Crimson Son

ON SALE NOW!

ONLY .99 CENTS?!?

Sales have been good since the June launch but my goal is to share stories. To turbo charge this I’ve gone nuts and done two things. First, I setup FREE purchases for libraries through Smashwords – ’cause libraries rock. Second, I’ve dropped the price of the eBook to less than a buck.  If June was a soft launch, this is the VIAGRA launch. Hurry! This special price will only be good through 10-29-14! If it lasts longer than that, I’ll need to call my doctor…

Crimson by Russ Linton - a superhero novel

Sample Chapter – Chapter One

Available at:

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Description:

Nineteen-year-old Spencer Harrington is the son of the Crimson Mask, the world’s most powerful superhero. Since witnessing his mother’s abduction two years ago, he’s been confined to his father’s arctic bunker. When the “Icehole” comes under attack by a rampaging robot, Spencer is forced to launch into his father’s dangerous world of weaponized human beings known as Augments.

With no powers of his own save a multi-tool, a quick wit and a boatload of emotional trauma, Spencer seeks to uncover his mother’s fate and confront his absentee father. As he stumbles through a web of conspiracies and top secret facilities, he rallies a team of everyday people and cast-off Augments. But Spencer soon discovers that the Black Beetle isn’t his only enemy, nor his worst.

Reviews for Crimson Son:

“Crimson Son is a strong, rite-of-passage piece, examining the bonds of father and son and the impact each can have on the other, set against the worlds of augmented super-beings and shadowy government conspiracies. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it does. In spades.”
- Fanboy Comics – 5 stars

“This bright, quirky fantasy, gives “superhero” a whole new meaning… The world Russ creates is so real, so believable, that you’re left wanting more of this character driven, action packed book.”
The Author Visits – 5 stars

Crimson Son is a 5-star book. Fast paced, engaging, character-driven, and a fun voice I love to read. As far as non-traditional Superhero books go, Crimson Son blows Steelheart out of the water.
Laura Masiano – Hidden Corner of the Interwebz – 5 stars

“More than just a “superhero” novel, it has emotional subplots that touch on coming of age, seeing your parents as other adults, trusting friends, and the triumph of the human spirit. “
Bookie Monster – 5 stars

Uncanny Sale – Crimson Son eBook for .99!

As all good mutations do, the Uncanny Blog Tour has morphed. Produced a new strain. Found its FINAL FORM.

Now announcing the AMAZING. The ASTONISHING. The STUPENDOUS. The UNCANNY Sale.

For a limited time, the Crimson Son eBook will be available for .99 cents.

Yep. You heard right. Less than a buck.

I can’t cram anymore badassery into an eBook for anything less. Well, unless you’re a public library. I love libraries – you guys can HAVE the book (I’ve set the eBook price for library purchases through Smashwords to FREE).

RIGHT NOW, you can find it on Amazon for .99 Other distributors seem to have their own time table for pricing updates which is somewhere between the Flash and Professor X speeds, but I’ll let everyone know when the major players have decided to honor my insanity.  For now, feel free to feed 30 billion pound gorilla that is Amazon – just keep your hands outside the cage.

Uncanny Blog Tour Day One

Behold! The insanity between my ears!

Savor! The increasingly convoluted answers to the question “why did you become a writer?”

Feel! No, on second thought, please look but don’t touch anything…keep your hands inside the car at all times.

Amazing! Astonishing! Uncanny!

I never quite got why comic books would throw fancy adjectives in front of their titles like they were trying to get someone to enter the tent with the jarred pig fetus at the county fair.

We’ll say it has to do with marketing and maybe the legendary P.T. Barnum. Since I know next to nothing about marketing and I’m desperate to sell books, I’ll borrow a page from his manual. I’m an X-Men fan (since way before all this new-fangled talking picture stuff…) so I’m calling this the Uncanny Blog Tour. ‘Cause it’s mysterious. And strange. And potentially unsettling (I mean who let THIS GUY pretend to be interesting anyway?)

We kick off today with a double dose of insanity at Kit ‘N Kabookle and Coffee Books and Art where I get serious with some interview questions. I get to explain why you shouldn’t punch people in the face when they say “I could write a book” and why you never ride an eight-man canoe down a snow-covered hill…

Follow along! Post and harass! Win fabulous prizes!

Crimson Son – Excerpt

I’m busy answering interview question this week so for Free Fiction Friday, here’s an excerpt from Crimson Son… This flashback comes early – end of Chapter Two. No spoilers here, but this is the pivotal event that changed Spencer’s life.

###

Crimson Son

Black Beetle kidnaps Spencer’s Mom

Home. I was seventeen. After years of moving, Mom put her foot down and we’d been in the San Francisco area for three years. She’d found a rental in an older neighborhood overlooking San Pedro Valley Park, one of those stucco homes with a tile roof. Mom loved the place. I did too.

Mom sighs as she tries to feed a page into the fax machine.

“Spencer, honey, do you have any idea how this works? I think I might’ve broken it,” she speaks without looking up and tucks a lock of dark hair behind her ear. She does that when she’s frustrated. That mostly includes any time she’s faced with gears, transistors, chips, batteries or so much as a stray piece of copper wire. She refers to herself as “technologically challenged.” Really, she wants an excuse to get me to help.

I eye the aging fax machine with contempt. “I could figure it out. But, what about your phone?”

She looks puzzled as she asks, “What about it?”

“The phone takes pictures, right? I can take pictures of the papers and send those to Dad.”

She smiles. My favorite part of this dream, nightmare, memory—whatever it is. I always try to stay at this point. Stop time. Freeze her face and burn it into my brain so I can see that expression, always.

“Honey, that’s a great idea. You want to take over here?”

I’ve lived through this so many times, I know what she’s thinking at this very moment. Nothing to do with sending papers, she’s watching me work. She knows I’m happy with a new gadget. She gets me, even if she doesn’t understand what I do. I miss that the most.

“What’s this for?”

“Paperwork for the house.”

“Are we finally going to buy it?”

“No, I don’t think so.” She turns away, busying herself with the fax machine again. The room empties without her smile.

I take the phone and spread the papers on the floor. More rental paperwork.

“I don’t understand why we don’t just buy the place. Didn’t you say the owner wanted to sell?” I ask. She shrugs.

With careful motions I start snapping away, attaching the pictures to an email. I’m not sure where Dad is going to print these, but wherever he found a fax machine, chances are they’ll have what he needs. I hit send. An hourglass pops up, followed by “Connection Lost”.

This part always comes so fast.

I hand the phone back to Mom. “You’ll need to send later, I guess. The signal dropped. Should be in your outbox ready to go.”

As she takes the phone, the wall of the room explodes.

Here. Dream becomes nightmare. For a moment, I feel I can make it stand still, but why would I? Events unfold with the emptiness of the bunker gnawing at my insides. I can identify every stray chunk of plaster and splinter of wood in this time-robbed moment.

Fragments of home spray like a swarm of locusts. Mom screams and the world spins under her protective dive. I struggle to see through a haze of dust. Glimpses of the valley filter past a humanoid silhouette. A long, pincered arm lashes out. The arm clamps tightly around Mom’s waist and retracts, drawing us closer.

“Release the boy and he will live,” the Black Beetle speaks with an unnatural vibration. “He can relay a message for your husband.”

Mom squeezes tighter but her screaming stops.

I search her face, knowing what I’ll find, all the while scrambling to find an anchor as we slide across the room. She’s bleeding from a gash on her forehead and the pincer cinches tighter. Her eyes are full of fear, but focused. She’s calculating, deliberating. A hundred times? A thousand? It always hurts.

“No, Mom, please!” I throw my hands around the leg of a toppled chair which drags uselessly behind us. Countless trips through this nightmare, I know I can’t keep us here, but I reach out anyway. And always, she lets go.

I grab her arm, trying to pull her back, cursing my stunted size, my weak limbs, my feeble grip. Sweaty hands slip as the pincer continues to retract. Her trembling lips form a final smile and she watches me with a sad but determined expression. She mouths the words, “I love you.”

“Mom!” I glance at the lifeless phone, shrouded in dust. The screen is dark and covered in spidery cracks.

“Tell your father it is time to turn himself in,” the Black Beetle says. “Is that clear?”

With a pneumatic hiss the ebony battle armor backs into the afternoon sun. Blinding light floods in. The armor takes flight on a column of flame and the deafening roar rattles our battered home. I rush to the opening. She’s an angel, floating away, the shadowy beast burning behind her. All I can do is stare and cry.

Only this time, the tears don’t come.

Every time this nightmare strikes, I stand there, clinging to that last glimpse as she’s torn away. But this time, on her face, a different expression quivers through the waves of heat and exhaust. All of her fear is erased. Her eyes search mine as though she’s seeing me for the first time.

I continue watching the brilliant rocket flares long after they dissolve into a sunless sky. Then, the points of light burst outward into the bright edges of an eclipsed sun. A ring of light that seems so close, yet so far from home.

###

Crimson Son is available in paperback and eBook formats at all major retailers. Thanks for reading!

October – The Month of ME!

VBT Crimson Son Tour Banner copyMumble-blather-mumble years ago, I was born on the 21st day of this month to two stunned, bewildered and freaked out parents. They had expected one giant baby. Instead, they got two medium babies.

This was not a particularly high point for the universe, but having been crammed in a womb with another being, it was a high point for little baby me. Space to roam. To Stretch. The removal of an elbow from my abdomen.

Unfortunately, my twin sister gets older this month. I, on the other hand, get more distinguished.

With all my new refinement and fanci-tude, I want to take the time to tell everyone about little ‘ol me. Starting next week, I’ll be going on a virtual tour of the internet. No, nothing you’ll need your private browser on for, just a few great book blog sites that have burning questions about me, my book, and the meaning of life.

I will answer all of these questions, but you have to stay tuned here to get the details. (Especially for the last one…)

Did I mention I’m bribing you?

Along the way, there will be a chance to win an Amazon gift card. A wise person would of course buy their second copy of Crimson Son, but since I have no way of knowing what you buy, well, I guess you can get whatever you want.

So be there. Virtually. October 13th we will kick off with Kit N’ Kabookle and Coffee, Books and Art. The blog tour will run through the 30th, well past the day I  scrambled from the womb and later decided to torture people with my babblings.

Domestic Dispute – Part 3

This is the third and final part of Domestic DisputeRead Part 2 here

###

The two-leg’s lair was a smaller mound surrounded by trees and fields of green grass far from the pulsing hive. Charax waited patiently outside as the little two-legs retrieved a key and then led him to a door in the side of a hill which opened into a long tunnel. It was a bit of construction Charax finally understood. Perhaps this two-legs shared a little more than a spark of the inferno that burned in the chest of dragon-kind.

“You’ll need a name,” said Charax.

“But I do have one,” replied the two-leg.

“I shall call you Dustmaw,” said Charax. At this, the two-leg only nodded.

The tunnel descended to an enormous door about the size of Charax’s head and composed of the densest metals . The surface of the door was covered in rods and with a large knobby wheel mounted in the center. Dustmaw leaned forward and wiggled his fingers next to the door. After a series of high-pitched squeals, the thick hatch swung outward.

Inside was mana from the heavens. Stacks of stardust, refined and condensed into perfectly overlapping blocks to form a very pleasing geometric symmetry. Piles of gems reflected the light from their sharp angles and spread streaks of color around the room. Dustmaw appeared larger as he bathed in the dapple glow of the horde.

“How?” Charax gasped.

“What do you mean, my friend?” Gently, the confident two-leg waved a hand and Charax felt compelled to move aside. “How did I acquire all this…Stardust?”

“Yes,” Charax said breathlessly. As the two-leg sealed the vault door, the bridge of Charax’s nose twitched and something felt wrong, but if only Kirya were here to see such a sight, it might wake her from her slumber.

“The other two-legs – is that what you called us? The others give me their treasures and I make them grow.”

Despite himself, Charax’s eyes widened. “Grow? Trees grow. So do slime-borns. But Stardust? That’s nonsense.”

“Forgive me. A figure of speech in our limited language. The others entrust their treasures to me and I make things called investments. It’s a value placed on a group of two-legs engaged in enterprise. When they succeed in their endeavors, I get more money back and share.”

Charax scratched his chin. The vault door was impressive, but hardly a challenge. He could rip it off the hinges right now and carry away the contents.

But the idea of getting even more of the precious treasure was irresistible.

“What do you say, Mr. Charax? Want to see your fortune grow?”

Charax eyed the tiny two-leg. He was an insect. A slime-born. A bag of water and bone to be crushed beneath a heel. But if this one wanted to serve him, so be it.

“Yes. I’d like to see that,” Charax said.

Under Dustmaw’s watchful gaze, Charax took flight. If anything went wrong he’d pluck tiny Dustmaw’s arms off and maybe hold him beneath a particularly clear piece of quartz under a blazing sun. But, if the little two-leg could actually lure more stardust, Charax would be pleased. Maybe Kirya would welcome a pet? She’d have to be the one to cleanup after it though. They were such messy beasts.

###

When Charax arrived at his lair, Kirya was nothing but a gilded island amid the sludge. With delicate motions, he scooped her up and gathered rocks to make a raised bed. As he worked, the cavern rumbled and the jet of fetid water ceased, but the air remained dense with fumes.

“Kirya? Can you hear me?”

No answer came except the rise and fall of her flanks.

“Kirya, I’m going to bring us more shiny things than you’ve ever seen.” Charax spoke as he gathered their horde by the cavern entrance. “You wouldn’t believe how the two-legs have spread. The things they can do. Beautiful things with stardust and crystals. I…I don’t understand.” His voice trailed off and he paused with a claw full of treasure before diving back into his work. “I’ve met this two-leg who speaks. Dustmaw is his name. He can collect stardust from the two-legs. We use our treasure as a trap of sorts. It draws them like flies to dung. He must be a sort of hive leader.”

Charax bent low next to Kirya’s ear and whispered, “But once I see how his scheme works, I’ll take everything. I’ll bring it all, for you. So much treasure, it will raise you up above the waters. Glitter in your eyes.” He traced a talon on her slack cheeks.

Horde in tow, Charax left Kirya to her dreaming.

###

Dustmaw had been talking for hours. Again. Pointing at a rapidly changing array of colorful pictures and scribblings. Again. Every day the two-legs would scurry into his chamber, sit around a plank of wood, and project light on the wall.

Charax yawned a mighty yawn of dragon-breath that choked even the unflappable Dustmaw. The other two-legs around the table looked accusingly at each other and Charax pulled his head away from the office window. No one had been able to see him besides his temporary “business partner”, so drawn were they to the glowing screen, but at times, they would be alerted to his presence. A primordial echo – like when the four-legs ran or cowered. A deeply rooted fear of dragon-kind, mused Charax exultantly, that even all their lights and stone walls and cacophony of buzzing and whirring hadn’t been able to completely erase.

None of Dustmaw’s jabbering made sense to Charax other than the fact that many times, the two-legs would trade with Dustmaw to shut him up. Most often they seemed to trade in paper. A promise they had treasures, Dustmaw told him – they were much too weak to carry stardust with them.

On this went, month after two-leg month, year after year. It was the blink of a dragon’s eye, but those eyelids were becoming heavier and heavier. To stay awake, Charax tried peering into the other windows of the building.

Dustmaw’s lair was atop the highest mound in the hive and the floors below always buzzed with activity during the day. But the two-legs were far from interesting.

In the morning, they would flood in on their metal beasts and infest the mound in knots which would slowly disperse. They’d then sit. And sit.

They’d stare at light, chitter into the air, until finally they’d all flood out of the mound like someone had pulled a plug at the base. Then their tall hives would sit bright and empty, fighting back the night which had once shown even the furthest stars. Next, the sun would rise and the annoying creatures would do it all again.

His eyelids drooped further, then blinked. He shook his head into the dimming sunlight and climbed back up to Dustmaw’s office, ready to demand his treasures. He needed to return to Kirya before he too drifted back into dreams.

Dustmaw’s office sat empty. The chamber with the slab of wood remained quiet and unused. The adjacent little hives were vacant. Curious, Charax flew to Dustmaw’s private mound.

The mound had grown since his last visit. An enormous tiled pool filled the backyard surrounded by polished stones. A stone path led from there to a new structure. Charax pried back the top to peer inside and saw rows of polished metal beasts but no Dustmaw. He returned to the central mound and began calling in the windows.

“Dustmaw? Dustmaw! I demand you come out of there!” Tilting his massive head, he placed an ear against the cool, flat surface and listened. Not a sound.

Sending out a curl of smoke from his nostrils, Charax stomped toward the only other place to look: the vault. There or not, he’d take his share and then some of the little two-leg’s horde and return to Kirya.

A huff, a snort, and a flick of his claw and the vault door split. The immense piles of treasure beyond glittered and shimmered, making golden tattoos of light across his scales as his talon passed through the doorway. His mouth split into an eager grin.

Then, that same feeling of wrongness struck. Across his toes, up his chest, winding it’s way along the length of his neck and finally to his twitching nostrils. That same feeling he’d cast aside on his first visit.

There was no scent of stardust.

Frantic, Charax thrust his head into the vault and the entire scene parted like a curtain of silk. He whirled to look behind him. A flat, lifeless veil depicting a treasure-filled vault hung in the air. Exactly like the light Dustmaw would cast on his office wall. The vault held no treasure, only illusion.

He wanted to roar and rage. He wanted to flatten the two-leg world with a swipe of his tail. Melt their metal and stone empire with his burning breath. But as the realization sunk in that his treasures were gone, his dear Kirya lost to dreams, a tired weight settled on his shoulders that threatened to pin him to the earth.

Charax shook off the deepening slumber and took drunkenly to the skies, winging his way toward his lair. Careening into the mountain, he tumbled to the cave and slithered down the long tunnel. The air was thick and stifling. He roared in defiance and clawed his way to Kirya’s listless form.

Her breath was slow and wheezing. Charax parted the sludge that had built up around her. He groomed her earth-toned scales and picked away debris. He stared at her shuttered eyes, willing them to open, watching for the slightest twitch.

Gently, he gathered her in his arms and slunk up the tunnel and into the night. From atop their mountain, the stars fought back the chemical glow of the two-leg’s hives in the valley below. It had been a long time since Charax’s eyes had looked upward and now he stared out and beyond.

The stars turned along the invisible wheel of the sky, their sparks multiplying as twilight ran its dying course. Swaths of dust were soon visible, stretched for vast distances between glowing points.

Dust. Stardust.

Charax looked down at the slumbering Kirya. Her head swayed like a blade of grass in the wind as her neck arched across his forearm. Her tail was drawn out across the Earth, marking their passage from the cave. The dragging had left a deep furrow, though in his arms, she felt weightless, an extension of his own body. Without a thought to the place he once called home, Charax bore her toward the glittering lights of the heavens.

Hazmat_suit_c1918

News from the HAZMAT Tent

Over the weekend I attended #Fencon as a fan, maybe for the last time. Not that I won’t go back – it was great fun and I got to catch up with old friends and make new ones – but next time I’ll be on the other side of the table. Signing, selling, maybe a panel, who knows?

My efforts at pimping Crimson Son were rewarded with not only some great new connections and opportunities but also a horrific bout of Con Plague.

No, this is not Con Crud. “Crud” is entirely insufficient a descriptor. My stomach was so terribly cramped that when I finally popped, I spent several minutes soaking in a bathtub, rocking back and forth saying, “thank you Baby Jesus.”

And Baby Jesus said, “Wait, you’re not on my speed dial. How about I give you something else to think about?” Then my head expanded the next morning and I lay around in a pool of sweat for a day or so.

Assuming the carrier survived, I’m going to hunt him down and kick his ass for this Plague. With gloves on. And a face shield. And that teal-colored body condom thing.

So I really need your help.

No, not medically. And no, not to track down the unfortunate soul that gave me whatever the hell that was. I need your help to spread the virus that is Crimson Son. You can do this in a couple different ways:

Shake a hand. Spray some words – “Crimson” and “Son” in that order – and hide the sanitizer.

Or head over to Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you geek about books, and leave a rating and review. (That is if you’ve read the book.) Nothing overly long or complicated is necessary. Just a few sentences about what you liked (or didn’t like) is fine.

Look, I’ll face down whatever weaponized geek-slaying infection I need to in order to make this book succeed. I’ll be fearlessly wading into even more mortal danger with appearances at next year’s #ConDFW and #Comicpalooza. I’m lining up local signings before the holidays hit. Plus I’ll be hitting a bunch of blogs leading up to Christmas all so you can get to know little ‘ol me and my book. (Yes, even then, I’ll be dodging click-bait viruses as I spiral into the depths of the ‘net…)

In the meantime, until I shake this Con Plague off and sanitize my entire office with a gallon of bleach, I’ll be hunkered down here, writing and plotting a Crimson epidemic of my own.

Why does Radiation, Ancient Sorcery, or Cosmic Rays cause an Increase in Bust Size?

Opposite-of-white-BeetleSeveral weeks ago, I backed a Kickstarter for Kill the Freshman, an awesome looking graphic novel written and headed up by my friend, Alex Langley. (You may know him from his successful and ultra geeky, Geek Handbook or the follow-up Geek Lust.) As a reward, his brother and project artist, Nick Langley sketched a hella-cool White Beetle, Black beetle’s own bizarro world mirror character.

They sent it scanned upside-down because they’re badass like that.

One reason I wanted to mention this worthy project is because of the recent flap about an alternate Spider Woman cover. I realize this has faded a bit from the news, but in case you missed the debate you can read up here.

Essentially, an alternate cover for Spider Woman came out that was more porn star than superhero.

Of course, anyone who buys comics is probably scratching their head and wondering “what’s new”?

Comics have a long history of sexualizing women. Wonder Woman, who first released in 1942, found herself bound and chained every other issue in her (what was then) racy outfit. Her creator, William Marston, always claimed this had roots in feminism and mirrored the frequent representation of chained women in posters and literature for that burgeoning movement. Whether or not that was the case, it can’t be denied the result was to give young male readers of the time some “go-to” fapper material aside from naked aboriginals in National Geographic.

Nearly seventy years later, we’re looking at a shot of Spiderwoman “assuming the position” on a rooftop and still wondering why that’s a necessary component of comic book literature.

Before he launched the Kickstarter, Alex shopped Kill the Freshman around to several publishers. While he received quite a bit of positive feedback, one thing he heard was that the main character wasn’t sexy enough. Apparently, a high school freshman needs D cups, I suppose, to fit into today’s comic book world.

So when Alex turned to Kickstarter, I was more than happy to offer a donation.

If you’ve read Crimson Son, you probably can tell that I like my heroes to be weak, broken, and sometimes even unlikable. You know, human. That goes for physical characteristics as well.

And while I understand the desire to present the female (and male) form in as idealized a state as possible for these super-powered, super-strong heroines (and heroes), I’m not so clear about the highly sexualized imagery. Fine, give a few of your heroines in the line-up a deific figure. Hell, put ‘em in spandex if you must. But at least present them with a bit of grace.

The defense that “oh, this was an alternate cover and wasn’t meant for mainstream” is bogus. Pick up an issue of nearly any comic and you’ll see ass-shots at angles apparently referenced from the Kama Sutra and titanic boobs suffocating in their spandex (luckily many have handy breathing holes cut out around the cleavage).

There is nothing wrong with sexuality. It simply doesn’t need to be the overriding factor in the display of female heroines.

Besides, human bodies as art are beautiful. But they aren’t beautiful in one, singular form. They are beautiful for the variety and individuality that our crazy mish-mash of genetics can provide. The creators use all kinds of creativity concepting these characters’ origins, powers, other backstory, why not apply the same creativity to physical appearance? Why are the artists leashed to a singular ideal?

Yes, I realize not all comic book characters are represented this way, but the vast majority are. I for one am looking forward to a shake up of that tired imagery. I like to think we’ve all grown up as a society. It’s about time comic books grew up along with us.

Domestic Dispute – Part 2

Read part one here.

domestic_dispute_russ_linton“I told you this would happen,” Charax roared, trying to be heard over the wailing that filled their cave.

“I’m not the one that took THAT!” Kirya stabbed a blood-stained talon toward the back wall where a two-leg lay tied to a tall timber. This one had been different with outer skin which was light and wispy, not hard and metal.

“Well, I thought it might help.” Struggling to explain, he tried to return to the original problem. “We’ve been swatting at these things for ages now!”

Wrinkling her snout so that her fangs gleamed, Kirya shouted over the wailing. “How in the deepest pit or the darkest star could that thing help?”

“They left it outside their mound. Not a single two-leg around. I thought it might be a repellent of sorts.”

“Oh, it’s repellent.” she huffed a cloud of smoke in the direction of the tied and bound two-leg. “Besides, they’ve only gotten worse.”

“I wouldn’t say worse. Maybe the same…” Charax said unsteadily.

“No, worse. Much worse. All because of you.”

“Don’t try to blame this on me. What happened to ‘I’ll help!’” Keeping the mocking tone in his voice to a minimum was impossible, especially with the irritating screeching coming from the two-leg.

“I did!” cried Kirya.

“I’m the one that chased them back to their mound. Got stung and bit and covered in their squishy guts!” At that, Charax involuntarily shivered. The tiny two-legs always popped like melons when struck. He’d even gotten one in his eye while diving past an almost impressive mound of stone they had gathered.

“Well, somebody had to guard the treasures,” came Kirya’s aloof reply. “Besides, I squished my share.” She scowled at her grimy talons.

Churning his reply into a low growl, Charax stomped to the back of the cave. The wailing two-leg silenced and stared. He grasped the timber to which she was tied and stalked toward the entrance.

From the mountainside, he looked out across the valley. The forest had been cleared enough that the river below was now visible. Little two-leg mounds dotted the landscape everywhere. Further in, the land was covered in undulating rows of plant stalks.

With a keen eye, he spotted the mound where he had found the bound two-leg and drew back his arm. He released the timber with a frustrated grunt, hurtling the tiny two-leg like the javelins and spears so often cast against him. The high pitched scream started again and then faded as it soared toward the valley.

“There,” Once again, he began to move their treasure deep into the cave.

But his precautions came with a price. Without the dazzling display of stardust under the open sky, the dragons became bored. Kirya fell into a deep slumber and soon, he followed her.

###

Charax awoke from the world of dreams to a rushing hiss echoing through the cavern. His nostrils bubbled, half-submerged in a rank pool. Foul waters rushed in through cracks along the roof of his cave. Massive jets of the gritty sludge poured onto Kirya’s back, but still she slept.

“Kirya? Wake up.”

Her sides rose and fell, shedding the brackish water in thick waves, but her eyes remained shut.

“Don’t lie in that filth, get up!” Charax nudged her.

Drowning was not a concern – Charax had swam beneath pools of molten earth or the frigid depths of the oceans without a thought to his breath. Nor was whatever poison which gave the foul water its terrible odor any danger. But the slumber deeply concerned him. They had never slept before and if the rising sludge wouldn’t wake her, he wasn’t sure what would.

Wide-eyed, he headed to the surface to find the cause.

Outside, the two-legs had spread far across the valley bottom. A group of them was now directly above his home surrounded by whirring yellow monsters and cords that hummed like nests of bees. Charax could tell that the yellow creatures, guided by two-legs inside them, were performing most of the work.

Not long ago, he had seen small groups of two-legs clawing at the earth for tiny bits of treasure which he was gracious enough to let them have. But now, they no longer toiled with iron sticks and blood. Instead, the great metal beasts would rend and chew at the rock. All the while they spit out clouds which stank of the putrefied corpses of their slime-born predecessors.

Charax flew above, roaring in rage. The few four-legs he spied all fled or cowered as was right and proper. But the two-legs, among their metal slaves, continued their work. No matter how he snarled and roared, dove and flared his wings, they ignored his presence. Exhausted, he landed on a nearby peak and tried to understand.

One foray into the world of dreams and the two-legs had changed. Of course, this was their nature ever since they’d wriggled from a slick, greasy pool, they’d mutated. He examined them to find out what was precisely so different. They were large, fleshy creatures now, clad in garish colors. Their hives, strange angular mounds of all shape and size, littered the countryside.

But how could they not see him? Feel his hot breath? Hear his deafening roar? He’d left to wander the dream realms – had he never really returned?

He soared over the valley above a tangled maze of stone, searching, but he found no answers.

As he watched, the two-legs, scurrying about on their metal beasts, slowly, methodically, reduced an entire mountain to dust. In the aftermath a mote of powder tickled his nose and with that he at least understood their new obsession with digging. He could smell it. Taste it.

They too sought the vast treasures under the stones and dirt. They would pulverize mountains searching for even the tiniest flakes. Pieces which Charax had written off as lost to the winds.

That day, he felt something he never thought he would feel toward the two-legs. Envy.

He retreated into the earth, thinking, wondering how the newcomers, the pestilence of his home, could have come across such magnificent power. Kirya still slept, mired in the terrible pool. Above, the earth groaned and shuddered as the infestation grew. At times, great bores would penetrate the roof of his cavern and he would tear at their tips and send gouts of flame out after them.

Through it all, he watched Kirya, her tail hanging limply in the muck. He had moved their treasures above the water level and adorned her beautiful form with them. Their weight, their touch, their smell; he had hoped beyond hope it would awaken her.

She would have liked it, he thought.

And then, an idea came to him. Perhaps if he only had more of the treasures. Enough to drown out the stench of the two-legs’ water. Enough to make her open her eyes, now resting just above the skin of liquid. He needed to find where the two-legs kept the stardust they collected. Then, he would take it.

###

“Well, hello there.”

The voice startled Charax as he lounged among the great spires of a two-leg city. He’d flown the width of the world and seen how the infestation had grown. It crisscrossed the entire planet with it’s little trails and passed over sky and sea with incredible ease. He didn’t yet even know where to start gathering their treasures. The scent of precious stardust was everywhere. It enveloped their world – a world that in darkness mimicked the brightest starry nights but was bleak and gray when the sun rose – an odd juxtaposition that only heightened his confusion.

Through his journeys, not a single two-leg had taken notice of his great form soaring above them. They rode in their metal creatures following steady lines, back and forth, their eyes forever turned to glowing boxes that burned with a feeble light.

But now, a voice was speaking directly to him and he wasn’t entirely sure if he’d imagined it.

“Over here,” called the voice again, smooth and confident.

He checked his foot, hoping he hadn’t stepped in one. As he snaked his neck around a second time, he caught sight of the two-leg.

The creature was standing atop the tall tower having just come out of a tiny door. He wore the same loose outer shell favored by the others, but his was crisp and straight and a noose hung around his neck. Charax had seen many two-legs with these silk nooses, speculating it served as a leash for their hive masters. But this one’s was shiny in the early morning light and drew Charax’s eyes. No fist had crumpled the surface.

On the two-legs hands and wrists there was stardust. More than Charax had seen on one of the tiny creatures. Charax twisted his head and squinted, closing the distance and wondering if this one could see him as well as speak to him.

The two-leg smiled, a supernova smile that glittered with gold. “Hello my friend. A fine day to be basking in the sun, no?”

Charax didn’t answer. He twisted his head again, trying to see what angle would cause the mirage to dissipate. He uncoiled his body from the spire and edged closer. The thing extended an upper appendage. Charax watched with curiosity as it shrugged and withdrew the fleshy hand.

“What brings you to this fine city?”

Its mouth gleamed again and Charax was compelled to speak, despite how foolish he felt. “You have stardust in your mouth? Do you eat it?” He cocked his head to the side and slid an eye closer, the thin pupil narrowing.

“Fillings. Caps. And a little extra for show. They protect our teeth, for ours are not nearly as sturdy as yours.”

Charax nodded. The reasoning was sound. But reasoning? Thinking? Speaking? “How do you not chitter and squelch like the others?”

“Ahhhh, we speak the same language my friend.”

“Do we?”

“Yes, the language of money.”

“Money? I am not a money.” Charax reared back and puffed out his chest giving the fiercest countenance he could manage. It wasn’t right for such a small, slimy thing to not be afraid. “I am a dragon.”

But the glittery two-leg appeared unimpressed. “I beg your pardon, sir. I do not mean you are something you are not. I mean only to say we have similar interests.”

“How can that be possible?

His golden wedge of a smile shifted to a deadly point. “We both like gold, silver, precious things.” Seeing Charax’s confusion, the man raised his wrist and let the golden band reflect the sun. “Stardust.”

Skeptical, Charax lowered his chest back to the roof and held his head within inches of the creature, so small a sharp intake of breath could have lodged the being in his nostril. “Well, you do have more than most. But it’s hardly worth gloating over.”

“Oh? This is but a taste of my riches.”

“Really?” Inspiration struck Charax and he reigned in his excitement. Two-legs, despite their industriousness, couldn’t be all that smart. He turned his face to the side with an air of indifference. “I do not believe you.”

“Perhaps I can show you?” The two-leg’s eyes gathered into the same hungry stare he’d first seen in Kirya the day the stardust rained. Yet, in those tiny round eyes, that hunger was somehow disturbing.

“I’d like that very much,” replied Charax.

Next week: The third and final part!