“Are you sure going to Chicago is a good idea?” Nim asked. “You and your mom sort of get along living on different worlds. Do you think being in the same house will work?”
Jo shrugged. “We’ll find out. Now, remember, my parents know you’re not fond of pork and chicken, but there are limited other meats. And they traditionally have ham for Christmas dinner.”
“I’m a guest. I know my manners. I won’t complain about the food,” Nim assured her. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”
“Thank you.” Jo kissed him.
“And, honestly, if we have to have pork, ham’s my favorite. I don’t have to drink the coffee, though, do I?”
“No. Please don’t drink the coffee. You’ll be wired enough as it is by the time we leave.”
“I know. I have extra parchment packed.”
“Good. Are you ready?”
“I am. Give me Kory. I’ll use my bellyfire to keep him warm,” Nim suggested.
Jo handed him the sleeping baby. Nim wrapped his cloak around the boy but didn’t increase his bellyfire yet. He’d wait until they got there so he wouldn’t get overheated.
“You two have a good trip,” Ann said. She and Andy had come to see them off.
“Thanks, we will,” Jo said.
“Do you have an extra vial?” They had extra vials to store extra magic energy for emergencies.
Nim nodded. “I’ve got both filled.”
“Good. Scry us if you have any problems.”
“Have fun. See you when you get back.” Ann hugged them.
“Merry Christmas,” Andy said. “Got your gifts?”
“Gifts?” Nim turned to Jo. “You didn’t say anything about gifts.”
“I’ve got the gifts. Don’t worry about it.” Jo smiled.
Nim sighed. “Don’t do that.” He turned to the others. “We’ll see you.” With that, he transported his family to the gate. They showed the guard their permission to use the gate and he allowed them to go through. Jo’s cousin, Melissa met them on the other side. “Welcome. Merry Christmas,” she greeted them.
“Thanks. Merry Christmas.” Jo hugged her.
“Where’s the baby?” Melissa asked.
Nim opened his cloak to reveal the little one he held.
Melissa smiled. “Oh, he’s so adorable.”
“Allen and his folks had to leave. Your folks called and said they were running a little late, but they should be here soon.”
“Problems?” Jo asked.
“Weather. It snowed last night and they’re still plowing.”
“Oh, great,” Nim groaned. He didn’t like cars in good road conditions.
“It’ll be fine,” Jo assured him.
“The roads aren’t that bad,” Melissa agreed. “Some people just get nervous driving in the snow so they slow down with the first flake.”
Nim sighed. He remembered what it was like from when he had lived here after first meeting Jo.
Melissa led them through her in-laws’ country club from the basement where the gate exited to the front door.
Nim wrapped his cloak around Kory again. There was enough of a walk between the door and the parking lot he didn’t want Kory getting cold. Baby dragons getting cold meant baby dragons getting sick. Since Kory was only half dragon Thailyn said the risk was less, but Nim didn’t want to take chances.
It wasn’t a long wait for Jo’s parents. Soon, the limo pulled up. Nim warmed his bellyfire and led Jo to the car. Kurt climbed out. “Here, let me take Kory while you two get in. We picked him up a car seat. Amelia can help you put him in.”
“It’s okay. I’ve got him,” Nim said. He crawled into the car. There was an odd basket-looking thing on the seat.
“I’ll help you strap him in,” Amelia offered.
“I’d rather hold him,” Nim said. “If he gets too cold, he’ll get sick.”
“Oh, no, that’s a myth,” Amelia assured him.
“It’s not for dragons, Mom,” Jo said. “But the car isn’t that cold. Nim, he needs to go in the car seat.”
“In that?” He frowned, looking at the basket.
“Nim, it’s for his safety and it’s the law.”
“I brought an extra blanket to cover him,” Amelia told him. “He’ll be fine.”
Finally, Nim agreed and put the baby into the car seat. Amelia showed him how to strap the baby in. Kory fussed a little, but settled down quickly and went back to sleep.
“And when we get home, there’s a release so the top part comes out to act as a carrier,” Amelia told him. “You won’t have to uncover him to get him out.”
“Thailyn said it was unlikely he’d get sick, but I worry. He doesn’t have a bellyfire. Some of the illnesses dragons get from being too cold are terrible. I don’t know what I’d do if he got fire death.”
“That’s the illness that killed Nim’s parents,” Jo explained.
“It killed a lot of people,” Nim said.
“Kory will be fine. You and Ann both lived here. John’s lived here for centuries,” Jo pointed out.
“John?” Amelia asked.
“A friend. He was my karate instructor,” Jo explained.
“I thought Andy was your instructor.”
“John was Andy’s boss. When I advanced, I moved to John’s class.”
“And he’s a dragon?”
Nim nodded. “His dragon name is Shintanillic. He used to work with Pt’this’s dad.”
“So, he’s from Torthoc not here originally?” Curt asked.
“During the battle against Nor’than during the War of the Living Night, there was an explosion and Mishtali, Nor’than, Tani, Thailyn, and I were caught in it. At the time, they thought I was the only one who survived. Nor’than, Mishtali, and Tani were all thrown through the gate.”
“Is that when Nor’than captured Mishtali?” Curt asked.
Nim nodded. “He recovered quicker and was able to capture Mishtali. Apparently, he didn’t see Tani.”
“So this gate has always existed?”
“Not exactly. Immortals used to travel between worlds frequently and sometimes the passage would leave a pinhole connection to the other world. The explosion blasted that pinhole open. Nor’than did things to keep the gate from closing. It may eventually shrink, but I doubt it’ll be in my lifetime.”
“How long do dragons live?” Amelia asked.
“Roughly three thousand years or so. My dad was over four thousand when he died.” Nim smiled. “He’d be 4893 if he was still alive.”
“You know how old your dad would be, but not how old you are?” Amelia looked skeptical.
Nim’s grin turned sheepish. He did the math quickly. “I’m 1252. It’s not so much I don’t know, it’s that I don’t pay attention. How old are you in days or hours? You don’t keep track because they pass too quickly. There are too many of them. That’s how it is with single years for us.
“I know how old my dad would be because he was one year older than Baj-tisk. You number your calendar years based on the birth of Jesus. Ours is based on the start of the new clan.”
“Your dad was born before the Baj-tisk started? So he was Tricot?” Curt surmised.
Nim nodded. “He was the youngest to travel to the new land. His parents died in battle just after he was born. My mom’s parents brought him and raised him.”
“Why did the Tricot make such a little one leave?” Amelia asked.
“My uncle was an Augmenter. The immortals were after Augmenters so they went into hiding and became the Baj-tisk. Since the ability runs in families, they thought my dad might have it too. Do you remember how Cramda was looking for someone named Dentrias? That was my uncle. He was killed about the same time as my grandparents.”
“Didn’t Ann call you Dentrias during the naming ceremony?” Curt asked.
Nim nodded. “I was named after him. Chapado changed my name because Dentrias is an Ertonian name. We think that’s what confused Cramda. He was a bit unstable.”
Curt laughed. “A bit?”
“Quite a bit,” Nim conceded with a grin.
The car stopped and Amelia unbuckled. “We’re here.”
Nim looked around in surprise.
She smiled. “Sorry about the interrogation. We know you dislike cars and thought it best to distract you.”
“We had to replace several armrests on the jet after you all flew from Colorado,” Curt added.
“Don’t worry about it. Some of you had never even been in a car and then to go in a jet? It’s understandable. But we thought maybe a distraction would help,”
“If not, I was afraid I’d have to start insulting Jo again,” Amelia added. “I didn’t want to do that.”
Amelia helped them release the carrier from the car seat base and they went inside. The house was bigger than any one wing of the palace. They were shown around, though that was more for Nim’s benefit than Jo’s since she’d grown up there and it hadn’t changed much.
They had dinner and visited a bit with Jo’s parents and her youngest brother before retiring for the night.