Meteors glittered in their descent like stars knocked loose from the heavens. Wherever they struck, they exploded into rocky shards and scattered across the width and breadth of the barren furnace that was to be Earth.
At least that’s what the later slime-born would call it. Charax and Kirya called it home.
They watched, tails entwined, as the miraculous storm engulfed the horizon. Enormous fragments of pure gold showered the landscape. Light from the spectacle reflected off their scales. The two spread leathery wings and took flight, reveling in the collapsing heavens. Never before had they seen such things and it awakened an inner fire they could not explain.
“Charax?” Kirya called with her throaty roar.
“Yes my love?” Charax replied.
“I want those. The wayward stars.”
Kirya hesitated, weaving between streaks of gold. “All of them.”
Charax would have scoffed, but deep down, he understood.
And so he labored, burrowing into the cooling earth and gathering the stardust into great clumps. The thing which surprised him most about the newly gifted treasures was their sheer presence. Shiny and dense. Denser than the pitted rock that churned out of the furnaces and lakes of fire all about him.
As the weight of the earth began to knead and press, he discovered other wonders beneath the rising crust. Ice born from fire. Blood frozen in stone. Rainbows caught inside sparkling cages. Kirya’s eyes grew wide with each discovery and he longed to find more.
Eons passed and Charax remained content in his quest. At times his searching would bring him close to the surface, riding a flow of molten earth or following a gleaming vein into the sunlight. Once outside, he would set the treasures in great piles to dazzle and dance in the light and he’d invite Kirya to join him.
Before long, the slime-born crawled forth from boiling pools. Great lumbering beasts, trapped on the surface of the world or confined to the oceans, they were minor curiosities to Charax and Kirya. The beasts only nosed at the treasures – if they came near the couple at all. Kirya always squealed in disgust at their approach. Charax would swat them away with his tail. The more persistent, he would flatten with a scaly talon.
Those were the best of times. Days when he and Kirya would spend hours wrapped in each other’s wings with tails stroking languid forms. They’d roll about their stardust mountains and swim in the depths.
Kirya sulked for a dragon’s day, lounging in the corner of the dark cave her tail twitched and grated against a stalagmite.
“Oh, enough already!” sighed Charax.
“But I’m bored.”
“Come over here.” Charax flicked his tail at the swollen welts on his side. More small bands of two-legs had made excursions beyond their growing nest and Charax had done his best to shoo them away. “There’s one I can’t reach.”
Kirya crawled forward, her tail making one last slap against the stalagmite. As she ran the front of her talons across Charax’s back, she whispered low and husky, “I’ve got an idea.”
Charax purred, “Does it involve your tail? You know how much I love your tail.”
“No,” Kirya raked playfully at his scales and Charax purred. “I was thinking, why can’t we just move our treasure a little closer to the sun? By the mouth of the cave?”
His neck tightening, Charax kept the frustration out of his voice. “We talked about that. They’ll see it. Or smell it, or however they know things. Then we’ll have them in our caves.”
Kirya’s tail snaked along his side and rippled along his scales. “Please, Charax? Let’s try. Who knows? Maybe they’ve died by now like the other fragile slime-borns. They seem to wither away by the minute.”
Her tail flicked again and with a contented sigh, Charax agreed. “But this time, no screaming, okay? If you see one, stomp it.”
Charax felt her tail go slack and he raised his head to narrow his great eyes at her.
“Alright, alright. I’ll do it,” she said. Her tail began to massage his back again. His mouth spreading into a jagged wall of fangs, Charax lowered his head. “We’ll move them in a minute. But first, get that part between my shoulder blades. There, right there. That’s it.”
For the heartbeat of a bristlecone pine, Charax and Kirya sat watching their precious treasure reflect the fading light of the sun. They had moved much of it to the mouth of their cave high in the mountains. At times, the sun would paint the sky with colors to match their horde, a glaze of gold and purple, crimson and azure. But never did it outshine the stardust that gleamed in their eyes.
They basked in the warm radiance day after day. And though Charax could still see evidence of the two-legs spreading across the valley below, he ignored it with a willful disdain, until at last a lonely drumming rose among the peaks.
Kirya’s head perked up. “What’s that?”
“Nothing. Rest and enjoy the treasures.”
“But I hear something. A thumping. On the mountainside.” Kirya craned her neck.
“It’s nothing. One of the slime-born, a four-leg. It’s downwind. It’ll be gone as soon as it smells us,” Charax stated, even as the noise grew closer.
“Go see what it is.” Kirya nudged him while she continued to scan the valley.
Charax sighed and shuffled toward the trees, careful to swat a mound of treasure into Kirya’s face.
“Hey!” Kirya sputtered.
“Sorry.” He tried to sound sincere.
Grumbling into the woods, Charax tested the scents on the air with his tongue. The odor was an odd combination. A four-leg with a whiff of dull, ugly metal. Hiding under that layer was the flatulent, oily airs of a two-leg. He quirked his ear toward the noise and peered into the woven branches of the forest.
A four-leg raced into view and reared, eyes white with fear. The creature was adorned with a cloak of purple and white squares and fitted with an assortment of straps made from the skins of other four-legs. The beast wanted desperately to run, Charax could tell, but something held it at bay. A two-leg astride the larger beast’s back pulled on a leather cord and the four-leg obeyed.
Charax decided to set his first potential problem free. Reaching down with his talons, he grasped the two-leg by it’s head and lifted it in the air. The white-eyed four-leg darted into the woods. Satisfied, Charax tilted his head and examined the specimen in his claws.
The creature was clad in metal. An outer skin that gave the two-leg a barrel-shape with segmented limbs. A beak extended from the iron-clad head, almost a proper snout, and a thin line seemed to indicate a mouth of sorts. Overall, this change was a slight improvement from the last grubby two-leg he’d seen wearing rotting skins. He dropped the creature in the palm of his hand and peered close at the eyes which seemed dark and lifeless.
It tinkled on his hand.
“Really now?” Charax grimaced, dangling the two-leg by the head again so he could scrub his damp hand in the dirt.
A sharp pain lanced his nostril. “Ow!” Charax brought his hand up to his nose. A tiny spot of blood pooled on his talons.
One of the two-leg’s hands had grown a sharp talon and it was wriggling and squirming, flailing at his face. Charax rubbed his nose and flicked the tiny creature’s face with a talon. He’d only thought to subdue the thrashing and hadn’t struck too hard, but the front part of the two-leg’s face flew off into the woods. After shedding the once normal-looking snout, the face now had the hideous appearance of any other two-leg.
With a grunt, Charax hurtled a stream of fire at the creature. The false metal skin glowed red hot and Charax tossed it far into the woods.
Rubbing his injured nose, Charax flew back to the cave where Kirya waited, her wings curled tight and her hands absently furrowing through the treasures. “What was it?” she called.
“Two-legs. On a four-legs,” said Charax, his response blunted through his pinched nose.
Kirya started to respond and tilted her head in confusion.
“The thing was on top of the larger beast controlled with a cord.” Charax sniffed through his damp nostril.
“Oh, you’re hurt?”
“I think it bit me.”
“No, of course not. The two-leg.”
Kirya’s eyes grew wide. “Really? How? They have such fleshy, tiny mouths.” She cringed in disgust. “You might be poisoned!”
“Well, it grew a metal tooth…or talon.” Charax avoided her weaving head as Kirya tried to get a better view. “It’s nothing,” he added, starting to move the treasure away from the entrance.
“What are you doing?”
“Moving our treasure further into the cave.”
“But, the sun,” Kirya protested as she watched each handful fall into drab shadow.
“I’ll put in a lava pool to light them,” replied Charax, scooping treasure into his mouth and depositing it inside the cave.
“But I don’t want a lava pool. I want the sun.”
Exasperated, Charax turned with a mouthful of golden nuggets, “Wha boo you wan nee to boo?” He spat the clump farther into the cave. “They’ll all be here soon enough. If they are working together, the four-leg will probably tell them where we are.”
“We’re not moving the shinies!” bellowed Kiryax as she stomped to the growing pile and began rapidly kicking treasure toward the entrance. “You’ll just have to keep them from bothering us.”
Ducking behind a wing, Charax replied, “I will?”
“I’ll help,” she pleaded as the last scrap of the horde struck his wing and slid into the original pile. “I promise.” She turned and gave her handiwork a nod. Then she batted her inner eyelids at Charax and he melted into the pile.
Then, the two-legged slime-borns came.
Fast, tiny, they eyed the mountains of shiny things with mesmerized stares even while cowering in the trees. One night, a small group loped forward in a tight pack. Kirya eyed them, her nostrils flaring, her eyes narrowed with concern. At the point where most beasts normally scurried away, the two-legged slime-borns instead began hurling rocks and sticks.
“Ow!” Charax shouted. He rubbed a tiny spot on his flank where a pointed branch had struck him.
Kirya, shrieking in fright, reared and stood tiptoe on the mountains. “Do something, Charax!” Her taloned-toes trenched the earth as she leapt into the air.
“They’re just slime-born,” Charax called as he reduced the nearest into a red paste and wiped his hand on his leg in disgust.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a thin trail of two-legs ferrying away their treasure.
“What’s this?” Charax roared. He swatted a second, then a third, all the while more sticks and rocks pelted his sides.
“Stop them, Charax! They’re taking my treasures!”
“Our treasures, dear,” growled Charax as he plucked a mound of stardust from a fleeing two-leg.
“It’ll be theirs if you don’t do something,” spat Kirya.
“I’m trying, my love,” Charax bellowed and burped forth a stream of molten rock collected on an earlier swim. The stream of fire left a charred path that oozed with liquid gold.
“Now look what you’ve done.” Kirya landed as the last of the two-legs fled. She traced a talon through the molten pool. “There’s…hair in it.”
Charax sighed, “Well, I didn’t see you doing anything. You had a better idea I suppose than to fly around screaming?”
“They’re disgusting!” retorted Kirya. “Covered in disease and filth. And now you’ve melted them into our treasures!”
“Only a few pieces, dear. They’ll cool and we can take them back with us.”
“Into the caves, of course.”
“But I like them out here. The way they dance as the moon chases the sun. Why can’t we keep them here?”
Charax scanned the horizon, itching at the welts along his side. In the wink of a dragon’s eye, tendrils of smoke had begun to snake out above the trees. His keen senses heard the chatter of more two-legs, their growls and grunts beginning to refine into complex rhythms.
“Because, there will be more.”
With that, Charax dragged his treasures (well, their treasures) below the earth once again.
Thanks for reading! Check here next week for Part 2.