Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 23


Chapter 23

A shadow the size of a building watched me from outside the forge light. Hasso’s body and those of his slaughtered servants were long since gone. Sometime during my labors day had fallen into night, but the heavy overcast had let the transition sneak past me. The furnace blazed merrily, building up immense heat, and the two ruined attempted-murder weapons were beginning to run like warm butter. I held the third sword, the Drowning Breath of Ogden, that I’d taken from the agent of Fate. The shadow had eyes of green, teeth like a fireplace grate, and its breath danced with foul, green flames.

I put down the smithing hammer, took a two-handed grip on the sword, and found my hands cramped. I shifted to a single-handed grip, but I didn’t know what to do with my other hand. I’m a bare-handed fighter by training and temperament, so I wanted to put my other hand up in a guard, but that seemed stupid. The sword should be the guard. For striking, should I punch or swing the blade? Both, I guessed.

The shadow moved sideways, away from the ruins of Hasso’s storeroom. The less threatening shadow of the storeroom bulged with it. Then the strange shadow stepped into the wide courtyard, and I saw it distinctly. It was a dragon.

But it was wrong.

Dragons are long, serpentine things. They swim through the air like fish. They’re elegant, fine, and graceful. This thing lumbered. It had big, heavy shoulders on stout legs with broad claws like shovels. Its body resembled an elephant’s but didn’t rest on its legs; it hung from its shoulders. The triangular head swiveled on a thick neck, more like a rodent’s than a snake’s. Its tail flopped and lashed behind it, lying still mostly, thrashing sometimes. The whole critter looked incorrect.
“Hello, mortal man,” it said, and its voice was even worse. It was full of malice, cruelty, and greed, and the hairs rose on my neck and arms.
This thing must die, Kog. You need a sword that can kill it.

“Don’t listen to the sword. Listen to me, delightful person.”

Kill it now, Kog.

“Hush, toothpick.”

I jerked my head from beast to blade, because suddenly I could hear the sword talking and a whole bunch of things I hadn’t known I hadn’t known made way too much sense. But the hesitation was an opening, the dragon took it, and the beast charged across the courtyard and struck through the forge door.

It struck like a ferret, I dodged sideways, its squat shoulders slammed against the door frame, and the thick head swung sideways to bite at me. I ran towards it, climbing up one of the small woodpiles inside the furnace, and got to about its ear level where I was behind its jaws. This made the beast retreat to get an attacking angle, but that pulled its head outside the room. It smashed sideways, trying to bite with the side of its mouth. The door frame shuddered. Bits of brick and mortar fell. I climbed up the woodpile and wedged myself into the corner of wall and ceiling. The heavy, green eye followed me, and the critter retreated.

For a moment the room was quiet except for the blaze of the furnace. Fire is a lot louder than I ever expect.

“You didn’t attack!” yelled the sword, and it wasn’t me thinking! The sword was talking to me! “Kog, kill the dragon! Stab!”

It was silent and it was inside my head, but the sword was yelling. The dragon burst through the wall.

The beast smashed brick and stone, but Hasso had reinforced his walls with steel frames. Part of the building folded down, throwing me with it. I hit the ground, bricks hit me, and the dragon’s jaws snapped above my head, grabbing rafters and pulling down the ceiling. The building groaned.

It snapped, snapped again, and twisted its head. It couldn’t really see down without turning its head. I dove for another woodpile.

The dragon pulled back and appeared in the doorway again. This time it didn’t stick its snout in. It pointed its head sideways to the door so it could peer in with one eye. Between us the furnace blazed. I had hid by the back wall, while the woodpile wasn’t perfect cover, there was a lot of brilliant furnace-light between us. The dragon cocked its head up and down. It looked up at the hole it had smashed in the wall and tried to figure out if I was up there. It shuffled around outside to get a look with both eyes, but then it had to pull back even further.

The sword whispered about murder, murder, murder. Against a dragon, it seemed like it had a point. While charging the dragon would take me straight into its jaws, there was that big, beautiful hole in the wall over its head.

I grabbed a handful of wood dust, tossed it, and screamed, “Obesis!”

Running up the stairway of dust motes while the echoes of the word still hung in the air, I passed right before the open doorway. The dragon darted in to strike, but I shot through the wall while the dragon’s round shoulders slammed into door frame. I had an instant of a beautiful opening on its head before the beast unfurled its wings. The left one hit me in the guts, knocked the sword away, and trapped me against the wall.

I spoke Raln, and all things were blades, even my hand. I cut its bat-like wing from bones to edge.

The dragon tore itself out of the building and took half the wall with it. Hasso’s steel reinforcements screamed and rent. Bricks fell on the forge. I dove for the sword, artlessly dodged a shovel-like claw, and the dragon’s head swung around again. It bathed the ground in fire but aimed too low, entangled by the skin of the breaking building. Dragon-fire blasted courtyard stone, old metal fragments, and bits of plumbing. The forge fires turned green and evil as dragon-fire infected them. I got the sword.

“Obesis!” and I ran across ripples of searing heat as dragon fire burned the courtyard. The dragon lost me when I went up, and I landed on its head with the Drowning Breath of Ogden. The sword bit dragon-skull to the hilt.

The creature screamed, jerked sideways, and threw me. I tried to lobotomize it on exit. On hitting the wall I muffed the landing, but the beast couldn’t capitalize. It stumbled backwards, spasming, and from its skull poured green fire and black blood. The creature shrieked. Its skull hung open and soft tissue jiggled. I thought of a cracked egg with the yolk not yet poured into the frying pan.

But the dragon was not yet dead.

It lumbered backwards. I got up.

I’d hit something in that fall. I had no idea what. My right leg wouldn’t hold my weight. After standing for a moment, it buckled underneath, and I’d slumped against a wall like a drunk. I flipped the sword to my off hand, between the beast and me, and pushed myself off the wall with my right. The blade dripped with dragon blood, sizzled with dragon fire, and started talking.

“Finally, you blister, you’re getting work done,” said the sword.

“The filth can you talk!?” I yelled.

“I’ve been talking to you for days. Why are you so surprised?”

“Because…” I had no idea what to say. “Death!”

And the dragon whispered, “Come now, mortal man. Lay down the sword, and let us speak as living beings.”

“And death upon you too!” I yelled at the dragon and most-definitely, absolutely, positively, DID NOT lay down the sword.

I had cut open the dragon’s head. Part of its skull was missing on the left side, and another part was flopping around. I must have missed the brain but had come close. The dragon sidled sideways to face me while protecting its wound. One huge, green eye stayed on me. Flame escaped its snake-lips every time it spoke. Between us Hasso’s courtyard burned, and the dragon stood back, leaning against the wall of the supply yard.

“No, no, no, mortal man. Do not listen to the sword. I mean you no harm.”

“The sickness you don’t!” I said.

“I only want us to be friends,” said the dragon.

“Kog, it’s lying.”

“Of course its lying– you, shut up!” I said to the sword.

“Kog. It called you that before,” said the dragon. It smiled. “Ah Kog. I know you now. Koru has spoken of you. I hate him too. Put down the sword, let us be friends, and we will work Koru’s destruction.”

Its voice bubbled and sparked. Soft consonants flowed, hard ones popped. Flame licked out of its wounds, and the beast winced. Then it smiled. “Friend.”