Minhailreth, had said the night before last when she and Gabriel had spoken in the library. Suddenly Sean didn’t want to keep his secret anymore. He looked at Gabriel. “Dad—?”

Gabriel tilted his head questioningly, surprised at Sean’s sudden change in mood. “Yes?”

“I—” He took a deep breath. “There’s—something I have to tell you.”

Gabriel didn’t look disturbed by this. “What is it?”

Another pause. “You—reminded me with something you said. I—” He forced himself to blurt it out: “I was in the library the other night. I heard you talking to that lady, Minhailreth. I’d fallen asleep reading on the couch and I was afraid to show myself while you were there.”

To Sean’s surprise, Gabriel merely smiled. “I don’t mind,” he said. “Did you think I would be angry with you?”

“I...didn’t know, I guess.” Sean still looked uncomfortable. “I don’t like to eavesdrop on people’s conversations.”

“I know that,” Gabriel assured him. “And as I recall, we didn’t say anything that could be construed as private or embarrassing.”

“So—you’re okay with it?”

“Of course. I’m glad you admitted it, though—I did not know you were there. The shielding is very strong here.”

“That’s what I figured—either that or you noticed and just decided not to say anything.” He looked out the window for a moment before turning back to Gabriel. “I wonder if she knows, though. She was looking at me strangely yesterday—smiling. I got the impression that she might know I was there.”

“I don’t know,” Gabriel said. “I have not spoken with her since that time, so she has not mentioned it. I don’t think she would have minded either, though.”

Sean smiled a little, relieved. He looked at his father, and before his mind could stop his mouth, he said quietly, “You like her, don’t you?” His eyes widened as he realized what he’d just said.

Again, Gabriel didn’t seem bothered. “She is...fascinating,” he said at last. “And as I said that night, I cannot rid myself of the feeling that we have met somewhere before.”

“Sounds like she thinks the same thing,” Sean said. “But you don’t know where?”

“I have been trying to place it, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. Had I met her before, doubtless I would have remembered her. She—has that effect.”

Sean smiled. “She certainly has been checking you out during the trial. And I’ve seen you looking at her too.”

Gabriel returned the smile; his was faraway, wistful. “Perhaps this is not the time to discuss this, Sean. We’d best be going—today of all days it would not do to be late.”

Sean didn’t argue.

And they had left it at that, leaving the suite to arrive at where they now sat, in their box in the Hall waiting for the last phase of the trial—the vote—to begin. It was almost time now; he expected Lofwyr to emerge from the room behind the podium any minute and set things in motion. Taking one last look around he noticed Neferet and Uneki seated in their accustomed places—both wore serious but mostly unreadable expressions. Across the hall Minhailreth was watching Gabriel with a serene face but worried eyes. This is it, Sean thought. Today might be my last day on Earth.

As if picking up on Sean’s thoughts, Kestrel placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. When he turned to look at her, she smiled a little. “It’ll be fine,” she mouthed.

At this point the door to room behind the podium did open. Lofwyr stepped out, dressed as usual in conservative corp suit, his long steel-colored hair drawn back into a loose ponytail, his golden eyes still. All attention turned to him immediately. Kestrel’s hand tightened on Sean’s shoulder.

“I bid you all welcome,” Lofwyr intoned, “to the final day of our Council meeting. I hope that all of you have had a chance to weigh the information you have been given and to reach a decision as dictated by your conscience, your knowledge of our laws, and any mitigating circumstances you feel apply in this case.” He looked at Gabriel and Sean. “As I know there are those who wish for what is undoubtedly a trying and stressful time to reach its end, I will not waste time in speaking further. Let us begin the vote.”

“How will they do it?” Sean whispered to Gabriel. “Alphabetical order?”

Gabriel shook his head. “No. The younger will vote first, followed by the elder, though not necessarily in order by age. And though he is not the eldest among us, as chair Lofwyr’s vote will be last.”

“Ah, so they want to give the older ones a chance to make a few alterations if the vote’s not going their way?” Winterhawk muttered from the other side.

“Sadly you are correct,” Gabriel told him. “It is likely that most of the younger ones will favor us, but many of the elders will not.”

“Do you get a vote?” Kestrel asked. Sean looked surprised—it hadn’t occurred to him that Gabriel might be allowed to vote on his own fate. He turned to his father.

Gabriel nodded. “I do. In the Council, everyone is permitted a vote. The accused votes first.”

Lofwyr was speaking again. “Gethelwain,” he called. “You will come forward and stand at the head of the gathering as the vote is taken.”

“Yes, honored one.” Gabriel stood and prepared to do as he was instructed.

“Don’t I get to go too?” Sean whispered.

Gabriel touched his shoulder. “Not this time, Sean.” His voice was soft. “They will determine my fate first. If I am spared, then you are as well. If I am found guilty—” He didn’t finish the sentence, but Sean saw his violet eyes harden for a moment as if to say, we’ll see about what happens if they try to do anything to you.

Sean nodded, reaching up to touch his father’s hand for a moment, then letting it go. There was nothing he could do now—nothing but watch and hope and pray. He watched as Gabriel moved past his other friends, each one briefly touching his arm as he went by. Their faces were all grim; even Maya looked subdued. She gazed up at Gabriel as he moved past her and offered him a single soft “meow.” He stroked her head and moved on.

It only took Gabriel a few moments to cross the hall and mount the dais next to Lofwyr, but it seemed an eternity to Sean. His father’s bearing was tall, proud, refusing to be intimidated by the dozens of eyes upon him as he made his lonely trek. On a whim, Sean glanced across the hall to where Minhailreth sat: her eyes were fixed on Gabriel, her expression worried, almost stricken. Her hands were locked together in her lap as if she were afraid that she had to hold herself from going toward him.

Sean noticed, too, that Neferet remained in her seat and did not attempt to go forward and stand with Gabriel. He supposed that he couldn’t attach too much of his human courtroom knowledge to dragon affairs—he guessed that dragons didn’t get to have their lawyers present when the verdict was handed down. He gripped the edge of the box, leaned forward, and waited.

When Gabriel reached the dais and stood next to him, Lofwyr addressed the gathering again. “We will begin the vote now. When I speak your name, you are permitted one of three responses: ‘Aye’ denotes a vote in favor of banishment. ‘Nay’ denotes a vote in favor of clemency. ‘Abstain’ denotes that you do not wish to vote on the matter. No other responses are permitted or acceptable. Be aware of the following: a vote of clemency will imply no punishment for Gethelwain or his son. A vote of banishment will bring about a subsequent vote to decide the fate of the dragonkin—if he is to be, as is our custom, exiled with his father, or if he will be allowed to go free, or be executed. An abstaining vote cannot be changed, so think carefully before abstaining. Further, you are not permitted to hold your vote until a later time; you must vote when your name is called. Is all of this understood?”

There were no words, but Sean got the feeling that a strong sense of the affirmative rippled through the crowd. Next to him, Kestrel moved a little closer, her hand on his arm. He shivered a little. This was it.

Lofwyr nodded. “Then let us begin.” He glanced around the hall and then his steely gaze settled on Gabriel. “Gethelwain, as the accused you will have the first vote. How say you?”

Gabriel’s own gaze didn’t waver. “Nay.”

Again Lofwyr nodded as if that were not any surprise to him. “Arleesh.”

A young woman, stylishly dressed, stood and in a clear voice said, “Nay.”


This time it was a young Filipino man. “Nay.”



The vote continued in this way, with Lofwyr calling out a name and each dragon in turn stating his or her vote. Most of those in this early stage were ‘Nay,’ just as Gabriel had predicted. Sean didn’t let himself get excited, though, because he knew that there were more elder dragons than younger ones, and their voices would carry more weight.


Sean tensed as her name was called. If they were going by age then she was young but not as young as many of the others. He didn’t know how old he had expected her to be: it was impossible to tell, especially when they were in human guise.

Minhailreth looked directly into Gabriel’s eyes as she spoke. Her voice was strong and clear: “Nay.”





Sean was beginning to feel a little less stressed now as the ‘Nay’ votes continued to outnumber the ‘Aye’s. He’d been trying to keep a count in his head and although he was sure he wasn’t accurate he suspected that the Nays outnumbered the Ayes by about 1.5 to 1. Not a great margin, but a margin.



Of course—it would be quite a shock if Neferet voted against the one she had been defending.



Sean quickly looked at the Hispanic gentleman who had spoken. Hualpa’s face was set in a stonelike expression, not pleased, not disturbed.

“Shaozu.” It was the man whose people had kidnapped Sean—the one who had discovered them in the restaurant and set off this whole situation.


The names and the votes continued, and an icy grip began crawling its way up Sean’s spine as vote after vote began to come back “Aye.” He looked at Gabriel, but his father stood silent and unmoving, his face unreadable as his fellow dragons continued to determine his fate. Then Sean glanced, for the first time, at Kestrel. She had a tiny pocket secretary out, down below the level of the box, and was using it to keep track of the vote. Right now it stood at a tie—just as many Aye votes as Nays. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Kestrel’s face was grim. There weren’t that many other dragons left to vote—and the oldest among them had yet to speak. Sean could only see a tiny handful who had not yet cast their votes.

Lofwyr’s face showed no emotion as he continued to recite the names. “Lung.”




Sean held his breath. This wasn’t going to work. After all this, his father was going to be banished and he was going to be killed. He just knew it. He—


All eyes turned to the dragon Gabriel had identified earlier as Lofwyr’s brother. He was dark-haired, cold-eyed, and impeccably dressed. There was silence for a moment as their eyes met, and then Alamaise said almost in the tone of a challenge: “Nay.”

There was a brief undercurrent of surprised conversation for just a few seconds, but the gathering settled down again at a look from Lofwyr.

Kestrel made another tick mark under the ‘Nay’ column.


Attention fell on a slightly stocky, powerful-looking man with light blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Sean’s own eyes widened: he had read the story of Ghostwalker’s entry into the Sixth World, which had occurred only a year or so after his own, and had eagerly followed news stories of his activities. This was one of the oldest dragons currently on Earth.

Ghostwalker did not look at Lofwyr, but at Gabriel. He studied the young man for several seconds, and then cast his vote: “Nay.”

“That’s surprising,” Winterhawk murmured. “He’s always been a traditionalist.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t want to screw up a good kid’s life for one mistake,” Ocelot suggested.

Kestrel let her breath out slowly. “It’s a tie,” she whispered.

“Who else has to vote?” Winterhawk whispered from the other side. Ocelot leaned in to get a look at the pocket secretary.

“Don’t know. I don’t know who all is here.”

There was a sudden silence on the floor as Lofwyr stopped reciting names. After a moment, the dragon spoke again, his expression grim: “The vote stands at a tie, with only one vote remaining: my own.” He turned to Gabriel, then back to the group. “I—”

Sean was moving before he thought. “Please!” he called out, vaulting over the low railing of the box to the floor.

“Sean!” Kestrel and Gabriel called simultaneously, starting to lunge forward from their respective spots, but they had no effect on the young man’s actions.

“Please,” Sean called again. “Before you cast the last vote, I want to say something!” He looked around desperately at all the faces, noting that most of them were hostile but not caring. Adrenaline coursed through his veins now, driving him forward.

Lofwyr regarded him like a bug that had landed in his dinner. “I do not believe—”

Sean looked imploringly into the dragon’s eyes. “Just hear me out, sir,” he begged. “I promise I won’t take more than a couple of minutes. But I have to say this.” He did not look at Gabriel as he spoke, but he could feel his father’s eyes on him nonetheless.

Lofwyr stared down at him for several long moments: the golden eyes pierced him as the dragon’s scrutiny went on and on until Sean thought he might scream in frustration. Then, suddenly, Lofwyr nodded once. “The Council grants your request, dragonkin,” he said. His voice was strong but carried no emotion. “You have two minutes.”

Sean took a deep breath, trying to quell his shaking and the pounding of his heart. He looked up at Lofwyr standing next to his father on the dais. “Thank you,” he said. His voice shook—he knew they could hear it but he did nothing to stop it. “Here’s all I want to say. I’m the one who’s causing all the trouble here. I’m the one who’s not supposed to be alive. I want to live—of course I do. I’m only eighteen. Up until recently I thought I was just a normal human kid, with a normal human life. I guess I would have found out otherwise in a couple of years, but that isn’t the way it happened. I’m not even supposed to be here. But even worse than if you decided that I really shouldn’t be here—even worse than that would be wrecking my father’s life over one mistake.”

He took a deep breath and let it out. “I don’t know these people—my real parents—very well yet. I only met them a few days ago. But I can already see what kind of person—what kind of dragon—my father is. If the things that people have been saying are true, and it sure sounds like they are because nobody’s challenged them, he’s done a lot of good already and has a lot more to do. He’s a dragon—an immortal—and he’s barely an adult yet. Do you think I want to cause him to be banished from his people for the rest of his life, before he’s even really had a chance to enjoy it?” Sean paused a moment, feeling sweat dotting his forehead and tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “I’ll admit it—I’m scared right now. I’m more scared than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I don’t want to die. Especially not now, after I’ve found out what kinds of things I can look forward to as a dragonkin. But I’d rather die than see you ruin my father’s life because of me. If you can’t forgive him for what he did, then I guess you’ll just have to get rid of me and eliminate the evidence. No more dragonkin, no more crime, right?”

“Sean, no!” Gabriel hissed from his place next to Lofwyr. He moved forward, but Lofwyr stopped him with a hand to his arm. Although Sean didn’t look, he could hear gasps not only from the box where his mother and his friends sat, but from a couple of the dragons as well.

Now Sean did look at his father. His eyes were streaming tears now, but his voice wasn’t shaking anymore. “Dad, all my life I thought there was something more to me than what I knew. Now that I know it for sure, I’m not going to let them destroy you because of me.” He turned back to Lofwyr. “Please, sir—if it’ll save my father...just...” He spread his arms out and met the dragon’s eyes. “Go ahead and do it.”

There was dead silence in the hall. No one moved, no one spoke—all their eyes were on Sean and Lofwyr, facing each other across the space of a few meters, and on Gabriel, standing nearby and unable to do anything but watch in horror.

Around the hall, the dragons leaned forward in their seats. None dared to speak or even whisper, to intrude on this sudden unexpected and emotionally charged situation. They merely sat, waiting, their anticipation nearly palpable in the still dry air of the stone room.

For several moments once again, Lofwyr regarded Sean. His face held no more emotion than it had before; in fact, he gave no indication that he had even heard Sean’s words. His only motion was to slowly remove his hand from Gabriel’s arm and to draw himself to his full height. Then he deliberately removed his gaze from Sean and directed it outward over the hall. His eyes studied the rows of seated dragons without lighting on any one in particular.

When at last he spoke it was a single word, a word that carried through the hall with the full force of the Great Dragon hidden in the guise of a mere human:


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