“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.”
“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.