Cheng looked like a member of a boyband. The one who gets all the attentions from the girls.
He was tall with an athletic build. The most striking thing about him was his face. He was pretty. Not like a girl—his jaw was square and his features were pronounced—just in a very symmetrical way. Everything balanced really well.
He had no hair on his head or on his face, not even eyebrows. And then there were his crimson eyes.
They didn’t glow but they were strikingly red.
We’ve been over this a number of times so I won’t repeat myself. I’m still not.
There was much commotion as Cheng entered as everyone gathered round him, offering greetings and salutations. He was popular, I’ll give him that.
“I know you said he wasn’t a Visitor,” I said to Hitokag from the side of my mouth, “but you could have mentioned he’s human.”
“He isn’t,” replied Hitokag.
Cheng parted the crowds with a wave of his hands and walked towards me. If he wasn’t human he was doing an excellent impression of one.
Even though he was taller than me and looked stronger, his youthful face was that of a child. Of course, I didn’t know how old he really was—perhaps he was an immortal who had maintained this appearance for millennia—and quite possibly his whole appearance was some kind of illusion.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation. So you are Colin.” His voice was surprisingly deep. Booming. It sounded strange coming out of such a willowy figure.
“Yes,” I said. “You look like you’re human.”
There was a gasp from the assembled crowd. And when assorted monsters gasp, it isn’t like a theatre crowd stunned to find the Inspector was the murderer all along, the sound was like a roomful of snakes who had their tails stepped on at the same time.
Cheng smiled. He was dressed like something out of the Arabian Nights. A large blouse made of thin silk, open to the navel the way Sinbad the Sailor might wear it, and baggy pants that were perhaps three sizes too big for him. His chest was hairless and his stomach was fully abbed-up like he’d been working out with a personal trainer to prepare for the European leg of the tour.
“True, this form does give that impression. A gift from my mother. I wanted to meet you like this first, so you can see there is more than one side to me. Later you will meet me in a different guise, one that I know makes your kind uncomfortable.”
Very reasonable. Later he was going to be some scary monster and he didn’t want me to freak out. Two sides meeting and not wanting to give the wrong impression is, after all, a tale as old as time. Both a little scared, neither one prepared, Beauty and the Beast.
Good thing Flossie wasn’t here, she probably would have sung him those lyrics.
“What is it you want from me?” I asked.
“There will be time for that later. I find I am better equipped for those sorts of discussions when I am in the right frame of mind. There is much going on here that you are not privy to, but I want you to be fully informed before you take any action. We have been engaged in battle with the humans for longer than any here can remember, but it is a necessary battle. I promised to answer all your questions, and I will, but for now please accept my hospitality and my apologies for the difficulties you faced getting here.”
He sounded sincere, but faking sincerity wasn’t so hard.
I was still standing naked in the middle of a large crowd with just a cloak for protection. I felt somewhat exposed and vulnerable, and not really sure what I was doing there. Couldn’t this have waited until I had some pants on.
“To show you I intend to hide nothing from you,” said Cheng, “I wanted you to see who I really am, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
I half-expected him to put a cigar in his mouth and pull out a six-shooter.
“My mother was a human. She was a Visitor in fact. My father was also not of this world, not the surface world in any case. He was only able to exist on this plane for a short time, but long enough to sire me.”
About a million questions sprang to mind, but I decided to wait for him to finish.
“I may seem human to you, but I assure you I am not. This body that is small and weak, houses a mind that wants the best for all and is constantly disappointed by how hard that is. It can fill you with despair to want things that always seem just out of your grasp.”
“What is it that you want?” I asked him.
“The same things everyone wants. To be happy, to be safe, to be able to go for a ride on a dragon if I feel like it. Everyday things.”
Yep, just your average fourteen year old with his own herd of dragons.
“That doesn’t seem so difficult,” I said. “I don’t see how sending an army of lizardmen to slaughter thousands is necessary if that’s all you want.”
Cheng nodded. “I agree. I have been trying to come to some sort of agreement with the humans for a long time. There are many of our people on the other side of the border and they are treated as vermin. I cannot accept it. Letting them be hunted for profit… it is wrong. These things take time to change, I know that, but then the spires became active.”
Everything coming out of his mouth was stuff I wanted to know more about, but I felt like he wasn’t quite giving me the whole story.
“What do the spires do?”
He gave me a sad look. “They kill. The last time they were used, tens of thousands died. That’s why they have to be destroyed. Or so I thought. Then I heard about you and I thought perhaps there was another way.”
“What do you mean you heard about me? I haven’t done anything.”
“The prophecy, you are the cause of it coming true. You are the catalyst. When I heard about the Worm King I sent out all the Mezzik to look for you, only to discover you were already on your way! Whether it was serendipity or destiny, I do not know. Either way, it would be foolish to overlook such an opportunity don’t you agree?”
They say young girls mature faster than boys, but my time in this world hadn’t really supported that claim. This young boy seemed so much less psychotic than girls of a similar age. This is based on personal experience, of course.
“I agree there is probably another way,” I said, “but I don’t know if I’m the person you think I am. Most of what I’ve managed to achieve has been dumb luck.”
“Perhaps, perhaps. But even if there’s only a small chance you can prevent a war, then I still think it is worth considering. At least I hope so. Ah, but hope is even more painful than despair sometimes. In here.” He tapped his chest. “”I don’t know how your kind are able to cope with all the feels you are subject to. It can be quite horrible.” He pulled a face like a kid being forced to eat his greens. “Fortunately I only have to endure it during the day. At night I become something entirely different, as you are about to see.”
He looked over my shoulder. I followed his gaze through the windows. The sun was setting over the mountains, its light turning orange and flooding the room with a golden glow.
Torches on the walls burst into flame one by one around the hall. When I looked back at Cheng, he was no longer a young boy.
I could see why he wore such baggy clothes.
Cheng was all grown up. He was easily the tallest person there—and it wasn’t a room full of shorties. His skin had darkened to a deep purple. His face had distorted into an amalgam of teeth and fangs. There was other stuff in there, but the teeth and fangs stole the show.
Everyone in the room fell to one knee.
“This is my father’s heritage.” The voice suited this form a lot better. “He was a demon.” Wings stretched out behind him and a tail whipped about.
“Yes,” I said in a strained voice, trying not to wet myself. “I can see that.”
Cheng stretched his wings to their limit, which was almost half the room’s width. “It is a relief to take on this form. My mind is clear and I know exactly what I want and what I’m prepared to do to get it.”
“And what do you want?”
“And to get it you’re prepared to do…?”
You could tell it was still him—the visage, even though it was all puffed up and warped like a funhouse mirror, had the same red eyes, even if they were glowing now—but there was a coldness to him now. The kid had a sensitivity to him, the demon had huge fucking fangs.
There seemed to be some kind of balance between the two forms, which was a good thing as far as I was concerned. Even when one was present, the other was still there, somewhere. It was probably the only reason I wasn’t dead.
“I understand you want to leave the big questions for later,” I said, “but can I ask you one thing?”
“Yes?” said Cheng.
I knew I wouldn’t like the answer but I felt it was important. “What happened to your mother?”
“She died,” said Cheng with some emotion. His voice even cracked a little. “I loved her very much, but your people have frail bodies and short lifespans.”
“She died of old age?”
“No, my father ate her. They never really got on.”
Every time I thought I was starting to understand this world, coming to terms with the differences and similarities, something always came along and kicked me in the bollocks.
Cheng yawned. I wish he hadn’t. The teeth went all the way to the back and didn’t get any smaller.
“You’ll have to excuse me, the change always tires me. I will discuss matters further with you at the feast. Dress is informal, but you might want to put on some pants.”
I had been so transfixed by the appearance of a demon in front of me that I had let the cloak fall open. I gathered it around me again.
“No problem, I’ll do that,” I said.
He turned and walked away. He was just as terrifying from the back.
Hitokag said there were three forms, and the third was for battle. I couldn’t imagine how it was better suited for combat than this one. Hopefully I would never find out.
Once Cheng had departed, everyone got to their feet and the atmosphere in the room relaxed. Well, comparatively.
“Shall I return you to your room?” asked Hitokag.
“Actually, I thought I might take the stairs.”
“No need,” said Hitokag. Before I could protest, he grabbed me and jumped out of the nearest window.
I was now naked, in a cape and flying. Up in the sky, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Supergay.