Friday, April 17, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Seven: Farewell, old man

When she learned that Fynn was in the army below the Sky Bitch, helping decimate the Non, Libby immediately commanded her crew to land the airship. She didn’t give a damn if the fight wasn’t over. She wanted to see her son.

Pagan only argued with her for a moment. There wasn’t much more time to say anything before the dragon slammed into the side of the ship.

The Sky Bitch tilted abruptly to aft, its rotors whining as they struggled to keep the airship moving in a straight line. The crew, almost as one, collapsed to the deck and slid to one side. Only Libby managed to remain upright, clutching to the wheel for dear life. One of her booted feet kicked Pagan’s helmet from his head as he fell into a wall.

Oh dear, the knight thought. This isn’t good at all.

The Sky Bitch slowly righted itself - or at least it tried. The dragon slammed into the ship a second time, then a third, knocking the people inside around like dice in a cup. Pagan avoided further buffetings by clinging to a control console, an action that he found altogether miraculous. The world seemed too apocalyptic for an old man such as himself to last so long.

Images of his resurrection, from long ago, flitted to mind. They were filtered a soft blue. He shook them away, knowing that he wouldn’t receive another such miracle.

The dragon planted itself on the front of the Sky Bitch, tilting the ship towards the earth. Libby screamed obscenities at the thing, her enraged voice only mildly tinged with fear. Pagan pulled himself to his feet as best he could, admiring Libby’s gusto as he reached for the sword cane at his side. He knew drawing it was a worthless gesture, but he did it anyway.

“W… what are you planning to do, exactly?” a panicked voice asked from behind Pagan. “Tumble… tumble at it and hope you… puncture a soft spot…?”

Pagan turned to glare at the speaker. The Baron glared back, his glasses cracked, skeletal mouth exposed.

“Something like that,” Pagan grumbled. “Why don’t you do something, you useless - “

Pagan’s rejoinder was cut off as the glass canopy protecting the bridge exploded. Eyes blazing white, the dragon plunged its cerulean head into the Sky Bitch, half collapsing the deck as its front legs fell onto the wood. It snarled -

- and, abruptly, shrank to half its normal size. The rapid loss of mass brought the Sky Bitch back up into the sky, away from the ground, and every member of the crew bounced in response. Pagan managed to land neatly on the deck without injury, but the loud WHACK and the yelp of pain behind him hinted at The Baron’s fate. 

“Well, never mind, then,” Pagan muttered, looking back at The Baron. He appeared to be out cold. “A shame, you might have actually been useful.”

A lithe, almost slinky beast, the dragon hissed as it advanced on Libby, though the sound was almost drowned out by the rush of air from the open canopy. Though cut in half, the dragon nevertheless towered over Libby, the tips of its black horns scraping along the tallest point of the Sky Bitch’s curved roof. 

Libby’s fists clenched, and she struck a combat pose. “You want me? You want me, you giant fuck? You just come get me - “ 

The dragon came. Dipping low, it raised its front legs - now arms, Pagan noticed, as muscles in the dragon’s shoulders abruptly and grotesquely readjusted themselves - and charged at Libby, stampeding over the bodies of several unfortunate crewers. Libby only had time for one useless punch before the beast caught her and lifted her off of the deck, wriggling and shouting but unharmed.

Pagan looked at his sword cane. Well, I guess I have a use for this thing now.

The dragon was turning to leave, its tail casually destroying several control consoles, when Pagan leaped to the offensive. He twirled his sword once, twice, three times, expertly slicing at the dragon’s left leg and biting into the fleshy crevices between its plated skin. Blood flew, the dragon roared, and its tail whipped around to lash him. Pagan ducked beneath the strike, and it left a deep scar in the wall behind him instead.

Don’t get hit by that, he thought, grimacing. Gotcha. One hit and I’m a dead man.

Watching the tail carefully, Pagan slid in front of the dragon and jabbed at a weak point on its elbow. The dragon attempted to kick him away, still advancing towards the hole in the canopy, but Pagan slid to one side and avoided the stomp. The ship shuddered in response, but Pagan kept his balance as he lashed out again, driving his sword into the same point on the dragon’s elbow. The pained roar was much louder this time -

- and when the dragon flinched in pain, Libby found the purchase she needed to drive her leg up into the dragon’s neck. It didn’t do much, but the dragon dropped her anyway, obviously surprised.

“GET OUT OF THERE!” Pagan danced aside as the dragon’s tail came at him again, the tip leaving a delicate, white-hot streak on the front of his armour. “GRAB THE WHEEL! WE’RE GONNA GO DOWN IF - “

Pagan’s order was cut off by a sudden blossom of pain in his right ear. Reflexively grabbing at his head, he found a small, grubby thing clinging to the side of his face, apparently unnoticed in the fracas. He tore it away… and found himself staring at a blood-soaked rat. It convulsed as it smiled ghoulishly up at him.

They really do want us to lose, Pagan thought, reaching beneath his cape to grab at a second rat that was climbing up his back. He flung the first away, noticing in the act that more rats were climbing up his legs. Did we have this many bloody rats on the ship?

Pagan’s hesitation was enough for the dragon. Reaching down, it grabbed Libby a second time and swatted her head lightly, almost apologetically. She went limp as the dragon stomped towards the exit, and its wings expanded as it prepared to take to the skies. Its tail snaked tantalizingly in its wake -

- and when the dragon hunched over to leap into the abyss, Pagan leaped with it.

Pagan had always prided himself on his penchant for cold analysis. He seldom allowed emotion to override his common sense. He’d known, during the Battle of Grand Lake, to leave his friend Duke to die, rather than allow General Tartasky to escape. He’d known, during the Siege of Limberhost, to raze the residential section of the city, even though it was filled with as many innocents as freedom fighters. He’d known to enslave his servants, despite the social stigma of such an action, because doing so would cut down on the levies paid to his former lord. Such was the duty of the head of an expensive manor.

Emotion told him to grab onto the dragon’s tail. Logic told him to give up on Libby, because she would obviously survive. She was being kidnapped, not dragged away to murder. That was obvious. Yet Pagan dove for the tail anyway, and grabbed on, and was hurtled out of the Sky Bitch when the dragon took flight. 

Pagan gasped as his boots left the floor. This wasn’t his first flight on a dragon, but last time… last time he’d been on its back. This was quite different.

Yes, said Pagan’s sense of logic. Yes, this is very different. This is a mistake. You’re going to pay for it, old man.

Probably, Pagan thought back. Fighting the wind, his weary muscles straining, he began pulling himself up the dragon’s tail, hand over hand. But I’ve lived long enough anyway. I’d rather go out with an interesting story to tell.

The dragon’s tail began to expand as the creature returned to its full size, forcing Pagan to widen his grip. He slipped backward a foot, heart beating wildly, but maintained his purchase and continued his steady trek towards the dragon’s body. A rat, somehow not dislodged by the leap, nibbled on his neck; Pagan ignored it.

You dropped your sword back in the ship, logic pointed out. What do you plan on doing when you reach the neck? Will you bite it?

Something like that, Pagan thought. 

Doubtless sensing the extra load clinging to its backside, the dragon whipped its tail from one side to the other, cracking the air with its extreme speed. Pagan managed to hang on with each lash - but he soon found himself spinning beneath the tail, forced to stare at the landscape far below. A sea of werewolves promised a furry, if pointy, landing should he fall.

You’ve doomed yourself, you stupid old fuck, logic bit out viciously. We can’t wait to see the results of your foolishness.

I suppose it was a little silly, Pagan admitted, face pressed to the underside the dragon’s tail. But Libby’s a nice enough firebrand, and… I suppose… wait. What do you mean by ‘we’? My brain isn’t a ‘we’.

True, said logic. But, then, you’re not talking to your brain right now, are you?

The rat on Pagan’s neck bit into his tendon so viciously that the old man cried out. He shook his head, and the rat fell away… but another, creeping up Pagan’s armour, took its place on the other side of Pagan’s neck, and a third crawled into his breastplate to chomp at the flesh beneath his armpit.

‘If we go, you die,’ said logic, words rushing through Pagan’s head in a confusing torrent. Some of my first words, and some of my finest. This manic flight is hardly the ‘pleasant obscurity’ you said you wanted back then, but I suppose I knew you were lying. Knights always want to go out in a blaze of ridiculous glory. You want glory, you old fuck? Here’s some glory for you. 

Pagan couldn’t hold on any longer, and as the rat at his armpit took another deep bite the old soldier released the dragon’s tail. The last thing Pagan saw of the dragon - and, given the circumstances, he supposed it might have been a hallucination - was what appeared to be a tattoo of a wooden door on the dragon’s underbelly.

One last thing, logic added. Though Pagan knew logic had nothing to do with this particular little boy who’d grown up just a little too quickly. I stole your poisonheart. It was fun. I’d do it again. Think about that while you fall.

Pagan fell. He thought of something else, as the poisonheart had been a mere bauble. Whatever crossed his mind made the old man smile, moments before he hit the ground.

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