There’s a dragon watching me when I wake up.
And I know that shouldn’t surprise me. Not on Meldin with its fairy-tale castles and laser canons. Not on a world where the sun rises and sets on a circling horizon and shadows only happen at noon. Since coming here I have run from spirit-tipped arrows and travelled in lifts made of light and air and the bones of the dead and a single dragon shouldn’t make me question my sanity. After all, my father told me—as we crawled through a tunnel of shadows towards this world he claimed was my own—that Meldin had four different types of dragons. (Five if you counted his half-brother Myrann.)
It’s just that I’d collapsed in Yarum. And Meldin’s largest city, with over two million people, wasn’t where I expect to see my first dragon.
Indoors. Eating an ice-cream.
I watch this mythical creature—the unnatural union of hunting-cat and lizard: all silver-black scales and deadly menace—scoop out another mouthful of berry-red cream with an elongated tongue that is slowly turning pink.
And it’s about then I wonder—again—if I am going insane.
‘You’re awake.’ The dragon tilts her head and considers me out of one black eye. She has a face shaped like a gemstone coated in silver, with delicate nostrils and laid-back ears. ‘I should tell Dad, he wanted to know when you woke up.’
‘Wait a minute,’ there’s a scratch to my voice that I don’t like but at least I can talk. ‘Where am I?’
That means I’m still in the city, far from the southern deserts or the northern cold-plains. What is a dragon doing here?
‘Middle Yarum to be precise,’ she continues, in a tone that goes through my ears like wolf-song. ‘In the fences’ district, where all the best stolen property comes to be valued. It’s a very respectable part of the city.’
‘Stolen property is respectable?’
‘Only the best stolen property,’ she corrects me. ‘Like jewels or silk or Nayndarin artefacts. But not chickens. I’m not allowed to snarf chickens.’ Her tongue shoots out to scoop up more ice-cream. ‘Unfortunately.’
‘I can see that’s a pity.’ I think I’m going crazy.
‘But otherwise it’s okay.’
‘That’s nice.’ I manage, before a logical explanation occurs to me. ‘Am I hallucinating?’ I ask the air.
‘You could be,’ replies the dragon. She gestures to the orange smoke that is following my breath. ‘Dad’s got you hooked up to some heavy drugs. For the pain, you know.’
That would be the headache I can feel lurking under my brain and the sense that I’m not really here. ‘What drugs?’ I ask.
She lifts delicate black shoulders in a shrug. Despite wings and arms moving simultaneously it’s a curiously human gesture. ‘Dunno, ‘she says. ‘If he’s been working with Uncle Tamar they could be anything. Uncle Tamar has the best drugs.’ Her tongue shoots out to scoop up more of what I am beginning to believe is an illegal substance. ‘It would be interesting if you were hallucinating. What do you see?’
‘You.’ I answer without thinking. ‘A small silver-black dragon, under two SL or sword-lengths long, not counting your tail. With ridges running up your spine and neck and an eagle’s wingspan coiled beneath your shoulders. Sitting, poised like a hunting-cat on a reyset-blue couch and eating rose-berry ice-cream out of a cup made from lizards-eye. And while I remember sword lengths as a measure how do I know the heraldic name for light blue. Or that the pink ice-cream she’s eating is made from of red and purple brambles known as rose-berries? That’s heraldic knowledge and I don’t remember learning heraldry. But I don’t remember a lot of things.
And I don’t think the obvious explanation is the right one. ‘I’m not hallucinating,’ I ask the dragon. ‘Am I?’
Keep checking this website for more excerpts and details about Shadowalker and Meldin. Or you can purchase the book at Stone Table Books!
© Catch Tilly, 2019