25. - Epilogue

Sean looked around in awe. If there had ever been any doubt in his mind that his father was indeed a Great Western Dragon, the sight of the vast array of caverns that formed his lair was doing a good job of putting that doubt to rest.

It was two days after the end of the Dragon Council trial, two days since they had left Zurich and flown back to the UCAS. It had been a busy two days. Ocelot, Winterhawk, and Maya had taken their leaves to return to San Francisco and London, both of them promising that they would stay in touch. Sean, upon returning to Seattle, had contacted Jay to let him know he was still alive, though he hadn’t said much about what had happened. “Did you find ‘em?” the dwarf had asked.

“Yeah. I found ‘em.”

If Jay had noticed the strange, wistful look in his friend’s eyes, he hadn’t mentioned it. For once in his life, the hyper-curious decker had caught on that this was an area where he shouldn’t pry. He told Sean that he was going to remain in Seattle for awhile and hadn’t decided if he would return to attend MIT&T. “I’ve got your number,” he said. “I’ll call you and let you know what I decide.”

They didn’t stay in Seattle long after that. Sean put his phone away and went out to the front room of the sumptuous suite he was sharing with his parents, where he found Gabriel standing near the window watching him. “So,” Gabriel said softly, “are you ready to put the last piece of the puzzle into place?”

Sean smiled as anticipation skittered down his spine. All he could do was nod.

“So...” Sean asked tentatively, looking around the huge cavern with its strange signs and sigils carved into the floor. “...how does this work? Does it take a lot of time, or do you just—I don’t know—wave your hand over my head and it’s done?”

“It doesn’t take long,” Gabriel told him, “although there is a bit more to it than simply waving my hand over you.”

“It took a long time to do in the first place,” Kestrel added. “Hours.”

“You were there?”

She nodded, grinning. “Of course I was there. I was kind of involved, after all, even though my role in the ritual was pretty much just to stand around and admire all the pretty colors.”

“It won’t take as long to undo,” Gabriel assured them. “Remember, Juliana—when I performed the ritual the first time, I was taking care to hide any traces of Sean’s true nature. It is usually easier to reveal than it is to hide.” He paused a moment, then looked at Sean. “I thought perhaps, though, that before we begin I might prove to you what I have asked you to take on faith all this time. Would you like to see my true form?”

Sean stared at him. It hadn’t occurred to him to doubt Gabriel—too many things had backed up his story for it ever to enter his mind that the whole thing might have been an elaborate hoax. He nodded, smiling. “Not that I don’t believe you, but—sure.”

Kestrel smiled. “Might want to stand back, then. He’s not exactly a pocket-sized dragon.” She gently took Sean’s arm and steered him backward until both of them were standing in the mouth of the cavern. Sean glanced at her face and saw that she was beaming with love and mischief. He wondered if he’d ever be as comfortable as she was about casually hanging out with dragons.

When they were situated, Gabriel moved into the center of the room. Sean was still getting used to seeing him dressed in faded jeans and leather jacket instead of the fine suit he’d been wearing when they first met. In this new casual outfit he looked even younger than ever, and all the more like Sean’s (slightly) older brother than someone who could be his father. It was weird, but Sean didn’t mind too much, given that it was by no means the weirdest thing that had happened recently. This one didn’t even rate.

“Ready?” Gabriel called. He was looking rather pleased with himself, his eyes twinkling in the soft glow of the cavern’s walls.

“Go for it,” Sean called back. He felt a little tingle of anticipation run up the back of his neck: this was it. His father was a dragon and now he was going to get to see that fact firsthand.

There was a pause and then the air seemed to shimmer around Gabriel for a moment. His body fuzzed out like an image on a trid with a bad connection, then appeared to dissipate, growing larger and more substantial as it went. His head grew and elongated, his slender human form lengthening and filling out, his smooth skin changing to golden scales. By the time the transformation was complete, Sean was looking up at the massive, golden form of a young Great Western Dragon. He took an involuntary step backward, gasping, and didn’t even feel Kestrel grab his arm to steady him.

I am pleased to meet you, my son,” the dragon said. His voice, unlike Gabriel’s spoke in Sean’s head—the words formed there even though there was no sound. “I am Gethelwain.” There was a formality to his words, but Sean could also sense the gentle amusement he’d come to associate with his father’s human voice. His eyes, huge and glowing, were the same shade of violet as his human eyes.

Kestrel gently urged him forward. “Go on,” she whispered. “He doesn’t bite.”

Sean took one look at the dragon’s fangs, which were almost as big as he was, and hoped she was right. Even so, though, he wasn’t afraid. As he stared up at his father, who had lowered his head down to be closer to Sean’s level, the primary emotion he felt was awe. This is my dad...

He moved forward until he was standing next to the dragon, only a meter or so separating them. He could feel his father’s presence: not just his size, but something else—a feeling in the air that pressed him, danced around him, tantalizingly close but too far away to identify.

Is something wrong?

Sean started to answer in his mind, then smiled and shook his head. “No—nothing wrong. I just—feel something.”

The dragon tilted his head in an oddly humanlike gesture. “Felt something?

Sean nodded. “Yeah. I can’t quite explain it. It’s kind of like—pressure. Like there’s something weird about the air. It’s not a bad feeling, just—weird.”

Gethelwain’s luminous violet eyes shifted to Kestrel for a moment, then back to Sean. “Indeed,” he said at last. “Then perhaps it is for the best that all of this happened now.

“Why?” A little thrill of dread flitted across Sean’s mind. Was something wrong after all? “Is this bad?”

The dragon chuckled; it was very strange hearing someone chuckle inside your head, Sean decided. “No, not bad—but it could have been inconvenient for you if it wasn’t discovered. You see, I think some of the magic I put on you to conceal your nature is beginning to—slip.” He paused a moment and then almost seemed to smile, though it was hard to tell in the draconic face. “What you’re feeling is the flow of mana. When the spells are all dropped, you will be fully in tune with the magical forces that suffuse the world.

“You’re probably feeling magic stronger here because Gabriel’s in his true form,” Kestrel put in, moving closer. “Not that I’d know, but they tell me that when he’s not concealing, he simply radiates the stuff.”

Juliana is correct,” Gethelwain told him. “The concentration of magical energy here is very high—not just because of me, but because of where we are.

Sean nodded, and then something occurred to him. “So,” he said slowly, “could this be the cause of some of the strange feelings I’ve had most of my life? Like sometimes knowing when something was going to happen, or what somebody thought of me, or that kind of thing?”

Very likely,” Gethelwain agreed. “I do not believe a masking of this type had been attempted in a very long time, so we were essentially making things up as we went along. It is entirely possible that the concealment was slightly imperfect, allowing you to experience occasional—episodes.

“Astral bleed-through,” Kestrel offered.

Sean nodded. In truth he was somewhat relieved: before he’d hit puberty he’d always chalked up the occasional weird instances as signs of the magical abilities he knew he would manifest when he grew old enough. After that had been taken from him, he’d begun to wonder if he wasn’t simply mildly insane. He’d stopped talking about the instances to his parents and friends and just hoped that they wouldn’t do him any lasting harm. Now, several years later, he realized with excitement that his first hypothesis had been correct after all. It had just taken a little longer. “So—” he said, fighting to keep his voice casual, “—can we—you know—do the ritual now?”

Kestrel chuckled. “My, you’re anxious, aren’t you?”

“Well, wouldn’t you be?”

Gethelwain shifted position and raised his head. His mind-voice still held amusement. “Of course, my son. I will not make you wait any longer.” Without warning, his body shifted and rippled again, and in a couple of seconds the leather-jacketed young man stood before Sean again. “Come. We’ll start right now.”

Sean stared, still marveling at the speed and fluidity of the transformation. “Uh—yeah,” he managed.

Kestrel ruffled his hair. “Don’t worry,” she assured him. “You’ll get used to him. He’s pretty strange, all right, but he’s great at parties. And you haven’t even seen his Godzilla collection yet.”

In the space of only twenty minutes, the mood in the cavern had changed: where it had been lighthearted, it was now silent and serious—not somber, but just filled with the feeling that something important was about to happen and there would be no place for levity until it was completed.

Sean, nervous, lay on a stone platform in the center of the cavern’s huge sigil-carved circle. He’d taken off his jacket and entrusted it to Kestrel to hold for him; she stood off on the sidelines and watched with quiet anticipation and just a little worry showing in her green eyes. The stone of the platform was hard but not cold: Sean was surprised to find that it radiated a slight inner heat that was not unpleasant. His head rested on a thin pillow. Gabriel had instructed him to try not to move any more than necessary.

He watched as his father moved around the circle. Gabriel’s lips moved as he whispered things that Sean couldn’t hear—he wondered if they were magical words of power or if he was just reminding himself of the order of the ritual. After all, it had been eighteen years since he’d done it last. The thought made him smile in its absurdity: dragons didn’t forget their rituals. Did they?

Apparently Gabriel hadn’t, though, as he looked over at Sean and smiled. “Are you ready?” he asked softly.

Sean took a deep breath. He felt like he was getting ready to step over the edge of a cliff—but that in doing so he would be finally spreading his wings and taking flight. His mind flitted back to that long-ago time when he’d stood on the edge of the Bainbridge High School gym roof: he’d wanted to fly then. Now he was going to do it—figuratively if not literally. “I’m ready,” he said.

Gabriel nodded. He glanced over at Kestrel, back at Sean, and then began pacing the circle. Around him, the cavern’s lights dimmed until the only illumination was provided by the glowing sigils and some dim points of color high up on the walls. These latter points flashed rhythmically, slow and steady. In his position Sean had a good view of them: he found them pleasant and mildly hypnotic. He felt the last of his apprehension draining from his body as the air around him began to crackle and hum. His mind drifted.

When he became aware of his surroundings again a few seconds had passed—Gabriel wasn’t pacing the circle anymore, but was instead standing next to the stone platform. He looked down at Sean and while he didn’t smile, Sean got the impression of anticipation and pleasure in his eyes. He wants this as much as I do, Sean realized suddenly.

Gabriel was still whispering. Sean craned his ears to hear, but the syllables made no sense to him. Soft, sibilant, the words of a beautiful but unknown language surrounded him, filling his ears and his mind, relaxing him. He was barely even startled when Gabriel pulled a small knife from his pocket and nicked his own wrist, bringing up a small well of bright red blood that crackled with energy when it contacted the air. Still whispering, Gabriel touched his finger to the blood and extended it, making a mark on Sean’s forehead. The spot where he touched tingled oddly—it was a strange but not unpleasant feeling, not unlike the first tingles that come when your legs are asleep and the blood has begun to flow back to them. Sean watched as Gabriel sealed the tiny nick with a glance, his heart thundering with excitement. This was it—he could tell. Whatever was going to happen was about to occur right now.

Gabriel switched smoothly to English, so smoothly that for a moment Sean wasn’t even aware that he could now understand what his father was saying. “My son,” Gabriel said softly, raising his hands over Sean’s body, “Born in secret, hidden away, kept from your true heritage for your own safety—today you will come into the light. There will be no more hiding, no more misdirection—You will know your true name, and with it will come your power. Are you ready, my son?” The violet eyes burned into his like two flames.

Sean nodded. He could feel his heart pounding in his ears now. “Yes,” he whispered.

Gabriel smiled and put his hand on Sean’s forehead. “Then it will be done. I give the world—Gethanian, son of Gethelwain and Juliana.”

As the sound of Sean’s true name hit the air, the mild tingling he had felt before became a humming, an electric thrum that coursed through his body, screaming down his nerve passages, suffusing every part of him. He opened his mouth to say something but could not. His body rocked back and forth with the force of the magic that was surging through him: his eyes tingled with a slight burning sensation, his muscles shook, his body seemed to be consumed by a gentle but powerful fire from the inside out. The spot on his forehead where Gabriel had touched it with his blood felt like a current was being run through it. A small moan escaped his lips, but it was not a moan of pain—rather, it was the sound of Sean’s realization that he had been in a cage all his life and now, finally, he was being set free. Around him he barely saw the lights flicker faster, the colors racing around the cavern, the triumphant look on his father’s face. He felt like he was being reborn.

It was over almost as soon as it had begun. After only a few moments the lights stopped flashing, the tingling feeling settled down to the faintest of tremors, and Sean’s heart quieted to something close to its normal rhythm. He looked up and saw his father smiling down at him. “Is—is it over?” he asked tentatively, not trusting his voice.

Gabriel nodded. His eyes were shining with pride. “It is over, Sean.” Kestrel came over and stood next to him, brushing his damp hair off his forehead with the side of her hand. Her smile was even wider than Gabriel’s, her eyes twinkling.

Slowly Sean sat up. He thought for a moment that he didn’t feel any different and was about to say so, but then he realized that the traces of the tingle were still with him, more as a mental impression than an actual physical feeling. He also realized that he could see faint but colorful nimbuses of energy pulsing around both his parents—especially around Gabriel, whose nimbus extended at least a meter away from him and almost obscured Kestrel’s. His eyes widened. “Are those—auras?”

Gabriel chuckled, and his nimbus—his aura—settled down to only slightly brighter than Kestrel’s. “Sorry. I forgot I wasn’t masking fully.”

I can see auras now, Sean thought with wonder. He swung around so his legs hung off the edge of the platform and looked down at his body. He didn’t look any different, at least not the parts he could see. He sighed in relief. “I was afraid I was gonna grow hair or scales or something,” he said. He hadn’t wanted to mention it to his father, but the fear had been there in the back of his mind all along.

Kestrel grinned. “Sorry, kid. It looks like you’re one of the mild ones.”

“What does that mean?” Sean looked around for something he could use as a mirror. “Did something change?”

Gabriel nodded. “All dragonkin have some physical characteristic that marks them as different, as I think I told you before. Some are more extreme than others. You were quite lucky, it appears.” He raised his hand an a small mirrored surface appeared in it. He held it up to Sean. “Take a look.”

Sean was almost afraid to look, afraid of what he might see, but he was too curious not to. He looked at his reflection and gasped, not in fear but in startled pleasure. His “change” was very apparent: his eyes, which had looked like a normal human’s eyes in pale ice blue, were now a solid violet the same color as his father’s. His pupils had gone from round to slitted like a snake’s—

like a dragon’s.

“Wiz...” he whispered with near-reverence. He thought of the burning sensation he’d felt in them, and remembered he’d felt the same in his muscles. He pushed himself off the platform and stood up, looking down at himself. “Is there—anything else?”

“Not obviously,” Gabriel told him. “But you’ve always been an Awakened being—the masking just hid that, not only from the world but from you as well. Now that the masking is gone, you’ll be able to use your powers.”

“We’ll just have to figure out what they are,” Kestrel said with a grin.

Sean looked at Gabriel. “Do you—have any idea?” he asked.

Gabriel shook his head. “No, but I have a suspicion. You told me once that you’ve been particularly good at athletics ever since you were a small child, yes?”

Sean nodded. “Yeah—I’ve always been good at sports, especially martial arts. Everybody told me I had a knack for it. I thought I was going to be a physad.”

“I think you might realize that dream after all,” Gabriel told him. “The magic that surrounds you seems to be of a full-body nature, more physical than mental.”

Sean could hardly believe what he was hearing. “You mean—?”

“I think so. We’ll have to do some testing, and you will no doubt develop other abilities as you grow older.”

“Will I learn to cast spells?” Sean asked, smiling in anticipation. This was almost too good to be true: not only did it sound like he was a physical adept after all, but maybe even more? He didn’t know what to say.

“Probably.” Gabriel was looking pleased. “Let’s take our time, Sean. You’ve got all the time in the world to learn what the future holds for you. If you like you can remain here with me as long as you wish, and I’ll do what I can to help you.”

“I’d like that a lot,” Sean said, nodding. Then he remembered something and frowned.

“What?” Kestrel asked. She handed him back his jacket.

“Is something wrong?” Gabriel tilted his head in question.

“No...” Sean shrugged back into his jacket. “It’s just that—I’m supposed to be starting at Georgetown in less than a month.”

“Do you still want to?” Kestrel asked.

“That’s just it. Like I said before—I don’t know. I feel like—everything’s changed. Like I’m not even the same person anymore. Do I even need to go to college?”

“That’s up to you,” Gabriel said. “The only change in your abilities mentally is that dragonkin are slightly more intelligent and perceptive than normal humans—I think you might have experienced some of that already, so I doubt you’ll see a major change. But still, if there’s something you want to do with your life that requires college, you might consider going.”

“You don’t have to go right away if you don’t want to,” Kestrel said. “You can take some time off, figure out what you want to do—”

Sean thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. “No...I think I do want to go. That is—” He looked at Gabriel hopefully “—that is, I think I want to go to college, but not to Georgetown. Awhile ago, back before the trial, Winterhawk said you might be able to pull a few strings and get me into Dunkelzahn University. Is that true?”

Gabriel looked amused. “I do have a few connections there,” he admitted.

“I’ve got the grades,” Sean said hastily. “It wouldn’t be like you’d have to sell me to them or anything. It’s just that I’ve already been accepted to Georgetown and—”

“Don’t worry,” Gabriel assured him. “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll take care of it. It won’t be a problem.”

Kestrel tousled his hair. “Can’t say I’m unhappy about it—I’m living in DeeCee now, helping Gabriel out with his little project, so it’ll be nice to get to see you once in awhile. When we’re not off to Azania or somewhere investigating magical carnivorous fungi or something.”

Sean laughed. “Sounds good to me. Maybe after I get out of school I can help out too. Somehow I don’t think I’m planning to end up as an accountant.”

“If you did,” Kestrel told him, still chuckling, “you’d be the world’s most dangerous accountant. And I don’t mean because of your mean double-entry bookkeeping.”

Gabriel shook his head and sighed in mock exasperation, but his eyes were twinkling. “You know,” he told Sean softly, “I have been looking forward to this day ever since you were born, and afraid that it would never come. I’m very proud of you, Sean. Never forget that.”

Sean ducked his gaze. “Thanks,” he mumbled, suddenly shy. Then he looked up and met his father’s eyes, remembering everything that had happened in the past few weeks, thinking about how his old life seemed more like a dream than it ever had before. He knew he should go back to Bainbridge and take care of selling the house—he knew now he would never be returning there, except maybe to visit occasionally—but for now it didn’t seem important. What was important was that he was eighteen, he was the son of a dragon—and he had the world there before him, ready for whatever he wanted to challenge himself to do. He felt like he was finally himself after all the years of being someone else without realizing it.

He was Gethanian.

It was a good feeling.

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