The shriek was like a psychotic steam whistle going off next to my ear. It was so loud it actually blurred my vision. I grabbed onto the sides of my head so my brains wouldn’t leak out of my ears.
When I opened my eyes again, the silhouette was gone, although I didn’t think the creature had stormed off like some stressed-out housewife. You can look after the kids, I’m off for a girl’s night. SFX: door slam.
I wouldn’t have minded a quiet night in, just me and the eggs.
The mist moved around in the glow of my light. Air was coming from somewhere but it was difficult to figure out the direction while quietly shitting myself. Something was moving around, but the mist was too dense to make out what it was, or even where it was. I had to assume it was the mother whose nest I’d stumbled into, and that she wasn’t in the mood for visitors.
So far, my experience of monsters was that if you left them alone, they left you alone. It was only under extreme circumstances that they’d attack. Unfortunately, being deep underground with earthquakes going off and lava pouring in from all directions was pretty extreme. I expected this creature to be upset about the situation and, if things proceeded in the normal fashion, to somehow blame me.
Admittedly, I was kind of to blame, but let’s not get bogged down in technicalities.
I remained very still and very quiet. I considered turning off my ball of light but logically, whatever was down here would probably prefer the dark. My light was probably blinding to it. At the very least, it might serve as a distraction. Send the light in one direction, send me in the other. The only question was where was I going to go?
My journey to the centre of the earth had been courtesy of gravity. I didn’t think it would be a very easy climb back up, although did I really want to go back into the labyrinth? Up there, traps and pitfalls waited for me. Maybe there were tunnels down here and the air I could feel meant a way out. Maybe it was the breath of an even bigger monster sitting in the dark.
I slowly made my way around the edge of the cavern, doing my best not to stumble over the debris, or to bump into one of the eggs. I could hear things sloshing around inside them.
Because I kept the ball of light away from me, it was hard to see where I was going. There was a soft glow from above where the ground had cracked open, but the only thing it illuminated was the hopelessness of my predicament. The climb up was sheer and smooth. No way was I getting up that way.
The crack looked like it had travelled the distance of the passageway we’d been in. If Flossie and the others had also been caught, they might already be dead under a pile of rubble, or they might have escaped without a scratch and found a way out, won the Narnia state lottery and bought themselves a giant bouncy castle to live in. Either way, fuck ‘em.
My movements were guided more by touch than sight, my hands sliding along the wall running beside me. The air was sticky and hot. Sweat ran down my neck and the mist made it hard to breathe. I was feeling for an opening, preferably one without teeth. I stumbled and tripped, making far too much noise as my search became more frantic. If I was in a sealed off room with Mommy Dearest and her brood, I couldn’t see things ending well. Newborns tend to be hungry.
I froze in place as a dark shape rose up in front of me. It was thin and serpentine. If it was a snake, it was about the length of a bus. It swayed from side to side. Could it see me through the mist? Break and run or stay still and hope it loses interest? Indecisions, indecisions.
Without warning it moved straight for me, darting lightning-fast through the mist curtain. As the head neared I finally got a good look at my new neighbour. It looked like a dragon.
The same head, the big bovine eyes, but the dragons I’d seen before had flat, square teeth. This one had fangs, sharp and heading my way.
“No!” called out a shrill voice. “Naughty girl! Coom ear. Coom ear, right now.”
The dragon stopped mid-lunge, it’s head snaking around to face the latest intruder.
Flossie came stumbling through the field of eggs from the other side of the cave. The dragon made a low mooing sound and swung across to meet her, pushing the top of its head into her stomach.
“Don’t attack Colin. That’s naughty.” Shame she didn’t take her own advice.
“Friend of yours?” I asked.
“Don’t yo’ recognise her? She’s Vikchutni’s wife.”
I assumed she meant the female dragon Vikchutni had mated with in Monsterland. Flossie had been aboard him when the dragon lovers consummated their desires at around five hundred feet, so I didn’t doubt she was right. That kind of thing tends to stick in the memory. Although I wasn’t so sure dragons got married. It’d be a nightmare finding a wedding dress in her size.
“What’s with all the teeth?” I asked.
“That’s just so she can protect all her babbies. Isn’t that right, pet.” She stroked the dragon’s head, and cuddled it some more. There was a deep rumbling, I think the dragon was purring.
Marv and Nyx came stumbling out of the shadows. They looked shell-shocked and unsure where they were. They were squinting and looking around.
“What? Where is this?” Marv sounded out of it, barely holding it together.
“I want to go home,” whined Nyx the Adventurer.
“You all fell through the crack, too, then?” I said. “Any injuries?” Seemed only polite to ask.
“No, we didn’t fall,” said Flossie. “We climbed down. Well, slid really. Ah saw you disappear and came after yo’. Good thing I did, huh?” Her face lit up like a puppy expecting praise.
“If you think this somehow makes us even for that shit you pulled, you can forget it.”
“Ah know Ah messed up, but Ah can still be useful to yo’. Ah won’t do it again, Ah promise.”
“And what are your promises worth, Flossie? Next time you think it’s more important to follow your heart than common sense, we’ll be back here, or somewhere even worse.”
“No. Ah’m giving you mah word. Yo’ can trust me.”
I believed her in as far as she believed it. But that’s how people are when it comes to claiming how they’ll act in the future. Everyone says they’ll do the right thing, promise not to let anyone down, no question that they’ll keep their word. And yet, there’s always a reason why they couldn’t come through in the end.
It wasn’t really her fault, the person truly to blame was Maurice. He had come up with the idea of giving everyone a method to manipulate me, and once you put a tool in someone’s hand, it’s not surprising they use it.
Even if they know what they’re doing is unreasonable and wrong, it’s not for themselves, you understand, it’s for a higher purpose.
That’s how you can do horrible things to people and not feel like a horrible person. You wouldn’t kill someone and take their food just because you were hungry, but if your kids were hungry… somehow that’s acceptable.
It’s not for me, it’s for the children…
What difference does that make? Why should I give a damn about your unpleasant offspring? If you’re that concerned, cut off your arm and stick it in the oven at two hundred celsius. Cheap, nutritious and gluten-free. Self-sacrifice requires you to sacrifice yourself, not other people. Doing it reluctantly doesn’t absolve you of being a selfish prick.
The idea that Dudley or the others might be in danger was enough to let her off the hook. She was the one making the sacrifice. Willing to endure my anger in order to save the others. A noble act, not a shitty one. And I was sure she would do exactly the same thing again, for exactly the same reasons.
“I can’t trust you, Flossie. If Dudley was in trouble, or if you had a baby of your own who was in danger and you thought I could save her, would you even pause for a second before dropping me in the shit again?”
“Ah would ask you, Ah wouldn’t kidnap you. That were wrong. From now on, Ah’ll follow orders, or Ah’ll leave and do what Ah need to do. On mah own.” She had a determined look on her face. The dragon turned to face me and nodded, like it was backing her up.
There was a thump and the ground shook, but not like a tremor. Something heavy had landed nearby. There was some rustling and scraping. The dragon lost interest in Flossie and lumbered across the cave. I turned up my light so it was easier to see. With the place properly lit up, it became clear just how many eggs there were—around a dozen. And I could also now see the source of the mist.
There was a pool of lava in one corner, its glow muted under a bank of fog. If I’d kept working my way around the cave, I probably would have fallen in.
There was also a tunnel on the other side of the cave, through which a tree was entering. It was an entire tree, roots, trunks, branches—the complete arboreal package, and it was squeezing through the opening. It popped through with a flourish and was followed by another dragon.
“Vikchutni!” exclaimed Flossie. She skipped through the eggs towards him and threw her arms around the long neck lowered to greet her, his folded wings stretching out to fill the entire chamber.
As this reunion took place, Marv and Nyx finally got a good look at where they were and who they were sharing digs with.
“Is that a dragon?” said Marv in a shaky voice.
“Two dragons,” said Nyx, sounding just as startled. “And these are their eggs.”
Marv was looking around with eyes like saucer plates. “Dragons. They’ll kill us all.”
“Do they look like they’re killers?” I said.
Vikchutni was purring as Flossie stroked him, while the other one chowed down on some fresh foliage. But Marv was too freaked out to appreciate the lack of violence taking place.
“We have to destroy these eggs. Before it’s too late.” She snatched out her dagger and ran to the nearest egg. She smashed the hilt of her dagger into it.
Another fine example of someone thinking they have to do something for the greater good.
“No!” screamed Flossie, running towards Marv. The two dragons lumbered after her, slowed down by having to navigate between eggs.
There was a sharp crack as the top of the egg fractured. Marv watched with horrified fascination as a small but extremely ugly head emerged covered in sticky goo.
Marv held out her dagger.
“Get away from her, yo’ bitch!” screamed Flossie.
Marv had the blade pointed at the slug-like thing crawling out of the egg. The father hissed loudly and the mother bared her fangs, but neither attacked. Flossie had her arms out, like that would stop them spraying Marv in acid.
“Don’t be silly,” said Flossie. “That’s just a little babby. She won’t hurt no one.”
“It’s a monster,” screamed Marv. “They’re all monsters, can’t you see? Are you crazy?” She waved the dagger about. Nyx dived behind an egg.
“They’re not monsters,” said Flossie. “If yo’ just—”
“We have to stop them. For the good of—”
She didn’t get to finish her speech as I stepped forward and gave her a shove in the back. She stumbled and I closed in to plant my foot in her backside, sending her tumbling forward, straight into the pool of lava.
Here’s a handy tip, if you’re going to murder someone in acidic magma, make sure they go in face-first. That way you don’t have to listen to them scream.
“Yo’ killed her!” Flossie had both hands over her mouth as Marv dissolved and sank from view.
“Yes. Keep pissing me off and maybe you’ll join her.” I’d had just about enough of people doing stupid shit near enough for me to get caught in the backwash. If the dragons had ignored Flossie and let rip, I had no doubt the acid would have hit me.
It may seem like I was being quite blase about what I had just done, but you have to remember it wasn’t my first time killing someone. There were certainly some I regretted, but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, you could say Marv’s life belonged to me since I’d saved her from Sonny and his men. Thanks to me, she’d had an extra couple of days to enjoy herself. You’re welcome, Marv.
I don’t enjoy violence or feel powerful because I pushed someone into a vat of death when they weren’t looking, but neither would I lose sleep over it. She was a liability with no upside. Under other circumstances I might have just gotten as far away from her as possible. Down here, that wasn’t possible. I wasn’t acting for the greater good or doing the right thing. I just saw a clear and obvious solution to a highly problematic situation and took it. Those of you who think maybe I took some of my anger with Flossie and redirected it onto Marv, well, you might have a case. I’d taken care of the ninja but still hadn’t decided what to do about the ginga.
“Oh, the babby, the babby,” called out Flossie.
The dragons moved in on the larva as it continued to crawl out of its egg. They didn’t try to assist, they just watched from close up while making guttural noises which I assumed were some kind of encouragement.
As it got itself free, the larva fell, tumbled to the floor and lay there, completely immobile.
The mother dragon raised her head and bellowed loudly. The father joined in flapping his wings. Both were clearly very upset and about to lose it. Flossie raised her arms trying to get them to calm down but Mr and Mrs Vikchutni were in no mood to listen. A tail swung around and swiped Flossie off her feet, sending her flying. The honeymoon was over.