Sunday, August 12, 2012

Smoking Mirror

Panic was in the air. I don’t mean that in some figurative sense. I could smell the overwhelming scent of human fear. It permeated everything. And blood. I smelled blood.

I was in an odd sort of bedroom, with beautiful, elaborate carvings on the wall and brightly woven blankets. I lifted the hanging blanket from the doorway to peek outside. A small, dark woman slammed her elbow into a man’s face, smashing bone. The man, with fierce-looking yellow paint across his brown-skinned face dropped dead next to three others.

The small, dark-haired woman who had killed them ran into the room and slammed right into me.

She fell. The baby she carried tied and bundled in a bright blanket flew from her arms.

“No!” she shouted.

I dove like a volleyball player and made a desperate catch.

The kid burbled up at me with a grin that only had a few teeth in it, including one fang. The baby’s huge eyes were dark blue in a light-brown-skinned chubby face. The thick hair on the tiny head was bright purple.
I cuddled the dragon baby close and turned back to hand the little bundle back to the woman who fell.

I turned around, but the woman was gone. In her place was a creature that filled the room. Sleek and deadly like a panther the size of a Clydesdale, the creature growled low, showing fangs as long as my hand.  It stood on its hind legs. Deep purple scales rippled as the beast half spread wings that folded like a dragon’s, but were feathered like an eagle’s.

The creature extended both arms toward me as I backed into a corner of the room, hugging the toddler dragon close.

“Give her to me!” the creature growled. It must have been a dragon of some kind, but different from any dragon I’d ever seen. One hand popped out long black needle-tipped claws. The other held out to me palm up. “Give her over willingly, or I will take her from your limp, useless body, and rip your heart out while you watch.”

“I won’t let you hurt her,” I said with a bravery I’m not sure I was really feeling. I kept frantically looking for a way out. The only door was behind the strange, feathery dragon. The walls were carved stone. I had no idea how I’d gotten into the room, much less how to get out.

The creature hesitated. Its great cat-like head with back swept ears, that I now realized were pointed head scales, leaned down until it was nearly nose-to-nose with me. Its vivid yellow cat eyes squinted as if struggling to see me. “Daughter of my daughter?” It asked.

“Great great grandmother?” I asked back.

The dragon let out a sigh of relief and sheathed her claws. She was Cuicatl, wife of Quetzelcoatl, also known as Agmund Drage. Which meant that the baby in my arms was probably my great grandmother.

“Forgive me, child. I thought you were some sort of servant of the Smoking Mirror,” my ancestor said.

“What the heck is the Smoking Mirror?”

“Smoking Mirror is a powerful dragon. He has come while my husband is far away, with fierce soldiers who slaughtered our defenders. He demanded my daughter as sacrifice, to be skinned alive in honor of his conquest of the city. He will slay a child of the village every hour that my daughter does not volunteer to die.”

“But, why? What could that possibly gain him?”

“He wishes to claim me as his mate. I am the bride of this city. He who rules the city, I must take as husband.” My ancestor looked simultaneously disgusted and ashamed. “The dark Obsidian one seeks to slay my sole living child by my beloved true husband.”

“Agmund is going to kick this Smoking Mirror’s ass when he gets back.”

Her cat eyes narrowed and glowed with a wicked inner light. “I too believe it will be so, but he will be too late to save my daughter.” Tears as big as my fist ran down the dark scales of her face.

“I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”

“No one can help my eldest daughter. She will give herself up within the hour. She cannot abide for an innocent to take her place in death.” The dragon sniffed and wiped the tear from her face with her bent wrist in a very cat-like way. “She will die as a true servant of the earth, giving her life to save others.” She said that with pride overshadowing the sadness.

She reached out to the tiny toddler in my arms, stroked her chubby little face with a deep plum-colored giant fingertip. “Smoking Mirror does not know that I have another daughter. I sought to hide her, but it is hopeless. The dark one will find me. I have a sister in a nearby village who could claim her and care for her until my husband returns, but if I try to leave the city, the dark one will know.” She gripped my arm and stared earnestly into the general area of my face. “Can you take my child to safety daughter of my daughter?”

“Of course I’ll help. But I don’t understand how this is possible. I shouldn’t be able to affect things that happened more than a thousand years ago.” The kid grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled, trying to stuff it into her mouth. As I gently freed it, I had a weird thought. “I was drawn to this time to Agmund, so he has to be my ancestor. If this is your only remaining child with Agmund, this little girl couldn’t have died. She must have survived somehow.”

“The future is never set, young one. It changes with each action and choice that we make. If my little one is mother of your mother, and she dies, …” She trailed off. The implication was obvious.

“Then I might never be born.” I had to save the kid, or I wouldn’t exist. But if I didn’t already exist, then how could I save her?

“All the more reason to get her to safety quickly.” Cuicatl looked over her shoulder at the stone archway into the chamber. A hanging blanket blocked the view, but the sound of heavy feet was close enough that I could hear it as well as she could.

She lifted one of the woven hangings on a side wall, and pushed with dragon strength on a section of the stone. It shifted inward to show a dark, narrow stone passage, half blocked with cobwebs. “Go quickly. The passage comes out near the path to my sister’s village. Travel forward until you find the path. Then turn toward the rising sun. Walk for a day and a night and you will find my sister’s village.”

There was more commotion outside the door. Men's voices, angry, although I couldn't yet make out words. “Hurry, child.”

As I hunched down the low triangular corridor, pushing aside icky spiderwebs, some of them still inhabited. I heard the stone door grind back into place behind me. Just before it shut completely, I heard Cuicatl’s voice, “Thank you daughter of my daughter. I will not forget what you have done.”

Closing the door left the dank narrow corridor in near total darkness. There were occasional cracks in between the stones that sent shafts of light inward. They came at regular intervals as if planned for lighting. I could hear men shouting and smell fear and blood coming down from above. I found the light adequate to see by, although not enough to always spot the cobwebs before they touched my face.


At least once, a spider crawled across my cheek as my face invaded his web.

I did not scream.

Only because I was terrified that Smoking Mirror’s men would hear me and come after the baby cooing in my arms.  I did smack my head against the low ceiling getting the many legged critter off me, then stomped it really hard, and then stomped it several more times for good measure. Damn thing was the size of a rat. I could have put a saddle on it and rode it.

That was when I finally noticed something that should have been obvious. My feet had scales and an extra toe. I'd been deciphering my world largely by scent. It was far too dark in that corridor for a human to see anything, yet I could see fine.  I looked at my left hand. Scaly. My claws popped out when I flexed them. I was a dragon again.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but it was worth noting.

I reached the end of the stone passage and pushed aside a boulder that blocked the exit. Thick jungle canopy overhead meant that the light was only a little blinding. The baby fussed a little as I brought her out. I shielded her face with the hand woven blanket.

I kept walking as straight ahead as I could around the bases of the tall trees. I didn’t hear any sounds of men anymore. The passage must have taken my baby great grandmother and me well outside Cuicatl’s city.

I heard lots of other weird sounds, probably birds or monkeys or who the heck knows what. It’s not like I’d ever heard the sounds of a South American jungle anywhere, except maybe on the Discovery Channel.

I crossed the path and had to double back. I didn’t realize it was a path at first. It was just a strip of beaten flat ground on the jungle floor, no wider than two feet, that meandered between the trees.

I turned around in a circle, trying to figure out which way the sun came up. It was getting later so the sun was lower than before. I put my back to it and walked the other way.

Suddenly, I heard something that didn’t fit, but that was very familiar. My alarm clock.

I felt my grip on the baby in my arms fading. “NO!” I couldn’t wake up, not until I got the baby to safety. If I vanished now, she would be left in the middle of the jungle for anyone from a hungry jaguar to one of Smoking Mirror’s men to find her.

I ignored the insistent sound and started running down the path as fast as I could.

Cuicatl had said walk for a day and a night to get to the village. There was no way I could stay asleep that long. I shifted the kid to one foot, gripped her carefully, unfolded my wings in a wide spot between trees and leapt for the air.

Easier said than done. I couldn’t flap properly. There wasn’t enough room. I half jumped, half climbed to the treetops and finally launched into open air, squinting against the blinding light of the evening sun. I flapped as hard as I could. I had to fly faster than I ever had.

The insistent beeping pulled at my mind. I felt myself fading more than once. When I vaguely felt Jack’s cat licking me, I actually dropped the baby. My feet just faded to the point where she fell through them. I had to scramble to catch her before she impacted the trees.

I couldn’t wake up. No matter what. I had to stay asleep.

This was real. This wasn’t a dream.

My experiences with my grandmother and father in Camelot had taught me that my dreams really were a form of mental time travel, that only happened when I was asleep.

If I woke up, the baby would fall to her death, and then what? Maybe I would wake up only to find that I was now a ghost in my own time.

I had no idea what would happen if I failed to save my own great grandmother from death, but even if that wasn’t an issue, I wasn’t about to drop a helpless baby from a considerable height into a wild jungle full of men who wanted to kill her.

I flew as fast as I could, grateful for the physical training in human form that had made me stronger than I had ever been. Finally, in the distance, I saw the peak of a stone pyramid-shaped building sticking out of a clearing in the trees.

“Almost there, little grandmother. Almost there.”

A massive shape rose up from that pyramid to confront me. The shape was like a huge bird of prey against the too bright sky.

As it got closer, I recognized the shape of one of the panther/eagle-like local dragons.

“What are you, shadow? Leave my city. We do not traffic with ghosts.”

“Not a lost shadow of one dead, a memory of one yet to be born,” I said, repeating what Agmund had said as best I could. “Are you Cuicatl’s sister?”

“I am. Who asks?”

“Her great, great granddaughter, and her daughter.” I could feel someone shaking me violently. I was starting to fade and I couldn’t fight it this time. “Catch!” I yelled, and tossed the little bundle of baby toward her aunt.
Just as the jungle world faded away, I saw the dragon catch the baby in gentle-clawed feet.

Then I woke to Jack shaking me so hard my teeth rattled. “Okay, okay. I’m up.”

“What’s wrong with you, Dee. We’re half an hour late already.”

“Oh, crap! We’ll get a demerit!”

“Forget that. What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you wake up? It was like you were in a coma or something.”

“No, just time travelling. I had to save my great grandmother from being a human sacrifice to an evil Aztec conqueror or I might have ceased to exist."

Jack blinked. He sat there for a few seconds speechless, then sighed. “With anyone else, I’d say it was time to call the guys in the white coats. With you …” He shook his head. “Just get dressed. We don’t want to be any later than we already are.”

I sat up and realized, I was covered in skin, not scales. In the dream, I’d been back to my old self, all dragony. But here, I was still human.

I felt a tug of painful disappointment mixed with relief. Somewhere down deep, I was still conflicted. I desperately wanted my dragon self back so I could help when people were hurt, and fight the good fight. But I also really wanted to be normal. It was kind of great to just be one of the guys at the firefighter’s academy.

So, that’s where I’m at. Only one week of firefighter training to go, but two out of three demerits down. I just have to make it one more week. How hard can that be?

D. Dragon

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