Dog And Dragon – Snippet 08
In a place where time ran slowly enough to at least sustain the illusion of immortality, where even free energy danced slow minuets, and the beings called the First dwelled, occupied by and large with passions of immortality, beyond most mortal ken. The First were not a matter for easy understanding. The dragon Fionn was one of the few beings that actually remembered them, which was…less than desirable. They had become distant and disconnected observers of their immeasurably vast creation.
It had taken a human glimpse within their roil of energy, interconnected as all energy was, to let them know that after millennia there might be a problem that they had not foreseen. That they had taken no steps to prevent. That a group mind made of the descendants of fractions of themselves could exist briefly. That something rather like their own power could be exerted by it — temporarily, it was true.
They didn’t like that.
But there was a worse possibility. And they always looked at possible futures.
The situation could become permanent.
Food did not interbreed with its predator. They had designed it like that for that precise reason.
Paradoxically, the very powers they had built into Fionn made him quite immune to their manipulations, and near invisible to them as a result. The same could not be said of the dog.
But if they destroyed the dog, they would be blind to Fionn’s doings and movement.
The dragon would not be easy to destroy, and the human had taken a part of them into herself. That made her difficult to deal with. The energy that flowed into her had been supposed to take control, not become a slave itself.
It would have to destroy all of them, by proxy.
Fortunately it had an almost infinite supply of proxies.
Unfortunately, the planomancer would be able to detect and counter their movements. They would need to be subtle.
“Right,” said Fionn, looking at the rocking plank he’d set up. “Come, Díleas. I’ll have to carry you.”
“You’re out of your mind, gleeman,” said Arvan.
Privately, Fionn agreed with him. But he knew humans too well. When they stopped to think about it, they’d start getting even more suspicious about his dealings with the fire creature. And they had weapons that could hurt the dog. He could kill them if they tried, of course. Had he been any other dragon, he would have been free to devour them anyway. Had he been any other dragon he might have desired to do so. But he was Fionn: the last of those who were made first, to see intelligent life flourished. Best to get on the narrow board and away. The water running through the gap would not kill him. Not now. The acids and toxins were already much diluted. But it might still be too hot for the dog. He’d have to throw Díleas if he fell. “Ach. I was something of an acrobat in a traveling show once.” He looked at the plank. It was twelve cubits long and none too wide, or thick. It came from under the canvas of the cart, from the arch where it helped to spread the load. Now it stretched to a rock in the middle of the flow. “Let’s put it on edge, and jam it. It’ll be narrower, but stronger.”
“You’re definitely mad. Leave the dog here. He’s a good, valuable dog,” said Arvan.
Díleas growled at him, as if to prove he might be valuable, but he wasn’t good, and danced onto his hind feet. Fionn reached down a hand, and said “up” and Díleas jumped up, putting his front feet over one shoulder. He really still was a pup with more fur than body.
“It’s like he understands every word you say!”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew how long it took me to teach him that trick,” said Fionn, sticking out a hand for balance and stepping out onto the narrow plank. And falling off it. He was still above the rock so no harm was done.
“Give up, gleeman,” said the caravan leader, shaking his head.
“I have hardly begun to try and you want me to give up!” said Fionn. “No. I can do it, I’ll wager.”
One of the younger travelers snorted. “How much?”
“Well,” said Fionn. “I haven’t got much.” He stuck his free hand into his pouch, felt about, past the nine golden coins he’d removed from their hidden trove. They had plenty more. Never pluck a peacock bare naked, and he’d give you plenty of tail feathers over time, was Fionn’s feeling. He fished out some coppers. Counted them with great show. “Nine. I’ll give you nine coppers if I fall in. What do you dare wager? A silver for my copper?”
“Huh. Gold, I reckon,” said the traveler. It was Dravko, one of the men who had been discussing what price he’d fetch as a slave in Annvn. “But what’s the point? You fall in there and you’re not coming back, you fool.”
“I’ll set the coins on the rock here,” said Fionn, suiting the deed to the word. “Then you get them if I lose. Give me a coil of rope, and I’ll tie it off and toss the two ends back, and you can tie them onto your cart. With one line for my hands and one for my feet I can walk across easily.”
“And then we lose a coil of rope when you fall in,” said Dravko scathingly, but looking at the coins.
Fionn shrugged. “No entertainment for nothing.”
“A coil of rope is worth nine coppers,” said Arvan. “Give him one, Nikos.”
So Nikos did. It was a finely braided rope, and worth, Fionn reckoned, at least eight coppers.
Fionn took a few dozen steps back and measured it all carefully with his eye…and sprinted at the plank. It was only three long strides to the rock, with a bit of a wobble in the middle, and he was on the midstream rock. The tricky part had not been crossing, but stopping in time to avoid landing in the water beyond — or dropping the twisting dog, who squirmed loose and bounded around on the lump of rock. Fionn leaned out and levered up the plank — a feat of strength most humans could not have managed, and swung it over. The other bank was not as far off — a mere nine cubits or so. Fionn laid the plank on the widest edge, with a good overlap.
As Fionn inspected it, Díleas ran over it, nearly but not quite falling in. He stood on the far side, and barked at Fionn. Fionn shrugged. Walked along it. It bent quite alarmingly, but did not break.
On the far side, Fionn, not quite off the plank, did an artistic stumble and jumped for the rock, kicking the plank off its rest and into the water, but gaining the far side, rolling. It was pure showmanship, but the fool dog was not proof against arrows. Someone could still decide they were demons. He stood up and dusted himself off. “Now I just need somewhere to tie the rope to, and I can come back and fetch my coins, and my winnings. Come, dog.”
They walked off. They must have been a good seventy yards further along the causeway when one of the travelers said: “I don’t think he is coming back.” Fionn had keen enough ears, even at this range, to hear them, just as he’d heard the quiet talk on the price that he might fetch as a slave.
Fionn whistled cheerfully and lengthened his stride. “I’d run ahead, dog,” he said quietly. “They might not have gone through with selling us, but soon someone is going to work out that I didn’t leave nine copper coins for no reason. They didn’t cheat me too badly for the price of a rope though. It might be useful. And you nearly fell in, you fool dog.”
Díleas looked at the red, dragon-hide boots as if to say “they have poor grip” and then bounded away along the hexagonal stones. Fionn walked still faster. He did hear distant yells, but there were no arrows.
And it was comforting to have a little gold about him again. It always made a dragon feel good, in a way that coppers did not.
The causeway was an interesting thing. He’d never run across it in his many earlier wanderings across the multidimensional ring before, and yet it apparently led to places he once used to visit, and visit quite often.
Had the structure changed? And what would reintegration of Tasmarin do to it all?
If Fionn had not had to walk the worlds looking for his Scrap of humanity, he’d have been dead keen to find out. He rather liked changes, after millennia of the same.