Jenny cut my hair. It had grown to shoulder length so I must have lost a good chunk of time healing her. She trimmed it back to a mop and shaved my beard, if you could even call it that.
I don’t know why I’ve never been able to grow a proper beard. Not even magical time lapse produced growth of more than a few centimetres. I think I would have grown up much more secure in myself if I’d had good facial hair.
“You’re an idiot,” said Jenny after I told her my theory. She finished shaving me—which didn’t take long—and then got me to shave her.
The hair around her newly scarred skin was patchy and uneven. She wanted me to cut it all off on that side of her head, as short as possible.
It was tricky with just a knife and I nicked her a number of times—which I healed, of course. By the end, she had an 80s New Wave haircut with half of it long and silky and the other half a skinhead. It looked kind of cool.
We bathed and went to bed. When I woke, I was alone and had a female Mezzik glaring at me.
Noreen didn’t look happy. She never looked happy, but she wore a particularly grim expression to greet me this morning.
“Something wrong?” I asked as I sat up.
“It was a difficult night,” she said. “The children all had nightmares.” She stared at me accusingly.
“Oh. Sorry. Do you know where the others are?”
“They are waiting for you outside.” She shook her head and left.
I walked over to the window. In the field below, dragons and Mezzik roamed as usual. In the distance I could make out Jenny, Claire and Flossie in a tight group, face to face with Vikchutni. They seemed to be holding some kind of conference.
Watching from not too far away was Cheng. There was no sign of the Intui or their wasps.
I got dressed and went down to join the others. Maurice and Dudley stood by the castle entrance.
“What’s going on?”
“Reconciliation,” said Maurice.
“The dragon’s rather upset about what happened,” said Dudley.
”The dragon’s upset?” I hadn’t really thought of the dragon being aware of his mistake. “Is he going to apologise?”
Maurice shrugged. “Cheng reckons the dragon’s all broken up about what happened. Wants to make up for it.”
I didn’t want to interrupt whatever bonding process the girls were involved in with the dragon, but I was curious to see how Vikchutni was expressing his remorse. I wandered over to where Cheng stood and we both watched the girls give the dragon a good talking to.
There was a lot of finger wagging and stern eye contact. The dragon seemed to be nodding and accepting the scolding. At least, that’s what it looked like. He could just as well have been deciding which order to eat them in.
“You should go soon,” said Cheng.
“Go where?” I asked him.
“Wherever it is you think you will find the Bride. It isn’t safe for you here.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. Up until the accident with the dragon, I hadn’t considered myself to be in any danger.
“Are you saying we could come to harm while we’re under your protection?”
“It isn’t as simple as that. There are those among the Intui who still believe your death is the surest way to end the threat they face from the Worm King. Even though they agreed to wait for you to fulfill the prophecy, the Intui have a way of breaking promises without actually breaking promises.”
What he was saying was that they were devious little fuckers.
“Do you think they intentionally goaded the dragons to attack me?”
“I think it is well within their capabilities, and impossible to prove. It is best for you to take your friends and continue your journey.”
The girls were now all hugging different parts of the dragon’s neck. Vikchutni had his eyes closed and it almost looked like he was smiling. Pretty smooth for a dragon.
“Have you considered the possibility that we might not return?”
Cheng turned to me and smiled. A fifteen year old boy with the smile of a demon.
“There is always that possibility. I’m sure I could find a few volunteers to drag you back, but I do not think you will be able to escape your destiny so easily. And if you do manage to leave all this behind you, perhaps your destiny lies elsewhere. To be honest, part of me worries about the kind of girl you intend to bring back.”
His demonic smile wobbled back into that of a nervous teenager.
“My taste in girls isn’t bad, you know? I’m sure you’ll find her appealing. At least physically.”
“How I feel about her isn’t as important to me as how she feels about me. A wife should be pleased with her choice of husband, shouldn’t she?”
“Then please her.”
“I do not know if I will be able to. The penis on this body is so small, and the one on my other form is so big, I fear I will never be able to find a good fit.”
Goldilocks had real issues with the whole ‘fitting’ together part of getting married. His sheltered childhood, growing up with neither human or demon, had left him unprepared for a sexual relationship.
He had an idealised picture of women based on his mother, and a desire to be loved. Which was understandable.
“There are ways to pleasure a woman other than with your penis,” I said.
“You mean with your fingers?”
“Yes, there’s that, or you can use your tongue.”
His normally serene face twisted in surprise. “Your tongue? Down there? Isn’t that a bit… yucky.”
“A bit. But no more than when a woman sucks a cock.”
He looked absolutely horrified. “With her mouth?”
“Yes, with her mouth. Calm down, it’s not as weird as it sounds.”
Cheng breathed in and out like he was hyperventilating. “I don’t… I mean, why would she… What happens when it all…”
“Take it easy. Deep breaths.”
Jenny had claimed I possessed charisma. Personally, I doubted it. But I did see that quality in Cheng. His ability to command others was impressive. In my estimation, he was more than ready for world domination. What he wasn’t ready for was a girlfriend.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.”
He doubled over with his hands on his knees, puffing hard. I’d obviously given him a lot to think about.
By the time he recovered, the girls had finished rehabilitating the dragon’s anger management issues and they were all BFFs. Flossie, in particular, seemed finally to be at ease around him.
When I walked over to them, the dragon recognised me. Saving his life hadn’t been enough to imprint myself on his memory, but attempting to kill him apparently had.
He swung his head from side to side and backed away, and then tried to hide behind Flossie. She wasn’t a skinny girl, but still not a great hiding spot.
Flossie forced his head out and we exchanged a look. I’d like to say we reached an understanding, but who knows? I placed my hand on his head and he whimpered, but allowed me to keep it there.
“Do you think you could fly him now?” I asked Flossie.
She stuck her tongue out and slid it from side to side, then nodded. With a tug on the hairs hanging from the dragon’s chin—even the dragon could grow a better beard than me—she pulled his head down and jumped onto his neck.
She grabbed his ears and the dragon took off. They flew a couple of circuit around the mountain top, and then came in for a soft landing. You’d have thought she’d been riding him for years.
We left that afternoon. We gathered what little gear we had and climbed onto Vikchutni’s back.
Jenny returned from saying goodbye to the kids wearing a mask. It was made of wood, painted white and red, and covered one side of her face.
“The children made it for me,” she said. With her scars covered she looked normal.
“I thought the Mezzik children liked scars,” I said. Jenny had mentioned how injuries were treated with respect by her classmates.
“They do. The mask is like this for everyday activities, and for fighting, it’s like this.” She moved the mask across so it covered the other half of her face. Now she looked like a monster.
“That is so cool,” said Maurice. “You’re like a superhero, only without any powers.” He looked at me.
“She needs powers,” said Maurice.
The others all glared at me.
“Alright, I was going to teach her anyway.”
“Really?” said Jenny. “If I’d known all it took was for me to get half my face burned off to win your trust… Hey, you know what would be really fucked up? What if I engineered this whole thing just to get you to teach me magic?”
“Then that would make you insane,” I said.
She took off the mask and looked me in the eye. “What if I told you that’s exactly what I did?”
“Then I wouldn’t believe you.”
She threw her arms around my neck. “Finally.”
We took off with an escort of Mezzik flying alongside. We had our transport and destination, but we still needed help knowing which way to go.
Flossie straddled Vikchutni’s neck and flew him towards the border. Normally, a dragon wouldn’t fly so far from its breeding ground, but this dragon would do whatever he was told. Plus, he had recently got some.
“Where are we really going?” asked Claire once we were airborne.
“We’re going to Fengarad,” I said.
“That really is the plan?” she said. “To convince the Princess to marry the Archfiend?”
“Well,” I said, “we can try that too, but mainly I want to go to the spires and meet Uncle Peter. He’s the one who’s been pulling the strings, I think he has answers no one else has. It’d be nice to know what the fuck’s going on for once.”
The others nodded.
My usual course of action would have been to head in the opposite direction as fast as possible, but what Cheng had said rang true for me. The way I had been pushed into the middle of the prophecy indicated a guiding hand. One that wouldn’t let me walk away easily.
I was tired of being pulled around by a lead, especially when it felt more like a noose.
Of course, there was no guarantee Uncle Pete wouldn’t use us as fuel cells for his doomsday device, but if that’s all we meant to him, I’m sure he would have had us brought in and squeezed dry a long time ago.
He had a purpose for keeping us around and I felt fairly confident he would want meet us. I certainly wanted to meet the man in the spire.
I wanted to know who he was and what he wanted. But most of all I wanted to see if it was possible to kill him.
It probably wasn’t. He was probably a super powerful wizard who could summon fireballs with a snap of his fingers, but on the off-chance…
The flight went pretty smoothly. If you’re going to travel around a fantasy world, I would recommend going by dragon. Galloping around on a horse as it reduces your arse to tatters is not as enjoyable as you’d think.
Now that Flossie had gained controlled of her nerves, flying Vikchutni was simply a matter of pointing him in the right direction.
It took most of the day to get to the border, which I spent teaching Jenny how to do magic. She picked up the basic finger movements fairly quickly, but there was no sudden revelation or moment of transcendence. She was as useless at it as we all had been when we started.
She sat practising while we peered over Vikchutni’s back plates at the world below.
We reached the border as dusk approached. We flew past Gargantua at around eye-level and he waved at us. The bridge was the same but the fort on the other side had transformed. The reinforcements had arrived and from our high vantage point we could see it was rammed full of soldiers.
And they could see us.
Arrows flew at us by the hundreds, but we veered away and soared higher so they fell harmlessly into the canyon. It must have been quite a shock for them to see an actual dragon and no doubt alarms were being rung and warnings sent.
I didn’t see any of the Cool Kids down there, but it would have been hard to identify them from this height. I also didn’t know if dragons were susceptible to a particular metal, and I didn’t really want to find out when I was on the back of one.
It only took an hour more to reach Fengarad. The spires glinted in the light of the setting sun, and the lizardman encampment surrounded the walls like a sea of tents.
Hitokag landed on Vikchutni’s back. “We will soon be arriving in the Vargau camp. They have been told to expect us and give us any assistance, but they are Vargau. They are as wild as the Intui are sly. We will handle them, but do not provoke them.”
I was happy to leave it to Hitokag. Despite having met many monsters that didn’t try to harm or kill us, I hadn’t forgotten our run ins with the Vargau.
We came in low through the marshlands and glided over the tops of the tents, blowing many of them over and sending lizardmen scurrying out of the way. We landed in an open area near the city gates, well within sight of the soldiers on the walls.
An elderly Vargau leaning on a staff and with one eye missing came hurrying over. “What are you doing? You will be seen. What kind of surprise attack is this?”
“It isn’t a surprise attack,” said Hitokag. “Cheng has sent these ones to speak with the city leaders. You are to stay out of it.”
“This is ridiculous,” said a man who looked like a well-dressed nobleman. A human, only not quite.
“You’re a troll,” I said, without meaning to say it out loud.
He glared at me, a bit put out. “How can you tell?”
“The shoulders,” I said. Having spent so much time around trolls, I had started to see the slight imperfections if they didn’t quite nail it. Something like how you can tell twins apart if you spend enough time with them.
“Well, how do you propose to enter the city?” said the old lizardman.
More and more lizardmen gathered around us. Vikchutni hissed and growled at them, although he may just have been upset there was no grass for him to eat. The ground had been reduced to mud by the incessant traffic of lizard feet.
I turned around and walked to the gates. My party followed, but the lizardmen stayed where they were. Didn’t want to get in range of boiling oil, I guess.
The portcullis had been lowered and there was no doorbell. I raised my hand and knocked. There was a dull clang-clang-clang. Seemed as good an idea as any.
I looked back. The army of lizardmen didn’t seem very impressed with my castle breaching technique. I was about to knock again when there was a loud clank, and the portcullis began to rise.
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