A couple of minutes passed, and I started to think that the portal may have glitched and dropped me in the wrong place…again. The magic of the portal is kind of delicate. If my mind isn’t clear on exactly where I want to be, I can end up in the wrong place. I remember a time I was hired by a chieftain of a tribe of desert nomads, and I was supposed to be traveling into his tent. When I activated the portal, I had been wondering if his tribe embraced the practice of polygamy and maintained a harem like some of the peoples back on my home world. I stepped through my door into a tent full of semi-naked and more than a few fully naked women. I mean, I’m not complaining, but my employer was none too happy with me.
I had put my daggers away and was preparing to activate the runes on my arm to open the portal home when a voice behind me spoke.
“I see you found your way to me after all. I had hoped you would…” Her voice trailed off into a sultry little purr, but I’m not used to people being able to get behind me. Throw in the fact that I was coming here to meet with a dragon, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped. I turned around and Serilla was standing in front of me in the same partially human form she had taken back in The Bar. I know she’s a giant lizard in reality, but this form was damned sexy.
“I took the job. You know what that means. I’m here to kill your problem. Anything other than that will have to wait.”
“Pity…ah well, to business it is then. Come along Killer,” and with that she walked over to the trap door in the floor and started down the stairs.
Here’s hoping I’m not the next entrée walking into her pantry.
The stairs were wooden and went down about fifty feet or so. There was a lit torch in a sconce every ten feet. They ended on a stone landing that was roughly ten feet by ten feet and surrounded by a guard rail made of cast iron. At the far end was an opening in the railing indicating more stairs. The landing turned out to be high up on the wall of a cavern. The opening in railing was for more stairs, stone this time that led further down into the cavern. In the light emanating from the torches which continued down the walls I could see the glow of gold. I glanced over the edge of the railing. Now THIS is a dragon’s lair.
“Welcome to my home Killer. You should count yourself fortunate. Not many are invited here and fewer yet come with assurances that they will leave again. I have lived here for quite some time in safety and hope to continue to do so after our business is finished.”
The implied threat didn’t go unnoticed. I turned and looked back up the stairs at the trap door that leads back into the cottage. It seemed odd to me that anyone would have built that house on top of this cavern, especially if it had been occupied by a dragon. That led me to conclude that she must have built it. Surely she didn’t live there in human form. I turned back to her and said, “so the house is a duck blind.”
“A duck blind?”
I explained to her. “A duck is a bird that is hunted for sport and food on my world. Hunters will build a canopy over themselves to hide them from view from the air. The idea is to go unnoticed. You built the house on top of your lair. You come and go in human form so that no one will suspect the location of your true home.”
“Were we not allies, that knowledge would be your death Killer. However, I have to give you credit. You are not as dim witted as most of your kind. You may survive this yet.”
With that she leapt from the ledge and a few seconds later the stone I stood upon shook and dust fell from the ceiling. I looked back over the edge of the rail and saw Serilla in her true form for the first time, and she was…magnificent.
I know dragons are supposed to inspire fear. A normal person who’d been confronted with a killing machine that was three hundred feet long tail to snout would probably have pissed themselves. The hindbrain would have kicked in and fight or flight (usually flight) instincts would take over. I’d beaten my hindbrain until it quit caring about life or death a long time ago. I’m a fucking predator, not some mewling little piece of shit prey animal. What I saw was everything I value, everything I wanted and needed to be. She WAS death, and she was glorious!
Like I said before, she was three hundred feet long from the tip of her spiked tail to the tip of her snout. Her wingspan had to be close to the same distance because folded at her side they stretched from her shoulders to her rear haunches. Her eyes had the same glow that they had held back at The Bar and smoke curled from her nostrils. It hinted at the inferno inside of her that just waited to be released. Her scales had an iridescent quality and shimmered in the light shifting hues from green, to blue, and then to purple. Extremely well defined muscles rippled beneath those scales. The power they hinted at sent a shudder through me. Her talons, both fore and aft, were as thick as my thigh and damned near as long and ended in points designed to pierce the toughest of hides. This was a creature that could level towns and devastate populations. The thought that the people of this world sought to destroy her triggered an unexpected reaction. I WANTED to protect her, and I would make these assholes pay for their arrogance.
Whoa Tole. What the hell is that? Don’t get personal. Do the job. Take the gold. Emotions get you killed…or worse. Let that shit go!
My first thought was that she’d put some sort of spell on me to make me feel this way, but I’ve taken steps to prevent that. I’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well. I’m still working on getting past it, and I wanted to make damned sure it never happens again.
I shook my head to clear the fog, but the anger that rose up continued to smolder. I managed to pull it back to a slow burn, but burn it did nonetheless. For a split second I considered turning around and going home. I squashed that thought as fast as I had it though. My reputation was that I took a job; I do the job; I get paid. I was not about to tarnish that hard fought record because of some stupid knee-jerk, emotional reaction. I’d deal with that shit after I finish the job.
“You are going to swallow a fly if you do not close your gaping maw. I thought you stared hard at me when I was in your form, but now…” Serilla said. Her voice was almost the same as before just…bigger.
I snapped my jaw shut and unconsciously straightened my shirt. I walked over to the opening in the rail and started down the stairs which descended into the cavern in a spiral around its perimeter . As I walked I noticed that the walls of the cavern were covered in wards, most likely to prevent her being discovered by scrying. Long lived beings don’t get to be that way by being careless, and again I found myself impressed by her.
About fifteen feet from the floor I hopped the rail and dropped the rest of the way down tucking into a roll when I hit. Granted it wasn’t as impressive as the hundred feet or so she had dropped but then I couldn’t turn into a dragon on the way down either. I did manage to look somewhat coordinated though. I do practice that shit after all.
“You honestly have no fear of me do you?” she asked me. “Most men would have turned and fled back up the stairs once they saw me in my true form, but not you Killer. You stride down the stairs like you have done it a thousand times and even leap into the dragon’s maw so to speak. You are truly a wonder.”
I kind of cocked an eyebrow at her and smiled saying, “Nothing wondrous about me. If you wanted me dead you’ve had more than enough chances up to now. I figure you really need my services, so until the job is done I’m off the snack list. You may eat me later, but for now I am useful and therefore safe. Besides, I’m warded to go boom if I’m ever killed, and it’s probably big enough of an explosion to level your hill. However, I’m betting you already know that.”
“Truth,” she said with a nod of her enormous head.
“All of that aside though, I came down here because I am drawn to you. I grew up reading about dragons without ever imagining that your kind were real. I would have come down here even facing death just to get a closer look at you. This is not flattery in any sense of the word, rather it’s statement of blatant fact…you’re magnificent. I can’t stop myself staring at you, at your terrifying beauty.”
I stood there for a minute after I said that with my heart pounding in my chest. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a nerdy teenager waiting for the girl I had just asked to the movies to either lift my heart or crush it. It was a very uncomfortable few minutes, but that’s when something unexpected happened…she cocked her head at me and looked me square in the eyes. While our eyes were locked a shimmer formed around her and where one second stood a dragon the size of a battleship there now stood the woman from The Bar.
“Killer…Tole…you are definitely not what I have come to expect in a human. I think I have chosen wisely in a protector, and I would offer you something no human has known from me, and no, I do not mean laying with me. I offer you a glimpse at the soul of a dragon. This is something that is not shared lightly. It is called Communion, and you will see exactly who and what I am. In exchange I will see exactly who and what you are. It is far more intimate than mere sex and far more intense. Do not take this offer lightly though. Once it is done it cannot be undone. What you will see cannot be unseen. What do you say?”
I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable offering me this, and again I heard “for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup” in the back of my mind. I know killing me would kill her too, but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to become a nuclear warhead. Then it hit me, she was nervous, the kind of nervous a person is the first time they’re naked in front of someone. She was offering to bare herself in a way much more deeply than mere nudity ever could be. She was offering to make herself vulnerable to me, and she was asking me to make myself vulnerable to her. For killers of any race, that’s asking a lot. I felt my resolve about keeping this job professional beginning to slip away. I didn’t really feel any urge to fight it either, and for once in my life I kept my sarcasm in check. Likely that’s why I’m here to tell this story. I took a deep breath and looked at this beautiful creature standing before me and asked her, “What do I need to do?”
“Simply open your mind,” she said.
This is where it got a bit sticky, and I should have seen it coming. I’ll admit that I was a little swept up in the moment and that may have caused me to be blinded. I’d have to let down the wards that protect my mind from being touched by magic. I’d be open to control again. She’d have the ability to bond me to her in a way like my wife had before. While I had a driving need to protect her, I also had a deep seated need to keep my free will. I reflexively took a step back.
“Is something wrong?” she asked with a look on her face that was part confusion and part hurt.
All I meant to tell her was that I had once had a bad experience with magic getting into my mind and robbing me of my free will. That was all I was gonna say. That wasn’t all that came out. The next thing I knew I had told her the whole story from the meeting her in that bar on Terra, to her death, and finally to my vengeance on her killers. I hadn’t told the whole story to anyone. Bobby knew, but he’d been there for most of it. Valsh knew some of it but not all. The really fucked up part of it all was the fact that I still don’t know if it was my choice to see it through to the end or if it was the magical mind fucking she had given me.
After I finished the story I was exhausted, so I sat down on a chest that was nearby. I looked up her and said, “I haven’t told anyone that whole story, and I honestly don’t know why I told you. What’s done is done though, so there you go. Now you know what you’re asking me to do. You’re asking me to trust you, and I’m not sure I can no matter how much I’d like to.”
She sat beside me and took my hand saying, “Be assured I would never bind the will of another. Freedom is at the core of everything my kind value. Being bound that way is an abomination and an affront to all that I hold dear. Besides, if I had wanted to make a slave of you, the wards on your mind would not have stopped me.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “ Did you not notice when I read your resolve in The Bar? My magic is older and stronger than anything even the Altanian know. I would have merely swept them away like so many cobwebs on a forest path. The wards you have in place would have watered down the experience of Communion. If we are to share it, I would have you receive the full experience. If you would like I can tell you if your will is still colored by her invasion, and if so, I can cleanse your mind of its effect.”
I nodded and mentally deactivated the wards around my mind. Even though I was bristling with pointy goodness I suddenly felt very defenseless. It was extremely uncomfortable.
She took my face in her hands and her gaze deepened. The next few minutes were very…odd. It was like being examined by a doctor. All she did was move my head this way and that and mutter under her breath. Most of what she said came out as “mmm-hmm” or “hmm” and even an “interesting.” After what seemed like about half an hour she let go and sat back.
“Well that was enlightening. I am old enough that I’ve seen Altanian bindings before. That one was…odd. It was definitely a protector’s binding, but it was delicate. It is almost as though she saw that you already possessed the killer instinct the binding usually instills, so all she did was touch you with the emotional bond. Even that though was light. Almost like she lessened it over time. I would say you actually loved her after a while. The bond was actually put there to help you NOT be a killer. When she died, the last bit of the magic died with her. Everything you did after that point was all you.”
Confusion and relief and elation all rolled through me at once. The feelings brought with them a few tears. I didn’t turn into a blubbering idiot or anything, but that kind of relief is gonna pop a tear out whether you want it or not. I really didn’t know how to react to that news, so I just reached out and embraced her. Now it was her turn to be uncomfortable. She went rigid until she realized I wasn’t going to try and hurt her. After that she relaxed into my embrace, and we just sat there for a few minutes. When it was over I felt like a giant boulder had been taken off of my back. Now I know who I am…who I’ve always been. I am a killer. Period. End of story.
“Thank you,” I told her. “If your offer still stands, I would very much like to experience Communion with you.”
“Of course,” was all she said and she took my hand and led me to a kneeling position on the floor. “This is usually done between two of my kind in our natural forms. I have never done this with a human much less in human form. It may take a moment for me to orient myself.”
She knelt across from me with her knees touching mine. She reached out, took my hands in hers, and locked her eyes with mine. After a minute or so a glow began to form around us both. Shortly after it formed I realized that the glow was actually a ball of flame with us at the center. Strangely though it wasn’t hot. Her eyes drew nearer until they passed right through me and I found myself in the night sky gliding among the stars.
The landscape below me is mine and mine alone. There are green fields, a cabin on a hill, a mountain range where unearthly light dances among the slopes, and a scarred and burnt wasteland. All of it belongs to me to do with as I will. I decide I should land and explore but when my feet touch ground I am in all five places at once. Each version of me is slightly different. I realize that each land represents an aspect of a dragon’s existence. All I have to do is concentrate and I can slide between aspects like chasing a thought.
The night sky is freedom, freedom to go and do as I will. It is unfettered joy. There is nothing here that can touch me. The green fields of grass are hunting grounds. This is where the predator stalks its prey. This is where my dominance over all life is asserted. The cabin on the hill are safety and home. Nothing can touch me there. It is where I find peace, comfort, love, and…family. The mountains are magic, old and powerful. This is where my will and my intellect live. I am all powerful and all knowing. The burnt wasteland is my rage. It is destroyed because I wish it so, and it pleases me. When you combine all of these things…freedom, predator, home, magic, and rage… you have a dragon. Woe be to anyone who threatens any of it.
I could feel the Communion coming to an end, and I fought against it. I railed against being forced back into that frail human frame. I longed to stay and bathe in the glory of being a dragon. No matter though. The world came back into focus, and I was looking into those glowing eyes once again. This time though there was something new in her eyes. It took me a moment to recognize it because I hadn’t seen it in a very long time…respect. No one respects the paid assassin. They fear him. They hate him. Some even look down on him, but no one respects him.
I took her hand back into mine and locked my gaze on her saying, “Serilla, thank you for sharing that with me. It was beautiful. You are beautiful, and I will end the threat to you and your brood or I will die trying.”
I felt her hand tighten on mine at the mention of her brood and she said, “I should have realized that I could hide nothing in Communion. I do have a small brood of four younglings. The first for me in close to a half of a millennia. I would have gladly died to protect them if I thought I could end the threat to them…but Tole, now that I have seen what you hold inside I feel I should release you from our bargain. I would not risk having someone such as you perish. Would you like to know what I saw of you?”
“But I think you should kn…”
“Very well,” she said and leaned forward kissing me again every bit as hard as she had back in The Bar. “I will know you as a human woman knows a man, Killer. Now that I know who and what you truly are I will regret it if I do not.”
I stood and told her, “Once I’ve ended this bastard and you’ve added his weapons and armor to your hoard, we can explore that for as long as you’d like. Now though, I’ve got people to kill. Where are they?”