I woke up on an uneven stone floor in pitch darkness. I couldn’t see a thing. Not one speck of light leaked in. The strong scent of damp stone, the complete lack of light, and the moldy, stale air gave me the impression I was somewhere deep underground. As I shifted, I was surprised to not feel any sort of ropes or anything. I wasn’t tied. I also felt the scrape of scales against the stone.
It felt like I was a dragon again. It felt really odd. I’d been human for months, except for that one time when I travelled back in time and saved my infant great grandmother. I extended the claws on my left hand and felt the click, like the click of a pen. Yup. Dragon.
I blinked tears. I wouldn’t be one of the guys anymore at the fire station. People would give me that look on the street. I’d have to wear clothes that covered me from head to toe even in the heat of summer, and cover my eyes in the day time. Damn it, I didn’t even get a chance to make love to Jack.
I’d been kidnapped, was locked in a stone room underground in total darkness, and I was crying because I’d gone back to being a freak. Sometimes I wonder about my sanity. And my priorities.
A hand touched my shoulder in the darkness. I yelped and about jumped out of my scales.
“I am sorry,” a familiar feminine voice said softly. “I did not mean to frighten you. I heard you weeping and meant to offer comfort.”
The voice chuckled bitterly. “No, daughter of my daughter. I am still not your mother. I am no one’s mother now.”
“Great great grandmother?” But if Cuicatl was there, that meant I had travelled back in time. My body was still in the year 2012, probably unconscious from whatever chemical had been on that rag the bad guys stuffed in my face, but the essence of what made me me was a long, long way from home.
“Why were you weeping, child?”
“I thought I’d turned back into a dragon. I’ve been human since the first time I met you, but each time I come back here, I’m always a dragon. I didn’t realize I wasn’t in my own time.”
“This,” she touched my left shoulder, covered with thick metallic scales, “This is the truth of who you are. The body of a dragon changes with every mood and whim. The spirit is constant.”
“I don’t know about the mood and whim thing. I’ve been stuck as a human for months.”
“Then you have not truly wished to be anything but human.”
“It sucked when I was trying to dig Jack out of the rubble and when I got shut out of the bomb threat thing because I was a normal. Not to mention when those guys were trying to blow up the nuclear plant. I would have loved to have been a dragon again right then.” It would have been a lot harder for those goons to kidnap me, too.
“Perhaps. But your deepest desire is still to be like others. A dragon cannot lie to her body. It will respond only to what you truly feel, not to what you think you should feel.”
That was a little hard to accept. “I don’t think it’s that simple for me. I’ve wanted to be human my whole life, but I never became human until you touched me.”
“You believe I am the one who altered your body?”
“It happened when you kissed me. I keep wondering if I need you to change me back.”
My great-great grandmother was silent for a while. In the total darkness, it was like I was alone if she didn’t touch me or speak. I scooted closer to her so we sat side by side, leaning against the damp stone wall. I could feel the warmth of her smaller form beside me.
She put an arm around my shoulders. I scrunched down and leaned in so she could snuggle me like Ma does. I barely knew this woman but every instinct in me responded to her as if she were my own mother.
Her instincts seemed to react the same to me. “You wept when you thought your body had changed. I do not think I would change you back, even if such a thing were in my power.”
She stroked my hair while I thought about that. “You seem so much more real here in the darkness,” she murmured almost to herself. “Here, my eyes do not tell me you are insubstantial. I feel the warmth of your body and the texture of your scales. I smell the scent of the strange oils you cleanse your hair with. You are as real as my own children.” Her voice caught. “Except that you yet live.” She shuddered and her arms tightened around me.
I wrapped my arms around her waist to hug her, and felt a thick chain trailing down her back from a heavy collar around her throat. I’d been so busy wallowing in my own self-pity, it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder why my great-great grandmother was in a dank, lightless underground cell.
After a moment, her voice shaky, she asked, “Did you truly save my baby girl?”
“I got her to your sister before I was pulled back to my own time. She should be okay.” If my baby great-grandmother wasn’t okay, I probably would be a ghost, or nothing at all.
“Thank you, child. My sister’s husband has three fierce and loyal brothers. The Obsidian one will not dare to attack them. My child is safe, and my sister will raise her as if my baby were her own.” She squeezed me a little. “Alone for so long in the darkness, I despaired. I believed my little one dead just like her sister, and that you were an illusion I dreamt in desperation. It seems you have come again, when I most desperately need you.”
“I’m real.” I thought about the fact that I technically wouldn’t be born for centuries. “Well, I will be real, eventually.”
We sat quietly for a while, just enjoying the warmth of each other’s company. I wondered if my great-great grandmother might still be alive in my day. Dragons lived a long time. Maybe I could look her up. Yeah, like in the dragon yellow pages, or I could just Google Cuicatl and see how many hits I got.
I heard a noise, footsteps, muffled male voices. A trace of faint orange light that seemed far brighter than it probably was flickered around the cracks of what I could now see was a thick stone door.
The cell we were in was an eight foot featureless stone cube of space. It looked like it might have been carved right into bedrock, rather than built.
“Smoking Mirror comes for me, daughter of my daughter,” Cuicatl whispered. “It will not be safe for you here. Go back to your own time.”
“I don’t really have much control over it. I seem to just come when I need something from you, or you need something from me.”
“The only thing I need is for the Obsidian one to die an agonizing death.” Cuicatl’s eyes glowed red in the darkness.
“Well, if he can’t see me, maybe I can …”
“No, child,” Cuicatl interrupted me, her hands squeezed my arms hard. “You stay far away from him. I would not see him harm another of my family.”
“Where the heck is Agmund? I thought he would have sent this jerk packing by now.”
“I do not know what has happened to my husband. I fear the worst.”
The footsteps approached the door. Stone ground against stone as it ponderously swung open.
I stepped to one side of the door and flattened against the wall, so they wouldn’t see me, not thinking about the fact that I was already invisible to nearly everyone in this time.
Three men came in wearing loin cloths and a bright yellow stripe of paint across the upper half of their dark faces. Their eyes were wide and frightened. They reminded me a little of the tattoos that the men in my time wore who kept blowing up pieces of my city. Black skulls with staring eyes and yellow paint stripes across the forehead and cheeks.
While one held a torch, the other two men restrained Cuicatl. One pushed her to the wall by her collar with a 6 foot long forked pole. He twisted and the pole latched onto the collar at her throat. The other warily circled her as far as he could in the confined space and unhooked the long chain from the wall.
The man with the torch led the way out the door and up a flight of narrow stone steps. The pole man followed with Cuicatl walking behind him at the end of the pole. She had no claws in her human form and the collar was too small for her to shift into battle form without strangling herself, but these guys weren’t taking any chances. I’d seen her kill a couple of them with her bare hands the last time I was here, with one arm full of baby. It made sense for them to be careful.
The last man picked up the rear carrying the long chain that had held her to the wall. He held tightly with both hands to the center of the chain about four feet behind Cuicatl, letting the last four feet dangle down loosely.
I crept behind him. None of them gave any indication that they saw me. The only light came from the torch bearer at the front of the line. At the back, the man I followed probably could barely see the stairs he put his feet on.
I wrapped the loose end of the chain around his throat as quickly as I could. I lifted him off his feet with my other arm and carried him up the stairs at a steady pace. He frantically squirmed and fought in my arms, unable to make a sound with the chain around his throat.
He was wiry strong, but I was back to the strength level that meant I didn’t need a jack to change a tire on my Jeep. He didn’t stand a chance.
When his eyes rolled up in his head and he went limp, I unwound the chain from his throat, dropped him quietly on the steps and kept walking. He wasn’t dead, but I only cared a little bit.
I wound up the chain carefully, and handed it to Cuicatl as I passed her. Her eyes got big. She put a hand on my arm. She couldn’t see me clearly, but she knew what I’d done. She shook her head frantically at me, trying to stop me from doing something that might put me in harm’s way.
I squeezed her arm back, reassuringly I hoped, and ignored the warning.
The narrow stairs turned sharply enough that the pole guy had a hard time getting around the corner. The torch guy got a little bit ahead of him. I whacked the pole guy on the back of the head. He went down immediately, but the pole clattered before I could stop it.
The torch guy looked back, saw his friend down and Cuicatl standing over him with the chains in her hand, and ran up the stairs like a monkey with his tail on fire.
I started to chase the guy, but he was way faster than me.
“Damson!” Cuicatl whisper shouted.
I came back down. “What?”
“You must get away from me. Smoking Mirror will be able to see you. You must not be here when that one fetches him.”
“I think you must not be here either. Let’s get this collar off you.”
I twisted the pole to unlock it from her collar. There was no lock on the collar itself. From what I could tell, it had been made around her neck. That must have been incredibly unpleasant.
I crumpled the metal into a crease, which made it almost tight enough to choke Cuicatl. She didn’t so much as flinch, just waited for me to do what I was going to do. I bent it back out and crimped it again, over and over, weakening the metal. It didn’t take that long, but it felt like bad guys were going to pour down that stone staircase at any second.
Maybe we should have just gotten out of there and removed the collar and chain later.
Finally, the fatigued metal cracked. I grabbed it with both hands and pulled as hard as I could. I got it open enough that Cuicatl could slip her neck free.
She spat on the thing as soon as it dropped to the stone. Then she grinned fiercely in the general direction of my face. We ran up those stairs as fast as two sets of bare dragon feet could run.
We came out into a maze of carved stone corridors filled with men and spears.
“Get behind me, child,” Cuicatl said. The tone of her voice made me think I shouldn’t argue with her just then.
She shifted into battle form, filling the corridor with feathery scaly angry beast.
I couldn’t see very well around the snarling creature in front of me, but there were a lot of screams and blood. She kept running up the slanting corridor on all fours at nearly full speed, killing men as she ran.
I was really glad she was on my side.
We turned a corner and ran out into open air. The ground dropped out from under my feet into one of those steep stair-steps leading down.
Cuicatl launched herself into the air.
I squeaked as I tumbled ass over teakettle. There are times when being naturally armored is a really, really good thing.
The men who were trying to stop us chunked spears at Cuicatl but she had launched with pretty good speed. She could have gotten away clean.
She turned on a wing tip and came back, for me.
Her huge eagle’s wings swooped over me, dodging thrown spears as she flew down the steep face of a step pyramid. Her feet reached toward me, but she couldn’t see me clearly, so they grabbed air next to me.
I grabbed onto her ankle. She dragged me for a few steps flapping furiously, then we made it into the humid night air.
Once we’d gained some altitude, I let go.
“Damson!” she shouted, afraid I had fallen.
“I’m all right. I can fly on my own wings. The steps just caught me by surprise.”
Spears no longer followed us. We left the village rapidly behind and flew over a canopy of trees.
“Thank you, child. For my freedom and for the life of my baby. I owe much to a woman not yet born.”
I felt the awe shucks urge and changed the subject. “Why did Smoking Mirror have you captive anyway? What does he want from you?”
“The Obsidian one has the blood of many dragons in his veins. This has given him great power. He seeks to mix his blood with the blood of the ancient kings of this land, my fathers. He wants me to give him a son with venomous claws like mine.”
“I have claws like yours. What does the venom do?”
“Do you not know, child?”
“It seems to numb and maybe paralyze folks, but I don’t know the extent of it.”
“The claws will paralyze, yes. The deeper your rage and the greater the venom dose given, the longer and more extensive the paralysis will be. If you use your claws lightly when calm, they can give surcease from pain and sensation. It can be a mercy to an injured friend. If you use them in a killing rage, a deep wound from your claws will slowly kill. The paralysis will spread from the wound until even your enemy’s heart will freeze.”
“Wow. I guess it’s lucky I only scratched Domina Death and Bobcat. I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“You have a gentle heart, daughter of my daughter. If I could kill Smoking Mirror, …”
Her voice vanished in mid-sentence as I felt a slap on my face.
“Hey, cut it out.” I tried to reach up and swat away the hand, but mine were tied behind my back.
Oh, crap. Fire alarm. I’ll have to write the rest later.