When I woke, I was no longer on top of Jenny. She was on top of me and had both my wrists held tightly in her hands. I guess she planned to keep an eye on me, too.
We got dressed and gathered the others. Noreen appeared and took us to a room on a lower floor where we had breakfast. I had some fruit and cheese, while the others stuffed their faces.
We went outside, past the fighting children, and headed towards the dragons which were eating grass and occasionally dropping steaming dragon turds. Flossie started to get jumpy as we got closer.
A number of Mezzik lizardmen wandered in between the dragons, and standing in the middle of the herd was a young boy.
“Is… Is that him?” said Claire, shocked even though I had given them a full description of what he would look like.
“Good morning,” said Cheng, the deep voice still incongruous with his appearance.
To suggest the girls revised their opinion of the demon with the mother-eating father because he happened to be boyband-handsome in the daylight, would, of course, be deeply sexist. On an entirely unrelated matter, funny how groupies are always female, isn’t it?
“Oh, er, hi,” said Claire, flicking her hair out of the way. Flossie giggled. Jenny didn’t say anything but stared at him in a way I did not appreciate.
“I’ve never seen girls get a boner before,” I said.
Claire turned to me with a snarl. “Shut up. I was just saying hello.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Hello, meet my boner.”
She grabbed Maurice’s arm and interlocked it with hers, which took him by surprise. He had been fixated on the dragons and was completely oblivious to the infidelity—albeit entirely hypothetical—happening right under his nose.
Cheng seemed a little confused by our bickering and stood there, smiling enigmatically. Flossie giggled some more, and then let out a little squeal. The cause of her outburst was a nudge in her back from a dragon.
The dragon in question was Vikchutni, and I think he was being friendly, but Flossie ran around the other side of Dudley and tried to hide behind him.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” said Cheng. “He recognises you. That in itself is a good sign. Other than the Mezzik, dragons tend to ignore most people. Perhaps if you spend a little time getting used to them?”
My first thought had been that he would see how awkward Flossie was around dragons and decide she couldn’t possibly be the Dragonrider, but he didn’t seem the least bit disappointed by her jitteriness.
“Why don’t you two go for a walk,” I suggested. “Just think of it as a field full of cows.”
Flossie took hold of Dudley’s hand and they slowly set off like they were strolling through a minefield. It probably didn’t help that Vikchutni decided to follow them like a very large puppy, occasionally poking Flossie from behind.
“Just watch out for the acid spray,” I called out after them.
“We’ll keep an eye on them,” said Maurice and yanked Claire along after him. She didn’t look particularly keen on leaving Cheng’s presence but Maurice didn’t give her much of a choice in the matter. I think he just wanted a closer look at the dragons, but maybe he wasn’t as unaware of Claire’s fascination with the pretty boy as I thought.
“Maybe you should keep an eye on them, too,” I said to Jenny.
She gave me a funny look but took the hint. “Okay.”
The reason I wanted her to leave was because I thought it would be easier to talk to Cheng about certain issues without any women present.
“I have not met many female Visitors,” he said in that way you do when you’re trying to sound casual. “Are they all like that?”
“You know. Odd.”
“Yes,” I said. “They are all very odd. But each is a different kind of odd. Are you sure you can handle it?”
“Of course. I mean, we’re all odd in our own way, aren’t we?”
He was quite a smart kid, and not at all the arrogant monster you would expect considering his position.
“Is it really so important for your bride be a virgin?” I wanted to know what this version of him felt about the question of purity in women.
“I think…” He paused to consider his words. “I don’t wish to be compared to others. If we’re both novices, it would be more equal. We could learn together.”
It wasn’t the answer I had been expecting.
“I worry about not being able to please a woman who has… expectations.”
I had to force myself not to smile. Not because I was amused by his insecurities, but because it was all so familiar. He wasn’t some evil despot who wished to defile young maidens, he just didn’t want to be laughed at on his wedding night. I could relate.
He looked around like he was inspecting the state of the herd, but I think he was blushing.
Out in the field, dragons were slowly ambling towards Flossie. The Mezzik kept close, I suppose to prevent any kind of crush—the dragons were so big they could have easily squashed Flossie between them without even noticing—but there was no sense of threat or aggression. She tentatively patted their lowered heads and they made a rumbling purr.
“You know,” I said, “you could always leave the sexual stuff to your other half.”
“Oh no,” said Cheng. “I wouldn’t want to scare her. My other form has an enormous penis.”
Suddenly, I felt less sympathetic towards him.
“Well, I’m sure it’ll be handy to have something like that in your back pocket. In any case, I don’t think you should be too concerned about how experienced your partner is. Once you spend some time together, the only things that matter are the experiences you share. Everything else becomes sort of irrelevant.”
He nodded. “I see. Maybe you’re right.”
Flossie squealed. Vikchutni had poked his head between her legs and lifted her up. She was sitting on his neck and holding onto his ears for all she was worth.
Dudley called out random words of encouragement and told her everything was fine, although he looked just as nervous as her.
“Get me down. Ah don’t want to fly. Tell him not to take off,” Flossie begged the Mezzik who were all pointing and exchanging surprised looks and didn’t seem that bothered by her calls for assistance.
“Try taking him for a walk,” shouted Maurice. “Use the ears to steer.”
It was all a bit chaotic.
“Perhaps once I see the prophecy in its entirety, I’ll have a better idea of what I think will be the best way forward. At the moment, most of my suggestions are based on what other people have told me.”
“Yes,” said Cheng. “I would be interested to hear your interpretation. I will be happy to show you once we deal with this problem.”
I turned to see what he meant, expecting Flossie to be in some predicament or other, but he was looking in another direction.
It was a clear, crisp morning and from the plateau we were on it was possible to see for miles in every direction, so it wasn’t particularly difficult to see the approaching swarm.
There were about a dozen wasps with riders. They flew in a wide circle to avoid the dragons milling around Flossie, and headed for us. Once they were within a few meters, they hovered, buzzing angrily—although I’m not sure you can buzz any other way—and the lead rider, a larger than average Intui—although still shorter than me—jumped off.
“Cheng,” he said, “I am here to seek justice and restitution.”
“Oh?” said Cheng. “For what?”
“The Worm King has laid waste to our settlements. Entire villages have been reduced to rubble. This cannot be allowed to continue... unless it acts with your blessing.” The yellow and white lizardman narrowed his gaze to an accusing glare.
“Did you not capture Kungen and take him to the Temple Under the Mountain?” asked Cheng.
“Pah! That was Meeth and he acted without authority. Are we to be punished for the actions of a few misguided Intui who have already paid with their lives?”
Cheng turned to me. “What do you think? You are the one who created the Worm King.”
I really would have preferred not to have been involved in this conversation. I turned to the Intui, not really sure what to say. He didn’t seem particularly interested in my take, in any case.
“So, you are the one! All this is because of your meddling!” His head snapped back to Cheng. “And you approve?”
“It is the prophecy that has brought him here,” said Cheng. “The prophecy does not require my approval.”
“Very well. We will see if the prophecy is to be fulfilled by this one.” The head whipped back to me. “I challenge you, Visitor. A fight to the death.”
In this case, I knew exactly what to say. “No.”
“You are a coward?”
“Yes. I am a coward. Please tell all your friends.”
“This?” he said to Cheng. “This is what you think the prophecy wants?”
The Intui huffed in frustration. “What is it that you want? For me, your death would be enough, but I can see that the life of an Intui means nothing to you. What can I offer that would convince you to fight me?”
He was persistent, and I got the feeling he wouldn’t give up very easily. I could keep refusing, but then I had an idea.
“I would want you to kill your wasps. Not just the ones here, all that you control”
I’m not sure if the wasps understood what I was saying, but the tone of their buzzing did seem to take on a slight you-wot-mate tone. Possibly my imagination.
The Intui looked aghast. “That’s ludicrous. You want to end our way of life.”
It might seem an extreme request, wiping out an entire species, but these weren’t honeybees, these were wasps. When was the last time you heard anyone lamenting, “Oh no, where have all the wasps gone?” Exactly. Fuck wasps.
“You asked me what it would take, and I told you. If you aren’t willing, that’s up to you.” Of course, I only suggested it because there was no way he would agree. Absolutely no way. Right?
As we were speaking, the dragons had been shuffling towards us, led by Vikchutni. I think he remembered who it was that nearly ended his life, and now that he had his bros backing him up, he wanted a little payback.
The Mezzik were doing their best to herd them away from our little pow wow, and Flossie was tugging hard on Vikchutni’s ears to veer him in the other direction, but he seemed intent on having his say on the matter. All the dragons made hissing and honking sounds.
The Intui looked at the encroaching dragons and then back to Cheng. “I ask you to intervene with the Worm King. We will be in your debt.” His words were full of hope but his face was full of bitterness.
He didn’t wait for a reply. He jumped back on his wasp and the swarm flew off the way it had come.
I let out a sigh of relief. It was easy to act tough with the Archfiend standing beside me, but my armpits were still drenched with sweat. I flapped my arms like a clammy chicken.
“Perhaps you should speak to the Worm King,” I said.
Cheng opened his mouth to say something, but a deafening honk shattered the still morning air. It came from one of the dragons that hadn’t come over with Vikchutni. A large, wingless dragon—a female.
The other dragons raised their heads and answered the call. It was a cacophony of honking. And then they all took off, taking Flossie with them. She screamed.
The female honked again and then her back formed slits on either side. Slimy, pink wings tore out from the slits and stretched. They looked thinner and more fragile than the ones the males had, but much larger.
She flapped them slowly, then faster, and then lifted off the ground.
Dudley came running over in a panic. “Do something! Please!”
We were all looking up at the dragons wheeling in circles as the female rose to join them. The Mezzik took off to escort the female.
“Do not worry,” said Cheng. “The mating of dragons is a wonderful thing to witness.”
Dudley was beside himself. “She might fall. What if she falls?”
“The Mezzik will catch her,” said Cheng, which calmed Dudley a little. “But I don’t think she will fall. She is the Dragonrider.”
Technically speaking, she was the screaming Dragonrider. Her voice carried down to us very clearly. “Ahhhh. Nooooo. Doooown. Doooown.”
As the female reached the males, they started flying into each other, trying to bump their rivals out of the way. But there was no doubt who had the female’s eye. Vikchutni soared towards her as the other males squabbled between themselves.
“Fookin’ stop, fookin’ stop,” Flossie screamed to no avail.
The lovers-to-be flew directly at each other. Just before they collided, they went vertical, belly to belly. Higher and higher. Their tails entwined, their bodies meshed together and began bumping and grinding.
“Stop fookin’, stop fookin’,” screamed Flossie.
Suddenly, both dragons retracted their wings. They plummetted, bodies locked together. Flossie’s scream was one long wail.
Dudley ran forward as though he was going to somehow catch her, but the wings flicked open and the two giant serpents separated, both gliding to the ground.
Vikchutni landed with a gentle thud and immediately began eating grass like nothing had happened.
Flossie scrambled down his neck, ran across his back and down his tail. She threw herself into Dudley’s arms, sobbing.
“To think,” said Cheng, his voice full of amazement, “she would ride the dragon while it mated. Astonishing.”
“No one’s tried that before, huh?” I said.
“No one’s even considered it a good idea,” said Cheng. “Truly, she is the Dragonrider.”