…For You Are Crunchy, and Good with Catsup

By Tim Nutting

I was drinking my second cold brew of the morning when the dragon broke loose in Downtown.

I shouldn’t admit this, but the very next thought I had was “Damn it, there goes the neighborhood.”

I usually sit in the booth farthest from the registers, the view used to be astounding, and I caused less interference with their electronics that way. A shame that it didn’t usually work out so well for the rest of the coffee shop office types.

The city has been drilling for a new tunnel for months now, and I had suspected something bad was going to happen, but right then and there it wasn’t really my job. The City Council had fired me (unfairly) three months ago, and the hack that took over for me couldn’t ward a quasit, in my professional opinion.

I stared in something like shock and horror, I think, for several moments as the immense reptile climbed the side of a the PEMCO Insurance building and cut loose a warbling cry that took several seconds to reach the Starbucks on Queen Anne Hill.

The windows vibrated with the noise, and every single polite person in the area froze. I took another sip of coffee and frowned.

The dragon was long and thin, snakelike, with large wings up front in the bundle of muscle around its forelegs. Further back it sprouted a second set. The dullness of the scales suggested either young or female, the roar confirmed the latter. She was a South American Quetzalcoutl, enormous too. The one I’d seen in the Los Angeles zoo was maybe 1/30th her size, and as used to captivity as a dragon gets.

This, however was an altogether different thing…

Newspapers might report that the city had a secret dragon. After all such a thing can be useful for energy production, and Seattle needed a lot of it. A captive dragon could produce such prodigious amounts of energy that it would make a nuclear reactor seem pathetic. One this big could power the greater metro area and suburbs, and let us dismantle a few hydro dams too.

But as the proverb goes, don’t meddle in the affairs of dragons…

The thought occurred to me that I had indeed been fired by the city. Taking care of a rogue dragon was not my responsibility. Not in the least. The city had wardens and wizards aplenty for this, but I knew the idiot in charge, and I knew the appointment to take my post, Jurgen.

I sighed and put my cup down, licking the last of it off my lips discreetly, and reached into my pocket for a twenty-dollar coin. That should handle the coffee and the leftover biscotti. I stood and retrieved my jacket as people around me started leaving the store. I thought about joining the crowd, then turned around and snatched the rest of that biscotti.

Around me the rest of the citizens who weren’t simply dumbstruck by the giant making its war cry downtown were in an immediate panic. A few cars were already racing out of parking lots, barely avoiding one another, though I did notice a BMW and a Volkswagon nearly have a head-on. Their crash avoidance wards flared blue and green eldritch light and both cars skidded slightly away from one another.

I looked at my old but trusty Datsun sitting in the parking lot and sighed. Right about now the wholly illegal parting ward I’d worked up in a moment of pique several years ago would have been nice. Having traffic part for you was every person’s dream, especially those stuck in that traffic, but the NTSB had mandated new laws about that sort of thing a decade ago.

Alas.

I went to the trunk and pulled out my wizard’s cloak and staff, and all the charms of my profession. Sam, the barista, stopped by the front door to stare at me with wide eyes.

“What are you doing?”

Most of the time I don’t go around with my wizarding gear. Who does? Even if this crazy world where we’d come out of the shadows and where freaking beamers–let alone VWs–had anti-collision spells as after-market add-ons, we weren’t exactly common.

This had to be the first time she’d seen me in the black cloak and wide silver necklace dangling with a broad assortment of charms, or the silver bracelets around my wrists, or the long ash wood staff with its meticulously carved symbols. So, what was I going to do?

I smiled my best Clint Eastwood smirk, tipped an imaginary hat, and stepped into the rift in space and time that took me to my sanctuary on top of Mount Baker.

OK, it’s not really on top of Baker, but about a hundred feet below the summit, and it’s mostly warded so that a bunch of normal people cant find it. This also keeps the less than normal people from finding it too, which in a wizard’s line of work is a good call.

I then realized that I hadn’t locked my car doors. I might have even left the trunk up. Damn it.

But, no hope for that now.

You see, I bet a lot of you thought I was going to hat up and go tackle the dragon. The other half of you were probably thinking that I’d decided to run off and leave the city to its devices. They did fire me after all. But you’d be wrong on both counts. You see, a wizard doesn’t fight, they prepare.

I turned to the stove in my relatively cozy sanctum and started the hot water going with a hand wave and some murmured incantations, then turned my attention to the table facing the window.

Outside the window looked to every normal person out there like a forested glade, presently thick with snow. What they couldn’t see was the carefully crafted illusion that hid the largest circle of power I, or any wizard I knew, had constructed. It’d taken the better part of the last three months to complete, and cost me at least twice the severance package the City Council had seen fit to let me walk out the door with.

Why?

They fired me because I warned them that the brand new transit tunnel they’d been digging for the last two years was going to cut through an ancient dragon nesting ground, and my replacement disagreed.

I channeled as much energy as I could muster, and then some, into the circle of power, tapping in to the vast wells of geothermal energy in the slumbering volcano (yes, I know that’s dangerous, so is a damned dragon). The spell’s energy coursed through me. At first it was like the fire in your belly after a really nice scotch or brandy, then it started getting a little hot. Finally it became lines of fire running down my nerves, coruscating from the balls of my feet to the tips of my ears. My vision tunneled, but I kept focus on the ritual implements. I felt my knees start to give out and locked them, a tiny part of my brain giggling when it predicted me pitching over like a fainting groomsman.

When the energy became just the other side of unbearable, I said the important words through a haze of pain and clenched teeth, and thrust the power out into the circle. The magic disrupted the present illusion, and the forested glade disappeared into a large clearing with rainbow lights chasing a thousand arcane channels in the air and on the ground.

I took a deep breath collapsed into the nearby chair. The shrill whistling that brought me back to consciousness said the hot water was done. I dragged myself back up out of the chair and set to with my preparations.

Soon the spell bore fruit. I heard the warbling cry of the dragon and the thunderous beat of her wings. I loaded my implements onto my tray and stepped out into the cold and into the circle of power.

She was majestic and awesome in a way that is impossible to describe. I just don’t have the words. Huge beyond belief. She could strip a thousand year old tree in a second as a back scratcher, if she wanted. Her eyes were the most amazing feature though. Deep and golden, like a cat’s, only millions of times more complex. I could literally see the stuff of magic coursing through those gigantic retina. Most unsettling of all, they were highly intelligent.

“Rarely,” came a voice that slithered into my mind, “Rarely have I felt a working of this magnitude, wizard. Long have I slumbered, longer have I lived. Why do you summon me?”

She didn’t need to add “worm” to the sentence. It was implicit.

I cleared my throat and tried to speak. I think a little squeak came out first. I closed my eyes and marshaled my thoughts. Several moments later I set my tray down on a nearby rock.

“Greetings, Lady Draconis. Would you like some tea?”

Posted in Tim

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