368: Riding the Dragon

The dragon’s wing cut through the wave that was threatening to engulf the ship, and it just collapsed.

I’ve seen those sorts of waves in disaster movies, the end of the world CGI special effects that target mostly tourist destinations and well-known monuments. Seeing various natural catastrophes in IMAX — tornadoes that pick up entire buildings and volcanoes that erupt in the middle of city centres — has made me a bit of an expert on the way a tidal wave should wipe out civilisation, so it was odd seeing this wave just fall down like a curtain someone yanked off its pole.

One moment it was coming to capsize the ship, the next it fell down and spread out like a ballerina doing a curtsy.

The dragon angled itself and circled the ship. I could clearly see Dudley clinging to the long neck, both of them soaked from head to foot. The red mane around the dragon’s head flowed back far enough so Dudley could hold onto it.

Was it Flossie? Had she somehow transformed into a dragon? Perhaps she had found a way to take over the body of a dragon, and in doing so, imbued it with some of her attributes. Mainly her ginger hair, by the looks of it. A somewhat cruel exchange — PETA would be outraged.

I was still hanging upside down in the rigging, and the ship was lurching from side to side. The wave was gone, but the storm was far from abating. I struggled to get myself the right way up.

The dragon soared past, keeping to the edge of the storm, rising higher with each pass, in ever-tighter circles. It was like the storm was a cone over the ship, a circle at the base and a point at the top. Once the dragon got to the highest point, her wings stretched out on either side, and she hung in the air, shielding the ship below.

This dragon was not like the ones that had landed on the island, or the ones with Claire. And not just the ginger mop on its head. Its skin was paler, almost white, and it was much larger. Its body threw a giant shadow across the sea below.

The winds died down, the waves settled to a gentle rolling motion, the clouds parted, revealing sunlight that filtered down through the pale translucent membrane of Flossie’s wings. She’d have to be careful, ginger dragons were probably as susceptible to melanomas as every other pasty-skinned ginga.

I didn’t know if this was a temporary lull or a permanent block on the storm, but I took the opportunity to get back down to the deck.

The crew and everyone else were staring up at the majestic sight holding position over us. Not so much as a how do you do for yours truly. Then, the wings folded and the dragon plummeted down, directly on top of us. Everyone ran to get out of the way, but where do you go to get out of the way when you’re on a boat? I stayed where I was and watched Flossie’s fat arse descend on me. She looked like she’d put on some weight.

The wings snapped open just before she hit the crow’s nest, and she swerved to come around the side and land on the front part of the ship. She was almost as big as the ship when stretched out, but she could curl herself into a more compact shape that just about fit on the deck.

Dudley slid off her neck and came running towards me. “We came as soon as we got your signal,” he said, his face red and his voice high-pitched. “Sorry it took so long.”

This, it seemed, was the response to Laney’s magic stick. Claire’s arrival had been unrelated, nothing to do with rescuing me. It didn’t surprise me.

“Hello, Dud. How’s it going?” I wasn’t really sure what the correct greeting was supposed to be for these kinds of reunions.

“Oh, well, you know…” and then he burst into tears. Awkwardness ensued.

The rest of the crew who had dived out of the way slowly emerged from wherever they’d tried to hide themselves from a grisly death (waste of time, if you ask me — death always finds a way). They were somewhat confused by the tall crying boy and the red-headed dragon rubbing the top of his head with the bottom of her giant jaw.

“Flossie, she, she…” He turned away and grabbed the dragon’s head, barely able to get his arms around it.

The dragon opened its mouth and a soft wailing sound emerged, rising and dropping in tone. At first I thought it was her ridiculous Brummie accent that made it impossible to tell what she was saying, but the warbling notes weren’t human. She was singing in a language only other dragons and Mariah Carey could understand.

Dudley seemed upset about what had happened to his girlfriend, but I wasn’t that concerned. Give her an audience to play to and she was fine, same old Flossie.

“What happened to her?” I asked, because it seemed the polite thing to do.

“I don’t know,” said Dudley, wiping away the fat tears rolling down his fat face. “It started with her skin turning scaly, and then she slowly began to get bigger and bigger.” He began sobbing again.

Ah, the age-old story — girl gets into steady relationship, starts letting herself go. I’d have suggested he get her to eat more salads, but that was pretty much all dragons ate.

There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask, but I could see it wouldn’t be easy with them like this.

“So, it was involuntary?” I asked, just to check. “She can’t change back at will?”

“No,” said Dudley. “We’ve tried everything.”

Flossie looked down at me with her giant eyes. It was definitely her. I could see her choosing which Demi Lovato tune to subject her adoring crowd to next. Poor sailors had no idea of the horror that was about to be unleashed on them. I was tempted to give the order to abandon ship, at least that way some lives would be spared.

“When you say ‘everything’, what exactly did you try?”

“Well, um…” Dudley went red in the face. “I kissed her to break the spell.”

He seemed to think this was part of some fairytale curse. The crazy thing was, he could have been right.  

“And also, we tried some visualisation exercises. Guided meditation. Yoga.”

I had abandoned Dudley to his fate, and this was what had become of him. They’d reduced him to a New Age twat with no idea what he was doing, even more so than before. Crystals and incense, with a side-order of homoeopathic remedies — not even a fantasy world could make that kind of bullshit work. The guilt was overwhelming. Forgive me, my friend, you deserved better. We all do.

I didn’t actually say that to him. If he wanted to activate his meridians, good luck to him.

“Did you try fucking her?” I said. What? It was a reasonable question. Sex is a powerful tool. It had helped me break through to Jenny when she was under a geas. This could be something similar.

“Um, no,” said Dudley, all fidgety. “Not while she’s, you know, like this.”

There was a hurt look in Flossie’s massive eyes. No girl wants to feel her bloke doesn’t find her attractive enough to shag anymore.

“I mean, I would, if you think it’ll help.”

Yeah, he’d do it for me. Thanks.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m sure—”

“We could do it now, if you want.” Dudley had his hand on Flossie’s neck, stroking her. She seemed up for it.

“Hey, easy, let’s leave the bestiality for the redband trailer. We’ll consider it as a last resort.”

They were both ignoring me, eyes locked in mutual lust. I blamed myself. You can’t go around suggesting dragon-fucking as an option and not expect someone to work it into a ten-part series on Netflix.

On the one hand, it was a beautiful acceptance of love that transcended physical form. On the other, it was sex with a giant lizard. Order extended to twelve episodes, all watchable on the day of release. Those Netflix execs, they know what’s up.

The sailors had spread out to give the couple more room. They were ready for a floor show.

“Yo! Break it up, already. Don’t make me get a bucket of cold water.” There were actually quite a few buckets handy, so it wasn’t an empty threat.

Their attention slowly returned to me. Neither looked like they preferred it that way, which made three of us.

“I don’t know what happened while I was gone, and quite frankly, I don’t care. But there’s one quick and easy way to sort this shit out.” I took out my wooden sword. “I cut you free of your connection to whatever’s causing this, you go back to normal, probably.”

Normal was a relative term, but it had to be less monstrous than this. Of course, there was also the chance I would sever some other connections, but they would grow back, eventually.

They looked at each other, and then Dudley said. “Do it.”

I slipped out of my body and floated up towards Flossie-dragon. She was covered in vines, most of which connected to Dudley, but others shot up into the air. They all looked pretty much the same, but my skills in the adjacent world had reached a point where I could pick out certain vines if I concentrated.

It had worked quite well back in the Church of the Holy Shrine. The circumstances had been slightly different, my focus being Jenny, who I was firmly involved with at the time, but the principle should be the same, I just hadn’t bothered trying again.

It was difficult to know what I should be looking for. Something dragon-related? Flossie was the Dragonrider, so she would have lots of stuff that was associated with dragons. It wouldn’t be easy figuring out which one was responsible for her draconian condition. The simpler method would be to cut off everything.

It would at least give me a clear answer on whether or not curing her this way was possible. It might also turn her into a dead-hearted drudge with no spark of joy in her eyes, but I doubted if that would make a difference to her Spotify playlist.

I took a moment to try the more complicated method. I focused my mind on what had made her like this, but without any information, I wasn’t getting any response. Nothing lit up or acted like it needed chopping off. There were a lot of vines, and I had very little idea where to even begin.

It was time to make an executive decision, and I chose the path of old school gaming — hack and slash.

There was some slight resistance in my mind, warning me I might be ruining what could have been a very promising career in the arts. Without her passion for music, what would Flossie become, other than more tolerable?

It was too late to worry about such minor things. I went ham.

I tried to leave the biggest connections to Dudley intact, but there was no way to know if they were somehow responsible (there was no way to know because I had no idea what I was doing).  At least my sword was in fine form, slicing through everything in a single blow.

It turned into a bit of a frenzy, and when I took a moment to see what the state of Flossie was, I realised I had inadvertently severed most of the the connections between her and Dudley. Oops.

I returned to the normal world to see how bad it was.

The moment I slipped back into my body, things started to happen. Flossie screamed in three different octaves. Her body began to steam and warp. Dudley tried to go to her, but I held him back. Flossie was melting.

Actually, she was moulting. There was something inside the dragon taking shape as she shed her skin. The outer structure collapsed and liquid oozed out across the deck. It turns out she was a bit of a squirter. Netflix bidding war for season two incoming.

It took a good ten minutes for things to stop moving. The dragon’s skin was like the dead skin you peel off your feet, yellowish and like dried glue. There was some movement in the middle of the pile of skin, and then Flossie stumbled out, naked.

Dudley ran to her but stopped short. There was something different about this newly minted Flossie. She had a cold, blank look on her face as she looked at Dudley, no concern for her own nudity.

Then her face broke into a smile and her eye glittered with happiness. She threw herself into his arms.

I guess some people can’t be separated. You break them apart, they just snap back together. And then, some people are like me.

Flossie let go of Dudley and turned to face me. Her skin was redder and wetter than normal, and her breasts were pointed at me, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. She wasn’t naked, she was free of her prison.

She ran at me and gave me a hug, which was equal parts disgusting and abhorrent, but it was still nice to have her back in human form. I just needed to be ready to jump overboard if she decided to thank me with a medley of Broadway tunes.

“Can someone get her some clothes,” I said, “before one of her nipples takes an eye out.”

Dudley gave her his jacket, of course. Someone else fetched a blanket to wipe her down.

“So, now that you’re more or less yourself, what the fuck is going on?” I felt it was time to get some answers.

“Ah have no idea,” said Flossie. “We left when they started acting weird.”

“It was quite odd,” said Dudley. “A pronounced change.”

The two of them were squeezed together, holding hands, hugging, cuddling, unable to stop grinning at each other. I could see I’d have to be quick with my questions before the fucking began. Not to be crude about the tender feelings between two people clearly in love, but it was only a matter of time, and it would be far more gruesome than any dragon sex.

“They just let you go?” It seemed like it would be a big loss, but then, Claire had been able to control the dragons just fine.

“They were having lots of secret meetings without us,” said Flossie, “and then Claire tried to read mah mind when Ah told her not to, so Ah punched her in the face.” She mimed a punch. “She didn’t like that.”

Dudley gently lowered Flossie’s fist for her. “They weren’t acting like themselves.”

There might be all sorts of reasons for their behaviour. “And Jenny?”

“She has… changed.”

“She’s a bitch,” said Flossie. “And it’s all your fault. Yo’ should of never let her go.” She punched me in the arm, which bloody hurt. I felt a bit sorry for Claire. No wonder she’d been so pissed off if Flossie had clocked her in the face. That and me killing her boyfriend.

“Look, it’s not that easy,” I mumbled. “I thought we’d get back together… Where did you go?”

“We went to the grotto, like you said. Ah was going through the change and Ah thought it would be best to get away from everyone.”

“She tried to leave me behind,” said Dudley, “but I wasn’t having it.”

“And the dragons? How did Claire end up with them?” They looked surprised at hearing this. “Claire was here, for a bit. Smash and grab. We didn’t get a chance to talk, but she was with a bunch of dragons.”

“Mah babbies got scared when I started to change, so I left them behind. Ah didn’t know about Claire.”

They were pawing at each other now. Not long before juices started to overflow.

“We’re going to Gorgoth,” I said. “We can talk more on the way.” Better to get them below decks quickly, I felt.

“Yo’ should have said, Ah could’ve flown us there before yo’ turned me back.”

I am a colossal dumbass, in case anyone was wondering. My flight to Gorgoth would have saved me days.

“Never mind,” I said through gritted teeth. “The sea air will do me good.”

“Aha!” screamed a voice behind me. “You’re here. Naked. Very well, I’m sure there’s a good reason for it. Very impressive.”

Laney was standing there feeling competitive. She had Damicar and Richina with her. Damicar was holding a doll, Richina was looking nervous. I’d just completed my warm up routine for the adjacent world hedge trimming competition, time for the main event.

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