You know how you can’t fold paper beyond a certain point? You get it small enough it just won’t bend anymore. People are like that, too. The smaller they are, the less flexible.
I am by nature a small person. It would be easy to make jokes about my height or my penis-size, but I think you know I don’t mean it like that. I mean talking about the smallness in your heart, how willing you are to give to others without getting anything in return.
We all get to the point where we just can’t go any further. Unlike a sheet of paper, though, we each have our own limit of how many times we can be bent over before calling it quits, and I had reached my limit.
Of course, they’ve tried using brute force to test if there really is a point of no return, because that’s what YouTube is for. Put a piece of A4 in a hydraulic press and really get that sucker flat after each fold. And they got it up to seven times, which was the supposed limit, and the piece of paper fell apart. It cracked like it was wood or stone. Basically, you can go further, but what you’re left with isn’t paper anymore.
I was hanging under Vikchutni like a kitten in the mouth of its mother. Cats go limp when you pinch them at the base of the neck, making them easier to carry. I wasn’t in the dragon’s mouth and I wasn’t a kitten, but I was still unable to do anything other than hang there while Jenny hung from the other claw.
Dragons, being herbivores, don’t have raptor-like claws like eagles have. They had more hoofish feet (yes, hoofish is a word) but they were able to pinch their stubby toes together enough to strip branches or something. I don’t know how evolution worked in this place, these fuckers shot acid out of their mouths, Darwin was out of his depth here.
Whatever the reason for their bizarre anatomy, I was now toejam, and since I was naked, it was my rubbery new skin that was caught in the vice-like grip. Which was bloody painful. Of course, as I was used to the harsh and violent nature of this world, I stoically withstood the agony.
“You look like you’re going to cry,” said Jenny from the port side of the dragon. Or possibly starboard. I don’t know my dragon left from my dragon right, sue me. “Are you alright?”
She was also dangling, but she was held by her clothes, which were solidly made and very practical for this sort of high-altitude exposure. The only modification my new body made to the situation was to retract my balls into my body, which didn’t make me any safer but did make me a bit more aerodynamic.
“I’m fine,” I said, grimacing from the cold air. “How are you?”
I’ve never been that good at small talk. Even less so when hanging naked from a dragon. Felt like there were probably more important matters to be discussed, like how we were going to land without being squashed.
“If you don’t want to be with me, I understand,” she shouted. Raising your voice during what should be a private conversation, even if it’s only to make sure you’re being heard clearly, is a bit passive-aggressive.
“I think you’re a massive slut, but that’s no one’s business but your own. I’m only shouting because of the turbulence.”
At least there was no one to hear her. Flossie and Dudley were up top and the wind was blowing her words away as quickly as she was producing them. I thought I saw the dragon roll an eye at me, but I might have imagined it.
“Can we talk about this later?” I said. Calm, reasonable, shrunken balls — I was handling it surprisingly well.
“I don’t think so,” she shouted back. “You’ll probably find some way to sneak off and avoid facing me.”
She had a point, but that didn’t mean I was in the wrong. None of this would have turned out as it had if they hadn’t decided to make their decision to keep me in the dark.
“You probably think this is my fault for keeping you in the dark,” said Jenny.
“No, of course not. Why would you think that?”
Her head dropped forward, hanging down onto her chest. “I’m sorry,” she yelled. “I was wrong, okay? Completely wrong and out of order. I will accept any punishment. I’ll even make some suggestions, if you like.”
She grinned at me hopefully, but the smile faded when she saw my non-responsive face. That was mostly because my testicles had worked their way up into my lower abdomen and I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying.
“I thought I could show you I could help you. That you could rely on me. You didn’t always need to save us. I thought you’d like that. Independent woman who could take care of stuff when you were too busy.”
“Why would I like that?”
“Because you kept telling us you thought we were useless and a huge burden to you, and the sooner you got rid of us, the happier you’d be.”
Now that she mentioned it, I may have said something like that one or two dozen times.
“That didn’t mean you should risk all our lives with a stupid plan that makes no sense. I was thinking more along the lines of learning to poach eggs properly.”
“It does make sense,” insisted Jenny. “We just had to let you think it didn’t. We made a deal.”
I waited for the rest. And waited.
“What deal?” I finally asked.
“In order to make sure no one double-crossed anyone else, Maurice set it up so neither side could betray the other without everyone losing.”
“Mutually assured destruction of me?” Jenny nodded. Didn’t sound all that mutual if I was the only one who got shafted.
“He said it was the only way to get both sides to agree. And we would win in the end because you would figure it out without us, even if it made you hate us. Even if it made you hate me.” She had a pained look on her face.
I’m not completely devoid of empathy. Not completely. I may not be able to experience the full gamut of emotional human existence (and thank fuck for that) but I could tell she had made a big sacrifice in order to keep me alive. Whatever the deal was with Joshaya, it cost her the most. At worst, I would lose my life. She would have to keep going without me. Death is a lot less full of regrets than waking up alone one grey morning after another. Believe me, I have the ten thousand hours to know what I’m talking about.
“Hiya!” called a voice from directly above me. Flossie’s head was peering down over the edge of the dragon’s wing. “Yo’ alright down there, or do yo’ wanna come up here?”
“How?” I said. “Can we land?”
“No,” said Flossie. “There’s a ship chasing us, probably not a good idea to slow down.”
I couldn’t turn around far enough to see who was following us, but it wasn’t hard to guess. Flossie was right (I know, I was surprised too), it wouldn’t help to land and let them catch up. The Council were bound to have a trick or two up their sleeve.
“We’ll have to get yo’ up here the old-fashioned way.”
“What old—” was as far as I got before Flossie yelled, “Alley-oop Vikchutni!” and I was tossed into the air while the dragon executed a barrel roll.
He went all the way round as I flew through the cold blue sky. It allowed me to spot the Council ship flying some way behind us, and also the ground a long way down. It shouldn’t have bothered me, this body being more or less indestructible, but it did bother me.
I landed on the dragon’s back with a painful slap. Jenny was already there, somehow beating me to it and also showing no signs of injury. My face stung badly and I was sure I had indents on my face from the ridges in Vikchutni’s leathery back. I’d also landed on my penis, which wasn’t as fun as it sounds. I would have healed myself, but once I started, I might not be able to stop.
“Do you want me to rub it better?” asked Jenny as I gingerly sat up.
Obviously, I did. But you can’t let physical pleasure get in the way of a good sulk. “I’m fine,” I said. It was just a ploy to win me over. She’d be offering to blow me next. Fingers crossed.
“Just let me spend the rest of the time we have with you,” she said. “If you don’t want me around after we get you back to normal, then I won’t try to force you. Or trick you. Or bribe you with sex. Unless you think it would work. Would it?”
“Probably,” I said, “for about ten minutes.”
She sat down next to me and put her head on my shoulder. “As soon as we get your body back, this will start making sense.”
I pushed her off me. “What has my body got to do with anything?”
She looked at me like she was searching my face for something. “Because it’s the only part of you I’m connected to.”
I realised she was right. There was no silver wire attaching her to this body, but there was one connecting her to my old body, the one that was on the verge of falling apart. Was that really the only reason she was so keen to get me back into that body?
Why not? Why couldn’t it simply be a woman yearning to be with the one guy who made her feel special, and also the only one who wouldn’t re-enact the ending from Raiders when she orgasmed. Seemed plausible.
“Just a little time, that’s all I ask,” she said as she lay her head on my shoulder again. “This body feels horrible. Artificial.” She snuggled against me. “Just wrong. If you get an erection, you’re on your own.”
Story of my life.
It took us a few hours to get to Gorgoth. The ship was still on our tail, but hadn’t managed to close the gap. It was about the size of my thumb, but how far away that meant it was, I had no idea.
Flossie and Dudley had left us alone, probably assuming we had important things to sort out of an emotional nature. We had nothing to discuss and just sat leaning against each other.
It was early evening as we began our descent into Gorgoth. We had been spotted by the citizens and a welcoming committee awaited us. I expected Joshaya would also be making his way here, but how he planned to do it and how long it would take him, I had no idea. He might be here already.
Everyone seemed to have assumed I must have stashed my body somewhere fiendishly clever. I had just parked it outside the entrance to the void prison like I always did.
My plan used to be to count on people underestimating me, but now that I had proved to be ridiculously powerful, they had done the other way and began to overestimate me. All I had to do to wrong-foot them was to play it as dumb as possible. The role I was born to play
We got off the dragon in the central square. Malmur, Damicar’s uncle, met us with a delegation. He seemed concerned to see me, in particular the nakedness. I probably should have borrowed a top from Dudley or something, but I was enjoying letting it all hang out for once. Secretly, I was hoping to get wolf-whistled from a building site, and then act outraged at the sheer audacity.
“Welcome home, Lord Protector.” It took me a moment to realise he was talking to me. Not normal for people to be so respectful, but then I had arrived on a dragon. “I hope all is well. Can I get you some underwear?”
“I’m fine thanks. I enjoy the breeze down there.”
“No emergencies or deadly plagues that bring you back so soon. Is Damicar not with you? Is he alright?” He seemed genuinely concerned about his nephew, the one he’d treated like shit his whole life.
“He’s fine. He’s in Fengarad. Do you really care?” It was a very snotty thing to say to someone, but I was in that sort of mood. As soon as I got to my body, Jenny would reveal her true intentions, and then there would be a reckoning. Or possibly some moody whining.
“I care very much,” said Malmur, sounding offended. “No matter how much you fight with your family, when they are beyond your reach their well-being is a matter for concern and worry. It can be quite terrifying.”
He was, of course, talking about love, the darkest of all the emotions. I could feel Jenny nodding along.
“He’s fine,” I said. “Cooking up a storm in Fengarad. He’s very popular.”
Malmur seemed genuinely relieved. I’ll never understand people.
“Welcome back, Lord Protector,” said Grayson, who was with the delegation. “Should we be expecting company?” He made it sound like I might have kicked a couple of hornet’s nests on the way over. You had to admire his nounce. I’d have to promote him to head doorman or something.
“Yes,” I said, looking up at the sky. I couldn’t see the Council ship from this angle. “Death and catastrophe are not far behind. I wouldn’t recommend engaging them, but maybe tie their shoelaces together if you get the chance.”
Grayson nodded like he understood. “We’ve kept the temple closed as per your instructions. No one’s been inside.”
“No sign of the Pope?”
“No,” said Grayson. “No one’s seen him for a while.”
Did that mean he was inside waiting for me?
“Okay. Wait here. If I’m not back by the morning, abandon the city.”
They all looked at me aghast.
“I’m joking. You’ll all be dead, probably. See you in a bit.”
I walked into the Church of the Shrine with Jenny following me. For how much longer?