In the center of dancing green flames, heat shimmers, and little cheery pops, the dragon smiled. I’d sliced a big, gaping notch in its skull, and the bones had some play. The back part flapped open and closed as it moved or talked. Tongues of flame licked the lips of the wound, vile green flames stained with black blood. Its scales glittered piano black, but the flames gave them a dim emerald look. Its eyes were bright as oak leaves and thick with veins. Its scales were hard and sharp. Its talons were long and broad. The dragon was an armored monster, but that wouldn’t matter if I got at its brainpan. For now, it leered at me from among the flames.
My right leg was pretty much boogered, and the soles of my feet were burned. I couldn’t run, but I wasn’t ready to anyway. This dragon and I were having a grudge match, and I carried a lot of grudges.
Meanwhile, it was lying. “Kog, my dear friend, let us come to an agreement. You want to kill Koru. I want to kill Koru. We can agree on this. I will help you kill him and take his daughter.”
I suppose I didn’t know it was lying. It might not mean me harm. Maybe trying to eat me earlier, setting me on fire, and breaking down the building were misunderstandings.
“Kog, stop thinking stupid thoughts,” said the Drowning Breath of Ogden. “It wants to kill you. Murder it first.”
The dragon smiled. “The sword, like a sword, is just looking for a fight.”
I wished they both would shut up.
I was getting my wind back. That takes a little longer than I ever expect. Exhaustion makes cowards of us all, but you never think it will happen to you. It’s not obvious, even from the inside. I felt like I didn’t want to fight the dragon because I’d been smashed, beaten, partially set on fire, and it was a dragon. Those were all good reasons.
But as I breathed, I started thinking, ‘Death on this dragon. I can take it.’
The dragon said, “Let’s talk as friends. I’ll move backwards so you feel safe.”
“Please do,” I replied. I needed the pause to get some air.
Right now Hasso’s courtyard was the area on fire between buildings. Before it had been the loading area, a recursively defined space that was where the buildings weren’t. Two forge halls, a lane in and out, kitchen, finishing hall, and supply yard made a circle in that order, starting with the one forge hall that Hoarfast hadn’t knocked down being behind me. The dragon had perched on the wagon ramps, a couple of broad, flat platforms the height of a wagon bed, each with a wide, shallow ramp down to ground level. The ground smoldered with flames as high as cut grass.
But contrary to my expectations, the dragon did move away after speaking. It shuffled to the narrow lane and retreated until its eyes were flames in the darkness. Between us burned the wide courtyard.
When I went after it, I was going to have to cross that, and go after it head-first.
Ah, death and sickness on it. Another veil of confusion got pulled from my face. I really should not have let the dragon take better position, but I’d expected it to charge. And as the fog started to clear, I realized that I had taken some shots in that fight. I had no idea how foggy I had been.
I shook my head like the dragon couldn’t. Heh. It was time.
All right, sword, I thought. We’re going to kill the dragon.
The sword didn’t say anything, which was probably for the best, but I felt its immense satisfaction.
The dragon spoke. “Now, Kog, mortal man of Koru’s house, they said you died. Astra worked your destruction. Seraphine laughed at you. They are Koru’s women, and he bid your death. When you kill him, you can take them.”
“Sounds unfriendly,” I said.
My feet were badly burned. I looked around for some means to getting over there without running across more fire. The broken forge hall’s ceiling made a pyramid of collapsed roofing, rubble, and stone, but all of it looked jagged and sharp. I took my shirt off, cut it in half, and wrapped both my feet.
“It will be what they deserve. Take them, and make them yours,” said the dragon. “His mansions are tall and filled with treasure.”
“Mansions?” I asked idly. “Are you great and powerful enough to know about the one in Hyperion?”
Koru didn’t have a mansion in Hyperion. He was a god of rats. No one wanted him in their capital city.
The dragon hissed or purred. I couldn’t tell, but it sounded smug enough. “Of course. I know all of the secret ways and the deep tunnels. I know where he burrowed to the shafts of clockwork underneath the city. I know his little pits and hidden chambers.”
“Truly, you are wise,” I agreed. My shirt had laces on the sleeves, and by cutting the shoulders open, I made little foot-bag shoes. It wasn’t good, but it was better than barefoot. “What is your name, grim beast?”
It smiled. Flame rolled out of its mouth. “I am the Fire, the Fear, and the Light.”
I looked down from the broken forge hall. “You gave yourself that name, didn’t you?”
“No. That’s what everyone calls me,” said the dragon.
“Of course.” I tested my feet on the rubble. Pain, I felt and swore, this was going to hurt in the morning. I flipped the sword to my left hand, and held the last remaining bit of shirt, the back panel, in my right.
“I agree with everything,” I said. “Come out of the alley, and we’ll go forth to wreak Koru’s destruction together.”
The dragon declined. “No. You come in here and join me. They will be so surprised to find out you live.”
“There it is,” I said to myself and took one last look at the beast. There was a pathway of rubble across the ruined building. My lungs were full and clear. It was time.
Sickness and death, I thought. Pattern spiders, hear me. I need a little more luck!
They didn’t reply. They usually don’t.
“Obesis!” I screamed, and ran up the ruined building.
The dragon blew flames that washed over the fallen building like waves taking a beach. They made fire-spouts over stubs of roof-beams. They flooded over the forgehall and climbed with a thick, waving plume of rising heat above. I took two steps on the side of a broken bit of wall, leaped up and over the leading edge, and thew the shirt down like spinning a pizza. It hit the hot air and danced.
“Obesis!” I yelled again, landed on the spinning shirt, and rode it down the hot air above the fires into the face of the dragon.
By the time I landed, the shirt was incinerated. But I landed on the dragon’s snout, sword in hand, and sank it into the dead center of the armored dome. The dragon roared and smashed the top of its head into the kitchen wall. I fell off first. Stone and rubble fell around the beast as it thrashed through the kitchen, ripping it apart as plumbing got caught in its legs.
I stood up with only my bare hands, watching the dragon thrash and destroy madly, seeming breaking the building for no purpose. The construction collapsed around it. Behind me, the fire infected the other ruined building, and the timbers and stone burned, stinking of disease.
The dragon’s head pushed aside stony fragments, leaking flames, and dribbling spittle. Its blood and fluids stank of acid.
I ran up a side of the building that hadn’t yet settled and spoke no words. The beast heard me coming, but its eyes didn’t quite work, It jerked its head sideways, trying to spot its target, and sulfurous yellow fire mixed with the vile green. It saw me when I caught the brow ridge, levered myself into position over its eye, and grabbed a chunk of broken rebar.
The dragon blinked. I spoke Ojhast, Thunder’s Lovesong, and stabbed it through the eyelid. White lightning grounded through its brain stem, its fluids, and down into the ruined frame of the building. More flowed through my arm, body, and out my feet, taking a thousand pathways like a river-mouth to the sea. Spasms threw me sideways. I hit the rubble, rolled, and crashed to the dirt of Hasso’s lane under an avalanche of building rubble and utterly destroyed food.
I drifted toward unconsciousness, but if I fell asleep now, I would die.