Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
Thorn sang something in Elvin. The words escaped me, sounding silvery and liquid. She lifted both hands. The disk rose to match her motion. Her hands slammed down. The disk dropped down my wrist, hitting the ghost-yantra. The ghostly-fire was pushed underground. The disk sank as well.
Thorn turned and ran away very fast.
Then a huge blue pool of light opened under my feet and I fell. The blue swallowed me. A universe of it. And then I dropped out of the blue, onto a mossy bank by a great roaring river. There were bronze trees like fuzzy, spotted caterpillars and beyond them, ziggurats made of mastodon skulls. The sky was black velvet, without stars, broken only by the blue disk that had dropped me here.
As I stared upward, crouching, wings spreading for a launch—the disk compressed and vanished, leaving me lost, abandoned.
I should have seen this coming.
Like thorn had.
“Promise me treasure, or let me go home.”
I really need to kill something
, the dragon thought.
As a passenger in his head, I had to agree.
A lot of somethings
Then we’ll feel better.
, I said.
Until we remember we’re still stuck in some nameless pocket dimension on the far side of a snake’s dream.
I hate snakes.
He picked up a boulder and bounced it in the palm of his clawed paw.
I hate snakes more.
But you fuck them.
He lobbed the boulder into the river and watched it splash.
Not when the nagi are actually turned into snakes. That’s just icky. I have a few standards. One or two, anyway.
The dragon flicked his tail, letting rage swirl in his heart, but holding the fury in check.
So, how do we get home?
Why are you asking me that?
You have really good ideas. Sometimes.
Sometimes? Damn. I don’t even respect myself.
I looked through the dragon’s eyes at the surrounding world. Despite the nightfall and the sky with no stars or moons, the scene was bright. The spongy moss underfoot gave off a gray-green light. The fuzzy, bloated pipe-cleaner trees weren’t much taller than me as I sat on my haunches. The trees’ spots were luminescent as well.
I made my point.
You notice there are no bird sounds?
The dragon held still, listening. Nothing moving. Nothing making a sound but us.
Maybe the birds are asleep.
There are night birds. Nightingales, owls, stuff like that. In fact, everything might be night. This dimension doesn’t necessarily have to have a sun. Natural laws can be different.
What’s your point?
the dragon asked
The silence of native life might be significant.
I used my dragon body’s sharp sense of smell, classifying all kinds of odors that were unique to here. I listened for every scrap of sound.
Places go silent usually when a predator’s around.
Maybe it’s because they sense us. We’re a predator.
True. But as I look at those bleached-white ziggurats
over there—made from mastodon skulls—I can’t help asking myself an elephant joke
My dragon groaned.
Gods and demons spare me!
I posed my question anyway.
What does it take to kill a herd of mastodons and eat them for breakfast?
My dragon said.
Also, if one of those ziggurats is a single-family dwelling, it could mean the so-called people around here are at least as big as we are.
The dragon growled, baring teeth. His tail
into the moss, dislodging and scattering some half-buried bones, something once the size of an elk.
I bet whatever’s around here can’t spit lightning.
It could crap kryptonite for all we know. Don’t get cocky. We should probably lay low until we figure an exit strategy.
There was motion to the side. The dragon turned toward it. And here was the punchline to my joke. There were three of them: komodo dragons, or close enough to be inbred cousins: blunt heads, rounded snouts, serrated teeth, poison saliva, stubby legs, and club like tails. In scale to me, they were the size of large dogs.
They grinned, happy to see me, black tongues forked and flickering. I wondered if they were hungry. Damn,
was hungry. This big dragon body of mine needed a lot of calories to fuel it. And my so-called friends had been stingy with the pizza.
They were creeping in from the trees, moving to encircle me. Their gray-green coloration blended in with the moss but the dragons didn’t glow. This meant that they cast upward shadows as they neared. Their black eyes, ringed with yellowish folds of skin, were locked on me with steady purpose.
, I said.
Fly away, unless you think you can take on all three without getting damaged. We’re damaged enough.
I don’t turn dragon all that often, but I could tell that my alter-ego was poor in stamina and down in strength. My poisoning had taken a toll on him, too.
He crouched and leaped, wings beating furiously for height. He roared, using the sound as a deterrent. Undaunted, the dragons came waddling in at twelve miles an hour. Since they were built like wiener dogs, I didn’t think they could jump well. This was proved out as I rose, pulling my hind feet up out of their reach. They hissed in disappointment. One of them went for my tail.
I clubbed him in the head and smashed him into the river.
My dragon self said.
As we soared above the trees, I had to agree.
Better than tipping cows.
No tipping of cows. We save our money. Cows don’t give good service anyway
, he said.
I felt a mental kick of amazement. He’d made a joke. I was rubbing off on him.
The dragon wheeled above the trees. They didn’t make a real forest, being too sparse, with too much open land around. He angled toward the closest ziggurat. We headed that way with a WTF attitude.
Think those pups back there built the skull-mounds?
My dragon side asked.
I stared through dragon eyes, appraising the structure.
I doubt it. They don’t seem designed for that kind of work.
I could tell it worried him. Hell, it worried me.
Nearing the ziggurat took longer than expected. The thing turned out to be much bigger than it seemed. The skulls were mastodon but of a size Earth had never known. And they weren’t bleached, which reinforced my feeling that there was no sun here, just the weird phosphorescence that all plants seemed to possess. Actually, now that I’d almost reached the ziggurat, I could tell some kind of gummy white-wash coated the whole thing.
I stared at an albino giant, the mother of all daddy long-legs. The cellar spiders—often found in cellars—were also called
spiders. They had a habit of bouncing in their webs to blur their bodies, making themselves hard to see by things that might eat them. It came over the flat tip of the ziggurat. Looking delicate, fragile. I couldn’t see the creature building the ziggurat though it had twice my size.
My dragon body back-winged a little, slowing our speed. My tail cracked like a whip.
It ignored me, turning on super-thin spider legs. The motion reminded me of the yantra in its spider form.
I still gave warning:
They can throw silk, and they have venom though its low-grade—of course that’s in our world. This world’s variety might be a lot more dangerous
The long-legs took a dump on the flat top of the ziggurat. Its cylindrical abdomen shot out globs of white sludge that it spread around like manure.
Actually, that is manure. That’s what’s coating the building: spider shit. Sticky spider shit.
My dragon-self backed off, wrinkling his snout—our snout.
So that’s what that smell is.
Long-legs finished his business and scuttled off the way he’d come.
Our wings were getting tired. We needed to land and kill something to eat.
My dragon-self said,
I’m not landing on that
. He banked into a turn and spiraled toward the fuzzy ground. The wind flowed over our wings, cooling them. We reached the base of the ziggurat, catching the mossy surface, legs bending to absorb the impact. Where the side of the structure had been solid before, an oval hole now showed itself, a door thrown open.
“Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
I couldn’t help the quote.
, my dragon-self said.
It’s a trap if there ever was one.
Probably, but I don’t really think long-legs is behind this. I think it was just doing maintenance on someone else’s house
This is a fucking weird world. Something snakes would think up.
Then maybe it’s the snake goddess inside, offering us an audience
. That was my best guess.
So we just stroll in?
Yeah, and we stay ready to spit out a helluva lot of lightning if trouble comes.
Trouble always comes, that slut.
And so we trotted into the lair of possible doom. The open door was the mouth of a hallway that forced us to keep our wings folded to our back. Where skulls had lined the outside, the inside was cold granite blocks. They surrounded me. There were wall sconces, little hanging baskets with balls of glowing moss inside. The sections of light didn’t overlap. We went through zones of darkness that were separated by ten feet of space. Nothing really, not at the size of my current body. But the hall went on. And on. And on some more. Finally I growled. I know the fucking ziggurat wasn’t this deep.
the dragon asked.
Jedi mind trick?
Maybe an altered space within this altered space.
So what do we do?
I mentally shrugged.
Push on. There has to be an intelligence around here somewhere. There wouldn’t have been a door if it didn’t want to see us
The passage descended gradually at first, then became steeper and steeper until I had to dig in my claws with each step to keep from sliding into a fall.
I hate this.
The walls grew slick with condensation. Patches of crusty grey-yellow lichen spotted the passageway, eventually obscuring the stone. The light went from gull green to a dull yellow. I had the uncomfortable impression that the planet had swallowed me and I was heading toward its stomach. The walls had also closed in enough so I was sure this dragon body couldn’t turn around. I thought of backing up most of the distance we’d already covered, I didn’t like that either.
My dragon persona said
, Have I mentioned lately how much I hate this? I’m getting closet-phobic.
Me too. And I occasionally sleep in a coffin, too.
The dragon paused, tail smacking walls behind us, dropping a cloud of dust and grit past us.
It makes sex a challenge when you’re sleeping with the undead.
I didn’t want to know that.
You did. You just don’t like the answer.
Dragon and I continued the descent, happier when the floor leveled out, then widened, letting us emerge in a cavernous space with a high, flat ceiling. There were echoing water sounds: dripping, splashing, and a lot of dankness. Darkness kept us from seeing side walls, if they were even there. There were round, yellow-gray pillars to either side of us that formed rows going forward. The pillars were thick with luminescent lichen, but I could still discern carvings underneath, not-quite human figures, some of them quite slithery. I was reminded of the naga temple I discovered under the chapel, behind its basement wall.
I have a very bad feeling
, I confessed.
Dragon stopped and fanned wings, getting the kinks out.
Might be tricky flying in here. I’ll have to go slow so I don’t hit a column or a wall or something.
It seems to me—
He interrupted my interruption, walking forward at a faster pace, as if to leave me behind.
You know, my night-vision has been screwed up for a while now. I wonder if—
We certainly can’t risk lightning in here. Could bring the whole place down on our heads. I really don’t want to be laid out forever in a place like—
Shut up! Why aren’t you letting me talk?
His mental voice crackled with agitation like a jag of electrical fire.
I’m tired of you warning me of bad stuff and then having it happen right away. Haven’t you ever heard that ignoramuses are blissed out of their freakin’ mind? I’d like to give that a try for a while.
The water smell grew stronger. I heard voices murmuring. The light ahead was brighter.
Fine. What is it?
Remember that idol that I took the garnet tongue and rubies from?
I think we’re about to meet the garnet tongued goddess it represented—in person