Nrararn blew a bubble of lighning, just as wobbly as my firebubble but he wrapped it in a whirlwind, and tugged it into a cone shape. Fire and lightning swayed and circled each other. Children clapped, and I would have too if I had had forepaws then.
Osoth said, “Best, I suppose, if I did not add my own venefice to the celebration. Dark and dusty death does not delight to dance in deep mirrors!”
“Though better than lightning or fire when hunting a hoard!” said Nrararn. “My own breath melts metals, chars gems, ruins electronics! Yours will slay without such a vastness of destruction.”
“Mommy, that bat is talking about death! Why is a bat talking about death?” said the child.
“More to the point, why are you talking in Queltzin, Osoth?” I asked him. In Queltzin, of course.
“Queltzin is a scratchy, sparky tongue! Its sandpaper cadences and flashing fluids are uniquely appropriate for these caves!” said Osoth, giggling. “Or else I just learned it.”
“Mommy, bat and snake are talking! Talking in the cave!” chirped the child.
Mommy wasn’t so enthusiastic. She turned to the guide. “Sir, is this part of your usual performance?” His terrified eyes and scent (if hovens can smell — I think they can’t really) answered her without speech. “No? Perhaps we can leave now?”
“They’re between us and the way out,” said the guide.
Nrararn reared out of the lake and turned back into a duck. “We’re here to look at the mirrors, just like you! Stay if you will, go if you must!”
“Besides, we’re not very big and we’re not very dangerous!” I added, and turned into a duck too. This caused Osoth to erupt in giggles.
“Mommy, mommy! The snakes becomed a ducks!” chirped the child, clapping her hands.
“Yes … it did …” said the mother, rather perplexed.
I hopped into their boat and sat on the child’s foot. “Now I becomed a shoe!” Nrararn went me one better, flapping to sit on her head. “And I becomed a hat!” Child and necromancer apparently contended to see which of them could laugh the most. The child had the dual advantages of (1) being tickled by water running down her cheeks and (2) not having studied so much death. So she won.
The mother was untrickled, untickled, untricked, and unamused. She picked Nrararn off the child’s head and put him gently but firmly on the gunwale or narwhal or whatever it’s called. The side of the boat. “I’m afraid that I do not allow ducks, no matter how pretty, to sit on my daughter.”
Nrararn squawked indignantly, and flapped his wings for balanace. “There is only one possible response for this! O mystic bat, you must conjure up the ghost of King Vludeath!”
“That’s impossible,” said one of the other hoven tourists. “Ghosts do not exist.”
“Fortunately, neither do necromantic bats!” chirped Osoth.
He spoke five words that fell into the lake like drops of molten lead, and the dark waters boiled around them with frore vapors, and the wide-eyed apparition of a crowned skeleton rose up from an impossible distance. “Let the dead and drowned drink of oblivion!” it moaned.
“Nope!” said Osoth. “I’ll let the dead and drowned describe their death!” I blinked at him. He added, to me, “No topic is superior, no topic is more polite, no topic is closer to the heart of the undead spectre than the matter of his own death. Indeed, the greatest peril of necromancy is the terrible, terrible boredom of conversing with an endless parade of monomaniacs upon that single topic.”
The hovens drew back as far as the could. Even the fearless child shivered and hid behind her mother.
“I drank brandied wine and honeyed wine, I sucked the narcotic nectars of the purple lotus and the grey, I luxuriated in the smoke of storax and brahavni candles in the twinkling darkness. I sent my wife out to fetch more wine. I drifted into sleep. My boat tipped over, and asleep I slipped into the deep lake, and the deeper death.”
“Oopsie!” said Osoth. “You got some bloodier rumors about it after you died.”
The spectre regarded him dully. “In death there are no rumors. In death there are no lies. In death there is but a single truth.”
The hoven child buried her head in her mother’s side, crying, and the adults didn’t seem much happier. I flapped my wings, and honked at Osoth, “Stop playing with your ghostie. It’s scaring our fellow tourists!”
“They must not fear! It is conjured simply in terzo oblotto — there is no possibility of any sort of doom or danger!”
“I’m not entirely sure that they appreciate the subtleties of your art,” said Nrararn. “I’m not sure that I do, for that matter, for they are extremely subtle, and, of course, extremely artistic.”
Osoth banished his ghost. The ghost had, more or less, banished the hovens too. Once it left, the guides started rowing the boats back out as quickly as they could. “Goodbye, little hoven girl! Thanks for your foot!” I quacked at her, and waddled back into the water.
Hovens gone, we play-fought as ducks in the water. Well, Nrararn and I did. Osoth stayed a dignified bat, hanging dignifiedly upside-down on a mirrory stalactite. We dignifiedly breathed threads of fire and lightning at him, but that cracked a couple bits of mirror, so we stopped.
Despite the introduction, they didn’t try to mate with me. I didn’t realize that ‘til just now.
“The two of you are awfully friendly,” I said to them as we flew back. “It’s making me suspicious.”
“Should we tell her?” Nrararn asked of Osoth.
I preemptively translated, “He said ‘yes’.”
“For some interpretation of the past tense!” Osoth protested. “But I see no grave doom that may come from Jyothky’s full knowledge of our compact. Indeed, should it please her, we could have no greater ally.”
“Now I’m even more suspicious,” I said.
“I’m going to steal a trick from Csirnis’ book,” said Nrararn, and destroyed the spell that protected him from veriception. “So, just the truth about this. Though, let it be a private truth! Please don’t tell the other drakes. Let them figure it out for themselves.”
“That’s dramatic,” I said. “I’ll be discreet about it.”
“The drakes have a pretty clear ranking, except for the two of us. Csirnis has got to be at the top, then Llredh second. Greshthanu is third,” said Nrararn
“Fourth, by reason of his vast and impressive blockheadedness! Ythac is third,” said Osoth.
“Well, they’re third and fourth anyways,” said Nrararn. “Osoth and I are fifth and sixth, except that I’m prettier…” Osoth glared at him, and he continued, ”… well, we’re fifth and sixth, and Tultamaan is clearly seventh. We were bickering at each other about which was fifth, like that, and then we realized that it didn’t matter who was fifth. Only first and second really matter much. You might dip down to third and pick Ythac if he is third by the end, since you’re friends. Not to fifth though.”
“My esteemed colleague must mention one further esoteric aspect of our situation. In most mating flights, there is an especial reason to struggle for fifth place, or, in any event, to struggle not to be sixth. It is a particular humiliation to be the least among the drakes. But Tultamaan, and, paradoxically, first-ranked Csirnis, are saving us from that particular bit of strife,” added Osoth.
“So Osoth and I have made an alliance. Naturally we will each strive to persuade you of our own supremacy as your mate. But we shall not interfere with each other. We shall not contest so hard for fifth place! We shall have one friend on the mating flight, which is an unusual luxury for a drake. Indeed, we may take steps which aid the other.” Nrararn hesitated a bit. “Such as sharing the recommendation of the ghost of a well-travelled native merchant of the previous century for what to see in the area.”
“So I’m flying around with two drakes allied against me?”
“Allied for you!”
“Allied to acquire me!”
“Arilash is the only one not trying to acquire you,” said Nrararn, “And, given Arilash’s general nature, even that’s not a sure thing.”
A vile concept, being acquired by Arilash! But I didn’t know what to make of the alliance. That’s no part of a usual mating flight that I know about. So I asked someone.
Dead God’s Advice
“To summarize, two of your fiancés have made a compact to win your hand?” asked Xolgrohim.
“I don’t have hands. Win my claspers,” I said with a bit more of a snarl than one ordinarily uses talking to (a) a dead god, or (b) one’s romantic confidant.
“Forgive me; I died before learning the proper nomenclature for the parts of a dragon,” he said. “How great an ally is a dragon?”
“Rather great! How many dragons did it take to squash Ztesofaum and all his empire?” I snapped.
“Five had been involved in one way or another. Perhaps more. My attention was diverted by trying to escape from your parents,” said Xolgrohim. “I do not fully appreciate how relevant that statistic is. Does winning your, well, private parts, entail a military campaign like the conquest of Mhel?”
“No. Not usually, anyways,” I had to admit.
“Osoth has subtle and useful powers. I should be the last one to deny that. They have been exceedingly useful to me. Nrararn I have observed less closely, but he braids lightning into his mane, does he not?” said the bottled god.
“Can either of them do anything that makes the least bit of difference towards pressing their own suits, much less each others’?” he asked.
I chewed on my tailtip. When I tasted blood I healed it. Then I answered. “Osoth says that necromancy is useful for tracking down the long-buried treasures of the dead. That’s supposedly why he reanimated you.”
“I should be happy to tell him what I know. I daresay he would be disappointed, for all that I once owned is now in the land of Rankotherium and Dessvaria, back on Mhel. They may not be quite as eager to grant permission for Osoth’s treasure-seeking as your parents were,” said Xolgrohim. “Actually, I daresay that Rankotherium and Dessvaria own the greater part of it. A few things were hidden before the dragons came, but there were more urgent things to do than to cache gems and scrolls for the far-future convenience of the conquerors’ spawn.”
“That’s true. Around here we’ve only got the ghosts of hoven bovines. I don’t know that Osoth is ever going to be a very successful treasure hunter,” I said.
“So, if I understand draconic terms properly, I should have to judge the both of them to be essentially useless as husbands, and as allies to each other and anyone else,” pronounced Xolgrohim. “Their alliance is an admission of weakness and incompetence. You should scorn them for it. Take a dragon more worthy of your attentions: Greshthanu or Llredh.”
Which I suppose makes plenty of sense.
Nrararn and Osoth get points for being fun. Fun isn’t actually very important. Llredh gets points for some very mighty fighting in challenge contests, but I didn’t feel like writing about that. It is important. It is also dull.
|Fiancé||Last Time||Change||This Time|