Saturday, 2 July 2016

(Novel) The Dragons Eye Diptych, Volume Two (Eye of the Storm)


Some chase the gold at the end of rainbows. Gold beyond imaginings and dragons.
But, you cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon's smile, eyes or words. You should resist it with every ounce of your being.  But in the end, all you can do is not become one.





This story was written in the G+ stream, a strong collaborative space and the best place in the world to write.The original story was told to me as a child by Catherine Victoria Edmonstone and the first story in this series can be read for free at: http://www.silenttheory.net/2015/02/dragons-eye-braided-story.html


You can read this book for free:
1. in book form: 6th edition (pdf) *; or
2. here (just scroll down).

An audio book and print version are in preparation
* to get access to the PDF book you will need to log into Google Drive (which will ordinarily be an automatic process if you have a G+ account)

Copyright 2016 Peter Quinton, Published by Peter Quinton



The Eye of the Storm

Volume Two of
The DRAGONS EYE
Diptych






Invocation


Touch the spinning thread of destiny.
Rejoice the portion racing past your fingertips.
Relish your life in fair wonder with others
Until the great destroyer takes us back, whence we came.


Once


Pete knew there was gold at the end of some rainbows. Riches beyond imaginings. But there were dragons as well. But you cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon’s smile, eyes or words. You should resist it with every ounce of your being. But in the end, all you can do is not become one.
Places
This story is set partly in the Tallaganda in South East Australia, the Canterbury Plains in New Zealand, the far-away moon orbiting Farsigh and the planet Terrorfar.
Humans
Kathy: A farmer who lives on the edge of the Tallaganda Forest. Met Pete at a university. Recently she made the mistake of going dragon watching with him. Now she is stuck on a moon around the giant gas Farsigh trying to find her way home.
Storm: Kathy’s daughter and a horse trainer. She grew up on Kathy’s farm. When little she treated Pete as a father substitute, using his electric toothbrush to clean her fox skulls. Presently running Kathy’s farm while planning Kathy’s rescue with the aelf Teathyme.
Pete: Lives on a farm on the Tallaganda with the cats Blanket and Waylander. He once attempted to pinch gold from a dragon nest to impress an online friend, Anthem. He is not good at filching stuff (or influencing people), and the spider kin caught him. To save him, the aelf Teathyme gave him dragon taint. He has returned to his farm with no knowledge of his time as a Black Dragon.
Anthem: An online acquaintance of Pete, she reluctantly attempted to find him when he went missing. In the process, she lost her job (which she liked), and people shot at her. Like Pete, the aelfs gave her the dragon taint. She has met the dangerous Blue Dragon (who takes the form of an old lady who can change timelines). Like Pete, Anthem has no knowledge of her time as a Black Dragon. While under the influence of the dragon taint, Anthem and Pete mated and she is now carrying two unborn dragons (who call themselves Fire and Ice). Presently, she had sought refuge with the Blue Dragon.
Bob: A New Zealand drifter, mate of the Wraith Belle, presently accompanying Kathy on Belle’s airship. His most recent paid job was as a dead orc on a movie set. Like most other New Zealanders, he does not want to go home, which is a bit surprising because it is a beautiful place and has free health care.
Aelfs
Aelfs are naturally small and pointy, but can change their shape and size (see the afterword).
Onesti: Female aelf, who has been recently appointed as an Earth Guardian. Until recently she did not believe in humans (although she was prepared to accept them as a ‘social reality’). Now she is not so sure. Has taken the cat Waylander as her mount.
Teathyme: Younger female aelf, who is a long-term Earth Guardian. She has formed a strong friendship with Storm (and Storm’s chickens). She has adopted the cat Blanket as her mount.
Solstice: Female aelf, Crest Guardian, who is charged with maintaining a delicate status quo on the Crest home planet against an invasion by spider-kin. Responsible for giving the dragon taint to the Crest Warrior Pau. Fond of ice cream.
Tharia and Gossamer: Aelf Guardians of the Blue Dragon.
Wraiths
Air breathing humanoids from a nearby water world.
Belle: Captain of an airship (and mate of Bob), on the Wraith homeworld, a water-world moon orbiting the giant gas Farsigh. She is helping Kathy to get home.
Wander and Growl: Crew members of Belle’s airship (mates).
Crest
Wolf like humanoids from a nearby world. Some have moved from their home planet to New Zealand.
Pau: Former female leader of a clan of the wolf-like Crest. She was given the Dragon taint by Solstice. As a yellow dragon, she has turned against both her people and the spider-kin. Mother of Finch. A former mate of Te-Ulf and Te-Unt. Presently Solstice’s captive during the winter cycle on the crest world.
Te-Ulf: Male Crest warrior. A former mate of Pau.  

Prelude

The speaker stood in the dim light. Anthem cleared her throat.
Her image flickered and then stabilized. Listeners on the benches around her in the great lecture hall ceased their murmurs. For a moment there was a shuffle of pencils and tablets, shoes and claws.
She started to speak, softly, her eyes in the darkness.
The listeners bent forward, straining to hear her voice.
Anthem opened her eyes, touching every mind in the hall with a shard of wonder.
“Chaos and order in recent time and time to come.”
Behind her, the view screen started to light up.
“In the history of our worlds, other stars have almost collided. In relatively recent time there have been eight such near misses. Eight encounters between nine stars.”
The view screen displayed a simulation of near space zoning into each of the nine stars in turn. For a moment, Sol, the Centauri, Gliese 370 and the others burnt in the hall.
Anthem became a dark silhouette, filling the breach with her deep rich voice.
“These encounters were not catastrophic events for the stars themselves. The stars did not collide, although all around us are remembrances of earlier collisions. The neural networks within your minds depend on elements formed in long forgotten stellar collisions. The gold band you value above all else can only be forged in the collision of two neutron stars.”
Anthem stopped for a moment and remembered. She felt the weight of gold band circling her finger. The screen was simulating an encounter between the G6 giant gamma Microsopii and the Sun 4 million years ago. The simulation paused as the stars almost met and then zoomed in showing how this affected local planets, moons, and meteors.
“For the systems of planets and moons around each of the stars, it is a different matter. Approaching stars disrupt ice chunks from distant belts. Some of the chunks settle into new orbits; some become erratic while others exchange one star for another. Others accelerate into inner systems, where they rain destruction on worlds capable of supporting life.”
“As the stars came closer, planetary orbits are disrupted. This disruption leaves some planets and moons reduced to rubble. At their closest points, solar ejecta whips between the passing giants, destroying atmospheres and life.”
The screen faded into darkness and Anthem reappeared.
“Neither my sun nor any of those with which she dances will be captured by another star. For now, she remains single. But each encounter has left chaos as a new order reasserts itself.”
“Like the breath of a lover, it echoes through time. It leaves its distinctive scars.”
“In Newtonian space, our day to day reality, on the surface of geologically inactive planets and moons, we can still trace and date the coterminous destruction wrought by the disruption. In our rock layers, the fossil record records mass extinction events.”
“These close encounters do not just create physical change. At a quantum level, the close encounters ripped small holes in the fabric of our day to day reality. The human scientist Einstein first postulated the existence of quantum entanglement (although he called it ‘spooky action at a distance’).”
“Simply put, while the stars pulled apart, the nine star systems remain entangled. This entanglement has left us with a legacy of similar genetic material. Life forms have converged. This process continues.”
“Nine worlds, far and yet perilously close.”
She paused.
“But you know all these things because the close encounters did not just establish points of similarity. They also created the points of weakness which are now being leveraged to destroy our worlds.”
“We must find new ways to protect our peoples.”
“I will tell you how this was once attempted and failed.”
“How I failed.”
She bent forward, suddenly seeming timeworn. Her eyes dimmed, touching every mind in the vast hall with a shard of fear.
She paused. For a moment she is in a different place. On a yacht, moored at night on a perfect mirror river, with stars glistening on the water surface. She was lying next to her lover. She was explaining to him she was pregnant and watching his eyes widen. In that one day confident of her strength and power. Just for one day.
Her voice caught, and she continued.
“I will start by exploring one of the nine worlds, the home world of the Crest. The Crest call it Terrorfar.”
The image of the speaker flickers.
Thousands of eyes bend forwards, listening.
Far from the speaker, in the dim recesses of the darkness, ancient eyes open and weep for her.  

Mists

(Above the World Ocean, Wraith Home system, Farsigh)

They slipped through wisps of cloud.
The old New Zealander Bob started. “I was with the horse lords when we were battling the forces of evil.”
The sails of the air-ship were taut against the wind. Around them came the sound of ropes straining in the darkness.
The night was falling. The giant gas Farsigh was slipping from the sky. The pale light of their sun was only faintly visible, just another star.
The crew of the airship, human, and wraith were around the cooking brazier enjoying an evening meal of fish stew and seaweed.
Bob paused for a moment. A fifth sense had already cut in, warning him that the eyes around him would not understand his involvement with the orcs.
“There was a big hill. They had built a big fort and...”
Growl wanted to hear this story. Growl had heard bits before and had begged Bob to tell more. She could not help herself, “The horse lords stopped the forces of darkness from getting in. And they won the battle! Your scars are from that fight?”
Growl looked at Bob, his face lit by the flames. “What a life, to have been there.” She sighed and stretched back into her mate Wander’s warmth.
Wander batted her shoulder, growling, “This is not your adventure.” He smiled, and mock threatened, “The horse lords would have eaten you and used your pelt for their litters. Live your life.”
Kathy caught Bob’s eyes as the wraiths descended into play and argument. She picked up her plate of soup and came close. Soft and fast she demanded, “Why keep bringing this make-believe story up? It is a lie. The wraiths are not like us. They will not understand.”
Bob stuttered, “But I was there.”
“No! You imagine it. It is just a book. Or a film. Or something.”
“Yes, but I was there. I was part of it.”
“How were you part of it?” Then a little softer, Kathy said, “You have been through a lot. I know you got lost for a bit. “
“A drifter. Yeah bro, a drifter. A good for nothing. A drunk on one long bender. Hard, bro, hard. Eh.”
He squinted his eyes and looked away, “But I was still there. Eh.”
Bob’s eyes lost focus, drifting back to the Canterbury Plains. Born and bred there. His parents were dirt poor. Still, as a child, he had learned to ride on the plain before he left to work on the trawlers. He had come back when things got bad and had tried many jobs. He had tried out for the part of a horse lord, but he missed out. Instead, the filmmakers moved him around a bit. Mainly he was an orc, but sometimes they cast him as a townsperson, and sometimes just a dead body. He grimaced, remembering one of them remarking about how convincing he was ‘dead.'
Most of all he enjoyed watching the horse lords gallop together all dressed in green and brown tunics. He watched them race across the river flats in tight groups with a smile on his face. He had never seen so many people all together at the one time.
But he could not find the words to explain it to Kathy. Lost in the memory.
Kathy saw him drifting, “Come back. You rescued us. You do not have to be part of a made up story. There is only you and me now. We have to rely on each other.”
She reached out and held his hand. She felt the tremors in it and looked at his face. Just below the surface of a couple of months of decent food, no alcohol, and renewed purpose was frailty.
She paused, trying not to think of the others, “I need you to be real. Tell them of your fights with the spiders, or how you gave up the bottle or when you fished on the sea. Our friends do not understand dreams.”
Behind them, the wraiths continued to tease Growl with laughter and nips. Bob lifted his head and looked at Kathy. They all kept their hair fairly short, except Kathy. The wind was playing with her hair, tossing it against her face in the twilight. In the light of the fire, there was a tear in her eyes.
She was quiet for a moment, “I just want to go home. Back to my life. Back to my daughter, and the others. To start again.”
Bob shook his head. “This is my home now. I do not want to give any of this up. I have nothing to go back for.”
The captain of the airship, Belle, disengaged herself from the others. She turned to Kathy and Bob. The dim light accentuated her large eyes and sharp cheekbones.
She spoke directly to Bob, “I hear you my life partner. But we agreed to help Kathy get home. If that means we leave this place briefly, so be it. I hope this adventure ends well and fast. But I promise that you and I will stay together, regardless.”
She turned to Kathy, reaching to both of them. “You will be home soon. Just ten cycles of Farsigh.”
Wander joined in, “But first, we have to deal with the spiders.”
Growl says, “Enough of spiders! Let us hear of the horse lords from the human male first. Maybe there is a lesson there for us all.”
Kathy shook her head and shot Bob a warning glance.
Bob cleared his throat. He was suddenly between two rocks.
“The horse lords built a great wooden fortress, up back of the Canterbury Plains. On a funny shaped hill, bit like a big loaf of bread. Before the horse lords we called it Mount Sunday, but now...” he shrugged his arms, giving Kathy’s hand a squeeze. “The tourists call it something else. I do not know what it is named anymore.”
Kathy was looking at him through narrowing eyes.
“The enemy was coming at them from the lowlands and the horse lords just hung around for a while. Talking. Guess they did not know what to do eh?”
He looked at Kathy, his tongue twisting, “Filming, they were filming it.”
Growl asked, “Did they have many airships?”
“No bro. Just horses. But when things were looking grim they got up and left. They did not try to fight. They just went somewhere they could lay low. A place they could defend.”
Wander stood extended claws and swiped the air, “I would have stayed and fought. What form did the evil ones take? Were they spiders or scorpions?”
Belle interrupted, “We do not need to invoke the names of evil here. We have enough problems without attracting any of that brood.” She paused for a moment, and asked Bob, “Did the horse lords dispatch your evil altogether?”
Bob shuffled his feet a little and looked at Kathy. This time, she was smiling. She said, “So you were there.”
“I told you, eh.”
Kathy looked at Belle and said, “The evil is gone. We need not worry about it anymore. Bob has been explaining a human custom. It is like storytelling, something all of us enjoy. But it is a little different. Humans sometimes relive their stories: sometimes deliberately; sometimes accidentally. To those who are reliving the story, it is real.”
Belle asked Bob sharply, “Why invite evil back to your land? Just to relive the experience.”
Bob said, “Yeah bro, Nah. I keep making the same mistakes. One day I will get it right. When I was with the horse lords, I learned different things. Things I would not have learned any other way.”
Growl asked, “How many horse lords were there?”
Bob thought for a moment. In his imagination there were hundreds. But when he thought hard about the Canterbury Plains, the number started to dwindle. He shook his head, trying to remember. “Wait.” He reached into his pants and, his hand shaking, fumbled for an old dog-eared wallet, “I might have something here.”
Belle’s eyes widened, suddenly worried for him. Bob’s wallet was the total of his earthly possessions. There, behind a letter from the Public Guardian’s Office, was a couple of photos. He paused, passing over a black and white picture of his mother, and one of the old farm house. His face was set grim. He had not been there for a while.
But under them was a promotional picture for the film. A photo of the horse lords with the horse lord fortress in the distance. Bob leafed it out, careful not to disclose the one below of his head sticking out of an orc costume. With a firm hand, he passed it to Growl.
Bob said, “Thought so. There were hundreds.”
Farsigh’s ring finally falls into the world sea, and the sky yacht speeds into the darkness.
Slipping through wisps of cloud, sails taut against the wind. High above, the pale light of their distant sun in the dark sky, just bright enough to cast the yacht’s shadow onto the world sea far below. 

Storm

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

Coming to Kathy’s place was like going back in time.
Dark post and rail fences separated the paddocks. Near the home yards, the delicious smell of deep black soil mingled with the faint smell of a wood stove and the taste of recent rain. Horses were spread out in the fields. Ironwork decorated the sides of stables and house. In the center of it all, was a practical cottage garden with a small stone farmhouse. The front door opened off a low verandah into a kitchen. Inside the kitchen, a kettle steamed on the wood-fired stove.
Storm, Kathy’s daughter, carried a pail of rainwater into the kitchen. The big white cat, Waylander, started to follow her but stopped when she saw Pete sitting at the table.
Storm climbed into the old two seater couch. Pete watched her tuck her legs under her on the fading tapestry. She called Waylander to her and then pointed at the cup sitting untouched on the table, “Finish the tea, Pete.” But Pete’s eyes had already drifted back to the view outside the door to the rainbow she had called from the sky.
She said, “Things have changed. I need you to remember what happened before we go riding.”
She watched his eyes lose control. He turned back to the table, concentrating, his eyes darting around the room. He started to talk quickly to people long gone. Abruptly, he tried to stand, anger burning on his face.
There is a concern in Storm’s voice, “Keep control. They changed you. You are not what you seem. If you lose control, we will lose everything.”
Pete froze, memories crashing through his mind: spiders, aelfs, sky towers, dragons. He asked, “What did they do to me?”
Storm said, “Good. You are starting to remember. I know how to fix it all.”
She looked at Pete and grimaced. She looked down at the spilled tea on the floor and sighed. Then she caught his eyes and held him still.
“Let me start at the beginning.”
“My mother and I live here, on this farm. I train horses. You live across the creek. You commuted to town to work. I have known you since I was a young girl. You remember all that?”
Pete nodded his head, wondering how she had suddenly grown into a quiet, confident woman. Around this table, his memory tells him she was still a child. Other memories flooded back: a job unattended in town, a farm that needed work and missing friends.
Storm continued, “Focus. A while back, we all shared a meal here, and Kathy told you about dragons the old folk had seen in the hills. You and she started to spend time together, looking and laughing. I thought...”
But he was already thinking of those long evenings, riding to the high ridges, settling together and watching the backs of mountains. Together.
“But it changed. When you found the dragons, you and one of your on-line friends, Anthem, decided you should go looking for their gold.”
There was a hint of accusation in her voice now. Pete shook his head, “It was me. I told Anthem what I planned. She did not believe me. I am not sure I understood either.”
Storm was dismissive, “Whatever. You should have listened to my mom. You stuffed up. You nearly killed the cats and everyone.”
The big white cat Waylander glared at Pete from the couch. The cat Blanket chose that moment to appear at the door. With one last glance in his direction, Waylander padded out to her and batted her. They disappeared in a sudden blur of motion, and Pete was left looking at the rainbow wondering if this one had a pot of gold nearby.
Storm guessed what he was thinking, “Instead of finding gold you got dragged into the midst of war.”
She paused, watching his eyes, “Are you listening to me? This mess all happened because you got greedy. I have not seen my mom Kathy for a year. Your friend Anthem is in danger. Listen to me!”
His eyes swung back to her, his hands clenched.
She continued, “The little aelf Teathyme sings to me. She tells me that the walls that separate the nine worlds are collapsing. This world and the others are under siege by spiders and their kin. Only the aelfs have stopped them. Teathyme tells me that the aelf have genetically modified local life forms on the planets, giving them new powers to fight. Making them like the dragons in stories you used to tell me. The dragons were great at stopping spiders, but now they have become a bigger threat. The aelf lost control, and the dragons are cruel. They forget who they were and become greedy for power.”
“The most powerful of the dragons, the Blue Dragon, is restrained by one of the aelf guilds in New Zealand’s south island. The aelf, Teathyme, says the Blue Dragon is playing a long game, assisting the locals against the possibility of a nearby rift collapsing for her release. The rift is already on the point of collapse, and will give spider-kin access to this world. She caught Anthem once, but she escaped with Kathy and an old New Zealand bloke, Bob. Now the Blue Dragon has found Anthem again. The aelfs are trying to rescue her right now.”
Pete asked, “Where is Kathy?”
“We do not know if she is alive or dead. Stuck in your mind might be a clue. You probably know more than them.”
Pete paused and tried to remember. Random memories threw him pictures of endless nights on a sky yacht. There was something else there, something involving flying and fire and Anthem screaming. Involuntarily, he stood.
Storm reacted quickly, “Relax. Do not let the anger take you. While you are with me, you must remain calm. If you lose it, you will destroy us.”
Pete said sharply, “There was a time...”
Storm whispered, “Hold onto the past.”
She dug into the past and smiled, “Are you still cross about me using your toothbrush to scrub the fox skulls?”
He looked at her, shaking his head. His hands started to unclench, “You could have hurt yourself and poisoned me. The poison killed those foxes. You could have got arsenic on the toothbrush.”
Storm said, “Chill. Are you still here right? If we get through this, I will give you one of the fox skulls I painted.”
Pete asked, “Fox skulls? How can we help Kathy and Anthem? How do you know all this?”
Storm asked, “Have you been listening? I am friends with the aelf Teathyme. She and I share chicken eggs. We go dancing together.”
“Dancing? What!”
“Teathyme and another aelf, Onesti, look after this part of our world.” She adds quietly to herself, “Although... Onesti does not approve of humans.”
“You are avoiding my questions.”
She said, “It is complicated. Teathyme sings everything, and I do not understand it all. I have to guess.”
“Well, guess away then. I promise to take a deep breath before I do anything.”
Waylander and Blanket appeared back at the door keeping a safe distance. Storm put her hand up a little, “You have not remembered everything. Promise that you will keep control?”
Pete’s face was a little flushed, but he said slowly, “I do not understand why I have to keep control. I am perfectly ok.”
Storm took a deep breath, “You and Anthem were modified. The aelfs gave you the dragon taint. It turns you into Black Dragons. Teathyme tells me you cannot remember what happens when you turn into a dragon.”
“Dragon taint? How have I been modified?”
Storm said, “They made you stronger. Teathyme tells me that they used to change some of the local races they encountered, to help fight the spiders. But they stopped doing it because they cannot keep control of those they create. Now they only do it in emergencies, and then they try to reverse the process.”
Pete held out his hands, looking at the faint scar lines on it, “I do not feel any stronger...”
Storm said, “I do not think it works that way. Look, there is something else. I need you to concentrate on control for a moment and then we will go for our ride.”
Pete asked, “Am I going to die? Have they done something terminal to me?”
Storm shook her head, “Stop worrying about yourself for a moment. Teathyme cannot turn you back right now. Even if she could, a powerful aelf, Solstice, will not let her. Solstice thinks we need your modified powers to find my mom. But we also need Anthem to ensure success.”
Pete looked uncertain, “I am not sure I am up to this, right now. I need to work this all out properly. My head feels like a dam burst inside it, and everything is getting washed around. I need to go to work soon...”
Storm frowned, “Stop it. Look at me. I am sorry I have had to tell you all this. We think Anthem is much more hurt than you. She might be pregnant. You might be going to have children.”
She added, darkly, “Or something.”
He shook his head, “What? No. That is not possible.”
She shrugged, “Come outside with me.”
She reached for his hand, and gave it a squeeze, “Time for our ride.”
He said, “I am not sure I have time...”
But he followed her. They stepped out into the late afternoon light. The thunder had moved deeper into the mountains. The ground was still wet from the rain. Close to the farmhouse, the rainbow shimmered just above the ground.
Pete cast a quick glance at the base of the rainbow for signs of gold, before he turned to her, “Ok. Which horse are we going to take and where are we going? And how is that going to help Kathy and Anthem?”
Storm led him a little further from the house, “Just trust me.” Pete had a fleeting glimpse of the two cats. There was something strange about them.
Storm said, “I want you to shut your eyes.” She held his hand tighter.
Pete shut his eyes, trying to shut out a pain growing in his head. It took a moment but then the sounds of the farm quietly returned: a horse calling, the wind blowing and the sound of the creek below. Just behind the wind, he thought he heard some urgent whispering.
Storm said, “The dragon taint has some side effects. One is that you can communicate with others who have the taint. And the reverse. If you need to, you can shut them out of your mind.”
Storm paused and let this sink in. “Don’t say anything. Just trust me. I want you to think of Anthem. Imagine you are talking to her. Tell her we need her. Tell her help is on its way, and she has to get away from the Blue Dragon fast. The aelfs have opened a portal, one of their gateways, near to her.” Storm pointed to the rainbow.
For a moment Pete tried to think logically. Storm was asking him to do something completely irrational. He looked directly at the rainbow and wondered if he should simply play along with her.
He shook his head. She must be going through hell with the loss of her mother. He was partly responsible. He started to slump. He was also responsible for Anthem. Already miserable, he suddenly felt a pang of guilt; she had lost her job because of him. People had shot at her. She had come to rescue him, and...
And suddenly, he was inside Anthem’s head. It was an angry head, poised on the edge of chaos. He stepped back away from the edge drawing some of the heat of her anger towards him. An old woman and a kitten caught her attention. 
He looked closer as he took more and more of her wrath. Within the old lady was the severe form of a Blue Dragon pushing Anthem closer to the edge. Only a small kitten held Anthem in the world. For an instance, the kitten left the struggle and turned to him. The kitten shimmered and became an aelf. The aelf called to him, “Help Anthem!”
Pete concentrated on Anthem, shouting at her to get her attention.
Pete’s words to Anthem came out differently, from a part of him that knew what was happening, “I am sorry!”
He felt her eyes searching for him, and continued, “I was not there to help you. I am sorry about the past. But now I need your help. We need to get our friends. The aelfs have opened a gateway near you. Come now.’”
He felt her surprise as she twisted inwardly to find him. Then he felt the full force of her confusion and anger. She threw him out of her mind.
The silence that followed was gradually filled with the sounds of the creek and the wind. He tried to open his eyes, anger still dancing within him like sheet lightning. Instead, he found soft hands gently holding them shut. The hands were cool, draining him of anger. He nodded, “I do not know how, but I told her. She is angry.”
Storm said, “She might have good cause to be angry. Sit for a little longer and relax. Do you remember, when I was little, you pretended to be a horse and let me on your back?”
“Yes. Please don’t try that now.”
Whispers in the wind, and then suddenly, behind him, a different voice, cut the wind. Teathyme sang “Salve will give you wings.”
Pete’s back exploded in pain as wings unfurled. He staggered as flesh expanded, his body twisted, scales and talons appeared. His body size increased. Before he could move, Storm swung onto his back. He sprung high into the air, wings clawing the air as he rose, chaos and anger suddenly in his heart. And Storm gently nudged him into the rainbow.  
Paths
(Canterbury Plains, South Island, New Zealand, Earth)

After the storm, it had been dark and wet.
Then the winds came up, and the clouds parted, allowing the light of the full moon to wash in dappled waves from the ocean up and over the Canterbury Plains.
The gold grasslands moved silver in the moonlight, rippling like waves under the night westerly. Red running water-engorged the flood plains. The moon light raced towards the mountains in the west.
Each of the foothills was highlighted in turn against the dark mountains above. Until the large rock, some still call Mount Sunday was brought into the light. There the light paused. It had briefly been the home of the horse lords of Middle Earth. Then the movie folk dismantled the sets and the land quickly fell quiet again. Then the tourists started to come. First came stray couples with backpacks and strange notions about what they might find. Then a river of tourists, flowing upstream as they walked the path where once heroes rode with cloaks flying.
The storm had been sudden and fierce. Lightning and thunder had echoed through these mountains leaving the smell of burning wood and the tang of static electricity hanging in the air.
A rainbow came from the sky like a meteor, hitting the ground with an explosion of light and rising mist. Thunder echoed deep into the mountains.
Not any rainbow. A healthy rainbow flickers into existence as sunlight hits water vapor. They glow and fade as rain clouds clear the sky. But the rainbows of the dark aelfs are different. They are artifacts of power.
The rainbow pulsed a hundred shades of silver and gold until the second explosion of sound flattened the grass, and a black dragon shattered the night.
The dragon circled the rainbow, its head outstretched, searching. Storm held Pete tight; her knees pressed into his back. She leaned close to his head, talking to him, focussing his purpose. Next to the black dragon, two smaller forms raced, the aelfs Onesti and Teathyme on their cat mounts.
With a toss of his head, the dragon turned.
They found Anthem on a small dirt track near an old wooden barn. The road continued to a small brook, across a stone bridge and up to an old stone house. Shadows raced around the house and cries of anguish could be heard.
At the front gate of the old stone house, an old lady was pleading with Anthem to return to her. Her words were a song of loss.
The old lady fell quiet when she saw the black dragon land on the track in the distance. She straightened and ceased being quite so old. She paused her song and watched.
Anthem’s eyes flashed anger when she saw Pete. She wondered if she wanted this future. Another memory shimmered, just within reach. There were answers here if only she could only remember. She turned back to the old woman again and wondered.
On the edge of her memory, a lifetime before, she heard the old lady talking. Was it just a dream, or was it real? The words swam before her:
“I will light a fire, and we will watch the stars rise. I will give you something to help you dream. A pathway to the future. One for us to explore together. We can fly to the end of time and back. We can go to any point in the past and force a new path, with the slightest breath, one sweet kiss, a single drop of blood. I can restore your life.”
She takes a sharp breath. She says, “Yes, I want that life back.”
A kitten springs into her hands with the force of a small train, knocking her back a little. The kitten is hurt, there is blood on one ear.
A small drop of blood fell onto Anthem’s wrist. The kitten held her tight, kneading her, trying to get away from the old lady. Anthem saw the knife in the old woman’s hand and shook her head. The dream was caught by the wind and disappeared.
Anthem turned and stared towards Pete. Pete, in the thrall of the dragon taint, was restless and confused. Storm was on the ground, next to him, trying to calm him. Anthem saw the scars crossing Pete’s body and remembered her own. She paused and looked closer, her anger starting to drain into the ground.
Anthem turned deliberately away from the old lady and began to walk away. After a couple of steps, she broke into a run towards Storm.
Anthem hugged her as she arrived. Pete tossed his head, drawing her scent into him. His eyes flashed, and he stamped. Anthem grabbed Pete by his snout, “Calm yourself, or I may still burn you into dust!” Pete turned an eye to regard Anthem but settled and let the two women mount. Pete bent to Storm’s whispers and, beating his great wings, retraced a path to the rainbow at Mount Sunday.
Suddenly they were not alone. A flight of yellow dragons challenged them as they approached the portal.
Anthem tasted the air feeling static electricity running through her back. The yellow flight banked towards them and gave chase, their savage howls threatening blood. Pete screamed in return, and Anthem felt a cry rising in her voice. But the kitten caught Anthem’s eye. Instead of joining the fight, Anthem held Storm tighter. They disappeared into the rainbow and the safety of the aelf portal.
They passed through the rainbow and emerged in a rumble of thunder with the last traces of daylight above Storm’s house.
On the ground, the kitten touched Anthem’s nose and then ran off with Onesti and the cats. As it moved out of sight of the humans, the kitten transformed back into the aelf Solstice.
The aelf Teathyme remained at the landing site near the stables to help return the black dragon to human form.
As he fell back into human form, there was one last rumble of thunder and Pete fell to the ground, small and disoriented. He looked around, not focussing on Storm or Anthem. Anthem looked at him, wondering.
The small aelf Teathyme shook her head. She gently poked him, but he did not register anything. She sang:
“I will guide him back to his stead
Where he can rest his head
It might be a couple of days
For him to lose this haze.
I will come back then
And dance we will.”

Storm and Anthem watched her shepherding Pete down the path towards the creek and the overgrown path to his farm.
The sky darkened.
Teathyme slept fitfully. She turned uncomfortably in a nest high in a cottage garden of leaves and flowers. In her dreams, she wondered how to set the humans safely down on the fraught shores of next destination.  
She stretched, the faint smell of a wood stove in the air. Dark old post and rail fences with horses grazing the fields and the occasional sleep squawk of a chicken dreaming of foxes. Teathyme concentrated on eggs and returned to sleep.
Wet ironwork decorations shone in the moonlight on the stables. Inside, the gray cat Blanket was poised hunting mice.
Inside the old stone house, an old cast iron stove sat against the rough-hewn stone walls. Light from the fire in the range was caught by the pressed tin ceiling above.
Storm had opened a guest room for Anthem. A simple bedroom, with a comfortable high bed and a small table, decorated with an empty vase on an embroidered cloth. Like old Australian farms, the room opened directly onto the verandah.
Anthem was sitting on the verandah outside her room, a candle nearby, watching the last of the light fade from the sky and the full moon rising in the eastern sky. She was listening to Storm playing piano deeper inside the house. She tried to concentrate on the tune, trying not to remember.
From the verandah, she saw the dim lights of Pete’s farm across the creek and frowned. Her mind drifted across the road and down to the creek. Past a fox planning a raid on a chicken coop, past wallabies eating grass on the flat lands, and up to his house yard.
She could feel him sleeping on hard pillows and soft linen, lost in a dreamless sleep. For a moment her anger left her. She remembered seeing his body covered with scars. She recalled his confusion as Teathyme led him away. Instead of anger, she felt a pang of dismay and loneliness. The memory of her injuries and hurt were set aside.
Later, as she drifted off to sleep in the old bed, she imagined lying close beside him, her arms around him.  

Starlight

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

Pete woke from deep sleep, feeling big spiders crawling all over him. In the pitch dark, he froze. He felt the hairs on their bodies, the sticky touch of webs and the sharps of their legs.
He exploded into action, kicking everything off or near the bed. Spiders, sheets, and pillows went everywhere. He threw one of the spiders onto the bedside lamp, hearing it crash into the wall.
He cleared them off his head and chest, but they were still all over his legs. He kicked them as hard as he could. One of them smashed into a glass of water as it disappeared into the wall.
In the general confusion that followed, the spiders all got away. Pete was left flailing arms and legs. Breathing slowly, he froze again, listening to the sounds of a thousand claws on the bedroom walls.
The fog of sleep still rested all around him. It was all quiet. Gradually he relaxed, realizing that he would not find them. They had got away without a trace. Again.
He lay back in the thrall of sleep as soft arms closed around him, smiling at his brush with imagination and complaining gently about the need for sleep.
Later, he opened his eyes wide and tensed. Something had woken him from a deep sleep. He felt a shard of fear, a cold breath upon his neck.
He lay silently, listening, trying to distinguish reality and imagination. The wind had come up during the night. The leaves of a plum tree outside his window sounded like a thousand spiders. But the wind also played with the metal and bamboo chimes tied along the deck. He forced himself to think, “Wind, not spiders.”
As the wind fell, the sound of the creek between his farm and Storm’s farm sounded louder than usual. Rain from the thunderstorm last evening tripped over the waterfall. The earthy smells of recent rain flooded into the bedroom. An owl cried to its mate. He told himself that it was probably hunting close to his farm, perhaps in the tall poplar trees that dwarfed the barn. Behind the sounds of water, he could hear nothing but the creak of the house settling and a refrigerator purring. Then the wind lifted again, and a distant door blew shut with a crack.
The house breathed out, the curtains billowing in the wind. His hearing had penetrated to the heartbeat of a grandfather clock. Nothing. In the dark, he stretched, suddenly aware he was still wearing day clothing. He shook my head, trying to remember coming to bed and trying to dispel the illusion that someone else was here.
He waved his hand across the black light switch, and the house computer growled and reluctantly woke, throwing primary time, weather and farm status details onto the ceiling. He gave a casual glance over the bed, confirming it was empty as the security system display opened. It confidently reported no intrusion. He forced it to conduct a detailed scan of the house. One by one, green lights started to light up, confirming everything was fine except for some mice burrowing into the south wall. A local proximity display initiated, as the house looked further, across the fields and along nearby roads. Nothing, just a mob of kangaroos grazing on the high ridges, horses sleeping in the top paddock and, higher in the forests a timber jinker traveling slowly up into the predawn mountain forests.
For the second time, a screen door blew shut with a crack. Probably the barn. Pete waited for the security scan to finish, and the barn light flashed amber. He cut the display and swung off the bed.
He stood, took a step and then everything started to go wrong. He lost his balance on the wet floor falling heavily through the bedroom screen onto the outside deck. He stopped for a moment. He hoped that the wind was hiding the sounds of his movement. Shaking his head at the mess, he vaulted off the deck onto the grass still wet from the evening storm and disappeared into the dark.
The stars were bright overhead gifting the land with a silky soft glow. In the east, there was a sliver of nautical dawn. He reminded himself that nautical dawn was the sort of light that should only be seen by sailors and not by people who had to go to work to earn their keep.
He was waking up fast, but still felt he was not all there. Part of his mind was still trying to work out what he had eaten the night before and why every part of him felt bruised. A bit of him was still worried about spiders. It defensively pointed out every soft touch of night-time web they met as he moved across the house yard. He had a quick talk to those bits and asked them to concentrate on the task at hand, but they ignored him.
He slowed, feeling the wet grass under his feet until he could see the starlight picking out the barn ahead. The sound of the creek was loud with storm rain. A Fox complained about a poor hunt on the high ridges in the distance and cried for her lost mate.
Beyond the creek below he could just make out the outline of Storm’s farm. As he looked he felt an ache growing. He started to feel a gap in his memory. He forced himself to remember he had tea with Storm the day before. Kathy, Storm’s mother, was missing. His friend Anthem was missing. Storm had insisted she knew where they were. He shook his head, fog clinging to him like spider webs. The screen door to the barn slammed again. He jumped, and then relaxed; he must not have shut it properly.
He scouted around the overgrown vegetable gardens full of the smell of over-ripe tomato vines. He wondered about the disorder; perhaps a wallaby had crashed through them.
As he passed the water tanks, the wind blew him a fey smell. It smelt of a fox. A sudden smell of decay and then it was gone. He stopped and tasted the air. The wind blew through the poplar trees, drowning the sound of rushing water.
Then he felt something else. The growl started between his shoulders, and traveled up his spine to his ears, lifting his hair and vibrating through him. He dropped to the ground, trying to see where it came from, suddenly worried about wild dogs and his lack of preparedness.
Faint scrabbling sounds came from within the barn. Perhaps a feral pig was helping itself to stock feed. In the light, he saw the dull blade of a spade. He stood and circled closer, turning away from the barn to pick up the spade.
He heard the door swing open and the sound of something large nearby. He choked on the stench which suddenly filled his chest. He lifted the blade and started to turn back to face whatever was there. There was an explosion of sound. He fell to the ground walloping his head.
He was out cold for a little while. As he slowly recovered, the dawn light starting to stream around him.
He clambered on to knees and hands, looking into the gloom. Two eyes shone in the morning light. His heart jumped into his mouth. He tensed and thought of running before he realized it was just the gray cat, Blanket. She jumped over to him, and rubbed his face, leaving bits of hay and wool in his hair.
Pete ruffled Blanket's head, “You gave me a... “
Then he saw the barn. The door was ripped off its hinges.
He lay back on the ground looking at the barn for a little while, watching as the stars started to blink out. While he was alone, he felt soft arms encircle him once again, relaxing the hurt around him. Out of nowhere, he heard a voice, “Are you ok?” The question was awkward, as though Anthem was testing the words as she spoke them.
He climbed to his feet, confused, the fog still holding his mind fast. He could not see Anthem. The cat lifted her face and looked back at the barn. Without another look she jumped away and padded through the broken door, leaving him alone.
He said to himself, “No, I am not alright.” He tested his balance carefully, wondering what had happened and how badly he had been hurt. His right shoulder felt wet. When he reached over, he came back with a touch of blood, wondering if he had fallen into something sharp. He turned back to the damage before him. The wind rushed through the poplar trees bringing strange smells. Dawn was outlining the high forests on the horizon.
Again, Anthem asked, “What happened?” This time, the words came more easily, and he was listening to her voice. It came from within him. He shook his head and grumbled to himself, “Now voices in my head. I need to go see my doctor.”
Anthem issued a quick rebuff, “Stop talking about doctors. You do not need them. Speak to me. What happened?”
He suddenly felt sore and bruised. There was a rational explanation, “Stupidly; I have gone walking half-asleep, in the dark. I slipped on the bedroom floor, and now I have fallen on the grass, and my head is aching, and my back felt... felt strange. And now I was talking to you except you are not here, you are on the other side of the world or missing... or...”
Anthem murmured, “or on the other end of the creek. You and Storm came and rescued me.”
A confused jumble of memories started to fall around him. Enough fog shifted for him to know that things were a lot worse than he could have imagined.
Morning light started to filter through the high forests. Tendrils of mist began to rise where the sun met the land. Confusion suddenly returned, and he looked around to see that he was in the middle of a row of thick giant hairy spider legs. He shouted as they resolved themselves back into mist and poplars. Anthem said, as calmly as she could, “You just need a cup of coffee. Come over. It is early, but Storm is up.”
There was a sudden high pitched scream from the barn.
This time, his legs worked well, but independently of the rest of him. He ended up on the ground again. On the back of his neck, there was a brush of fur and then something wet. He rolled over, twisting his back, to see the cat. Blanket had captured a mouse. She gave Pete a sharp look of disapproval and dropped the mouse to the ground. She looked at him and meowed. The mouse ran onto his chest and inside his shirt.
Mice, with their soft hair and small sharp feet, can feel just like spiders. Then the cat pounced on Pete, claws extended. He jumped up, wiped the cat off him as the mouse bit. Enough was enough. He tore his shirt off and stormed back towards the farmhouse. “No more!” He wondered if mice bites carried infections.
Anthem asked, with concern, “Did the wolf bite you?”
He stopped, “What wolf?”
He shook his head looking at the farm over the creek. Storm had fanned her morning fire awake, and smoke was snaking from the chimney. Maybe coffee would be a good idea. Then a doctor. Or a couple of physicians.
“Wolf? No, a mouse bit me.”
The sky was filling with color. For a moment there was a flash of reds and pinks, and he could see Storm opening her stable. He imagined the snickering of horses anticipating feed.
“A mouse?” He heard the laughter in her voice.
He saw Storm leading a bay mare out of the stables. Another person was standing on the verandah. Far away, but looking at him.
Anthem said, “That could be severe. Come over here and I will protect you.”  

Dragons and Demons (I)

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

The fog of the last couple of days was still around him, but he put on clean clothes and sensible walking boots. He called out to the cats for the walk. Neither appeared, so he walked down to the creek, and up to Storm’s farm, alone.
As he walked, he thought. A little while back, his life had been simple. He had a good steady job. Then Storm’s mother Kathy asked me to trust her and to look for dragons. He had. But the dragons were collecting gold, and he liked gold. Or was that right?
Now he belongs to Storm. He shook my head and, in his head, Anthem protested. That was not right. Two stories were in his skull.
He felt Anthem in his head, smiling, “No, you belong to me.” He looked towards her, frowning and smiling at the same time.
Around the kitchen table, he sat down with Storm and Anthem. Storm fussed, putting tea and coffee on the table and then drawing hot scones from her oven.
As she worked, Storm asked him if he knew where the cats were. He told her that he had called, but they had not come. She nodded, “I think the aelfs have left.” She thought that Onesti and Solstice had left in the evening to investigate the flight of yellow dragons over the Canterbury Plains. Teathyme had left suddenly early in the morning, telling Storm only that she had caught another creature watching the farms.
The aelfs were not meant to move. Storm was worried, “They are supposed to help me get back my mom.” She did not think they would be back for a couple of days.
Anthem became more relaxed as Storm talked. She was more matter of fact, “So nothing is happening for a couple of days. We can relax for a couple of days. We will be better for some rest.”
Then Anthem pointed at Pete, “You are bleeding through your shirt. The mouse?”
He could not feel anything, “It is nothing, maybe just a scratch. I stumbled around in the dark.” He was not very convincing and found himself wondering about the damage to his shed.
Anthem said, “From what? Let me look.”
The two women made him take off his shirt and they spent a moment looking at the wound on the back of his shoulder. He started, “it bled a little at the time...”
Storm was first, “Strange. More a mark than a gash. Wait, let me draw that.”
As she sketched the mark, Anthem wondered, “Maybe you fell on something.”
He reached around, feeling a slight imprint, returning with a little more blood.
Storm made a face at him, “Go clean yourself up. There is some Friar’s Balsam in the bathroom. Don’t get blood on my towels!”
He wandered off to clean himself. Instead, he found himself looking at the mirror, a patchwork of healed scars and rips. He needs some sun. He dressed the wound and came back into the kitchen, “If we are not going anywhere for a while, let us go down to the coast. The salt water will do us good.” There was silence, so he added, “We will be back before the aelfs return. Promise.”
Anthem said, “Storm just suggested that. Were you listening to us?”
He ignored Anthem and asked, “Coming Storm? I will bring my boat; we can sleep on the estuary.”
Storm glanced at Anthem who looked at her for a moment then shook her head.
“No, you two need to work stuff out.” She started to clean the plates, pushing an uneaten scone into Pete’s mouth. “I have work to do here before we go search for mom.”
He turned to Anthem, “What stuff?” He suddenly had a bad feeling he had forgotten something crucial.
“Just things. Trying to fill in all the pieces.”
Storm turned away and said urgently, “One thing. Teathyme insisted as she left. You must not change shape. No matter what happens.”
He shook his head, “Change shape?” Unwanted images of flying seeped into his mind.
Storm continued, “I have known Teathyme for a while. But I do not always understand her songs. She said something about Onesti telling you dream-stories while Solstice soaked you.”
She turned to Anthem, “Both of you.” Anthem and Pete both looked blank, so Storm continued, “I think that means she takes some of the dragon taint from you. It makes you both a little more human. So, probably you are less likely to change shape accidently. Please, don’t do anything stupid. We have to rescue my mom when the aelfs come back. Ok?”
After breakfast, he walked back to his farm. He ignored the chaos in the bedroom, merely setting the wards and putting the yacht on the back of the ute.
He picked up Anthem and they drove up into the mountains towards the coast, leaving Storm to her horses. Despite the promise to swap stories, Anthem seemed more interested in the trees and cliffs. Gradually he relaxed.
As they drove, the yacht sailed behind them on a sea of dust.  
Pau (I)
(Library, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

The aelf Solstice shook off ice crystals and opened her eyes wide against the dark.
She waited for the old Crest warrior, Pau, to wake. Ice dusted the fur of her long and narrow face, cruel teeth extending from her mouth, sharp tufted ears, with deep scars visible under the coat. Her one good eye was closed. She lay on a stone bench, her matted fur frozen to the surface.
“No trumpets? No crowds cheering?” A cold smile was carved on the Crest's face.
“Just I,” Solstice’s words could be seen in the frigid air, traveling slowly to the rough face. “Again.”
Slowly, the old warrior turned to Solstice. Her movements were fluid, and she was alert, listening for another movement. She started quietly, “So aelf, you failed again.”
Solstice heard the control in the warrior’s voice, keeping each word tied and bound, “All your art still has not removed the dragon taint. I can feel it in my blood. It runs through my body like fire, whispering to me. If your bonds do not hold me, I will rip your wings off.”
Solstice moved, breaking the ice seeking to entrap her feet, stepping closer, saying, “You have tested the bonds that hold you. You may move within this place, slowly. But you know that anything more sudden than a yawn will clamp them shut.”
The warrior growled, “You cannot be sure. Keep coming towards me. Let me test them.”
Solstice shrugged and turned, “I have brought your kin to this place”, motioning to the cave entrance. “They seek your help in the Northern veldt-lands. The seasons are changing, the spiders will be on the move shortly. They...”
The warrior interrupted, “...do not know what sort of monster lies before them. But you have warned them.” She opened her eye and tasted the air, “I am not their kin anymore. I am a greater risk to them than any of the invaders.”
Solstice said, “They know. Still, you are their only hope. Without you, they risk being pushed from the land back into the refuges.”
The warrior was dismissive, “I cannot help them. If you release me, the dragon taint will take me, and I will seek and destroy them and you. And you will be responsible.”
Solstice smiled, “As it will be. But this time, I have found you powerful allies. Perhaps together you can make a difference for your kin. And then, who knows. Despite my failure, I have not yet given up on you. But then again, maybe you can talk the black dragons into chasing me.”
Solstice willed the warrior back into a broken sleep, and she bent to the task of preparing Pau, drawing some of the dragon taint into her body.  

Dragons and Demons (II)

(Bateman’s Bay, Earth)

They arrived at the top of the Clyde Mountains. After a brief stop to check the yacht, he drove slowly down the cliff face down to the river and the beach resort below. On the river bridge, they waited for the central part of the bridge to rise and let a trawler through. Then they drove through to the esplanade stopping for a break and some fish and chips. They wandered across the grass to eat on the wharf, watching the fishing boats dock with the morning’s catch and sailing boats crossing the bar on the tide.
At the next stop, the beach, they changed. Storm had borrowed a couple of outfits, including some of Kathy’s swimmers. He applied sunscreen to her white legs and body, feeling her patchwork of scars with a grimace. “You are going to burn without this.” He quietly charted the bruises and cuts across her without question. Bruises and cuts like his own, some dark and painful. He tried to remember where these came from, but he had lost the memory. She looked at him and said, “I understand. I will explain.”
Then they walked down to the beach over the hot sand. Pete told Anthem, “The water stays cold here until late summer, then suddenly it warms. It should be fun.”
Anthem hesitated, “Please do not laugh at me but I cannot swim.”
He paused, “You do not need to. Hold my hand. We will just go out far enough to jump over the breakers.”
She flinched at the cold, “I thought you said the water was warm?” She held his hand tight.
Anticipating the slap of the waves they walked into the surf. Pete watched with a smile as Anthem learned to brace for the small breakers as they hit. Finally, past the breakers, with the water waist deep he taught her how to float over the waves, his arms around her. He told her, “I dreamed your arms were around me last night.” She smiled.
Afterward, they dropped the yacht into the Bay and sailed up the estuary to a night berth. The sails spread out in the evening breeze, and the boat took her head, driving along the main channel whipping flecks of water into the air. Anthem stood firm, braced against a stay, eyes alight.
As they arrived at the destination, she went below deck and came back shaking her head, “Your bunks are strange. They are together at the front of the boat but separate at the bottom of the beds. Am I going to have to listen to you snore?”
He smiled, “The beds follow the shape of the boat, and it is not a big boat. But, I think you will sleep whether I snore or not. This boat is a lot different to the airship; the waves will rock you to sleep. I can tell you a story if you promise to stay awake. Or I can swap direction, and you can sleep next to my toes.”
She laughed, “Or perhaps our toes can sleep together. Where do you keep your linen? I assume you have something more substantial than the rubber mattresses.”
“Yep. Should be under the forward hatch, probably only need some light bedding.”
It was late afternoon by the time they stowed the sails, locked up and climbed onto the wharf, walking the short distance to a small town and the hotel. Anthem had asked, “Do I have to get dressed up? I only have a couple of clothes from Storm’s place.” He shook his head, “Strictly thongs and T-shirts.”
They walked through the bar, full of locals, foresters, and farmers, relaxing for the night, into a small restaurant.
Anthem sighed, “This is a surprise.” They came out onto a deck with a view back onto the river, lit up by the sun falling on the western mountains and the evening mist rising. “Almost romantic.” She looked at Pete with a questioning smile.
He could feel himself blush, “It is pretty basic, but the food is ok. We can be as informal as you like. We are here for a couple of days; I figure we can take it easy before bad things start to happen again.”
“It was not all bad,” she said and reached over to hold his hand. “I loved the time on the airship.”
“Not quite the same as a regular boat,” he smiled, and they ordered from a chalked up menu board. He went to the bar and got some drinks. When he returned, she had kicked off her thongs, and he felt her toes on his. He said, “That is pretty informal.” Anthem smiled and said, “I noticed that the couple over there was doing it, I assumed it was the proper thing to do here in Australia.”
“Well, yes. You are correct. It is only good manners. But no tickling.”
“Are you ticklish?”
“No,” he lied.
“Besides, it is probably good for the toes to get together now. You know, if they are going to spend the night together.”
Pete tried to look dangerous, “Maybe, but perhaps they are becoming a little too friendly. I think we should sleep with our heads together on the pillow. You know, to prevent any mischief.”
“That would be much safer. Besides, I have something to tell you”, Anthem smiled.
She noticed that he froze a little, and her smile grew.
“Remember the old song? ‘Demons and dragons rage right outside these doors. But, don’t worry, I will protect you’.” He looked up, and her eyes found hers. Her eyes were larger than he remembered. A trick of the light, but her eyes almost caught him.
A waiter laughed, and the moment passed as she put steaming bowls of vegetables on the table, saying, “Aren’t no demons outside, unless you count the old motorbikes that roar in on Saturday afternoons.”
Anthem smiled at her, “Old guys can still be a handful.”
The waiter said ruefully, “It is not the old guys that I worry about”, and left to return a moment later with sizzling main meals.
“What do you mean?”
This time, she growled a little, “New Zealanders. Come tomorrow afternoon, and see for yourself. If you are game.” She winked and left to attend other customers.
Anthem asked, “I only know a couple of New Zealanders. You know, like Bob. They seem ok”, she paused briefly thinking of stealing cars with Bob. “Well, mainly ok. Is there something I am missing?”
He wondered how to explain, “New Zealanders can be a bit boisterous.”
After the meal, they walked back to the dock and moved the yacht a little away from the wharf. They sat together on the main deck drinking the last of the sunset as it drained from sky and water.
Then they went downstairs and onto the bunks.
He smiled at her dark form, too dark for those dangerous eyes, “Safe enough from your demons and dragons?”
She said, “I am here to save you. Come, put your head on my pillow.”
He said, with a frown, “You have lots of cuts and bruises. You have been severely hurt. You told me you would tell me how...”
“Hold me”, and suddenly her eyes were there, shining in the dark. And Pete was falling into them.
Anthem, shifted a little closer, “You do not remember anything do you?”
He could feel myself becoming lost in her eyes, “I remember lots.”
Anthem breathed, and he heard her, without her speaking, “I can hear everything you think. I held you last night, and I followed your adventure this morning. I know you do not remember what happened. You do not remember any of the periods when the dragon taint takes you.”
He listened to her, suddenly confused. The boat was gently rocking as he reached out to her.
She continued, “I was like you. I could not remember either.”
In her eyes, two shadows were flying. One passed near Pete, a shadow over the sun.
“But I am carrying your children, and they remember. Our kids told me what happened.” 

Interlude One: Nine Worlds

(Cliffs of the Library, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

Nine worlds. Far and yet perilously close.
Observe one of the nine, Terrorfar, caught at the moment of change.
Imagine the aelfs Onesti and Teathyme resting with their cats high in the ice cliffs of the fractured southern continent.
They sat waiting for the dawn, the flight of the Yellow Dragons and access to the Library.
The young aelf Teathyme had something on her mind and spoke direct without a song. She asked Onesti, “Why did you tell that story about the two black dragons, Pete and Anthem?”
Onesti watched as reflections of colored light cut the gray pre-dawn. She said, “The Black Dragons listen to stories. I changed some of the details, confused things a little, made some things a bit better, and painted us in a better light. I thought it might blunt their terror.”
Teathyme was defensive. “The black dragons are only terrible sometimes.”
Onesti responded quickly, “Every time they meet. It all goes wrong. They fight. I thought the story might help.”
Teathyme shook her head, golden earrings, flashing jewels and eyes confused with hair, “It will not work. They will not believe the story.”
Onesti paused, “We are responsible.”
Teathyme said, “Only for the Painter, the male Pete. Others are responsible for the Weaver, the female Anthem.”
Onesti continued, “It is our responsibility to try to reverse the process for both of them before it is too late.”
Teathyme protested, “Gossamer says we should not try. She is not trying. She likes Anthem the way she is.”
Onesti frowned, “Gossamer has her own clan’s interests at heart. She knows that Anthem is a problem for me.”
Reflected rays of blue, white light flickered across the horizon.
Teathyme whispered, “We persuaded Anthem away from the Blue Dragon.”
Onesti is grim, “At a cost. I had to deal with a third clan and Solstice. She is now watching us all now.”
She sighed, worried about her discussions with Solstice. She continued, “Still, you say everything has been quiet since they returned to Farsigh.”
Teathyme paused and wondered if she should say, “You interrupted my report.”
Onesti watched her indecision, “You said Pete and Anthem had stopped trying to kill each other. Now they will cooperate with the young girl Storm to find her mother, Kathy. That is all I needed to hear.”
Teathyme, “Yes, but...”
Onesti said, “Well what else could go wrong?”
The harsh blue sun crests the horizon and starts to burn away an age of ice. The surface ice glazes and Terrorfar convulses.
Teathyme raised her voice, but the ice started to crack, “Anthem...”
Shards of ice crashed from the top of the cliff face, into the abyss below. 

Just for One Day

(Bateman’s Bay, Earth)

He thought to himself, “We are here, safe.”
In the dark, just a single muted navigation light burnt atop the mast. Outside the water lapped against the hull of the boat. On shore, a nightjar called. There was the occasional splash of a fish jumping in the tidal estuary. Across the water came the sound of a lone motorbike crossing the river bridge.
Among the familiar musty smells of the boat and sails, Anthem. A new smell, mixed with salt, sand, and sweat. Lying with him, head to head, a bead of moisture on her brow. Her eyes were burning hot like a sun.
Then shadows dim her gaze. Tears?
The boat gently rocked. Pete reached out to Anthem.
Anthem said, “I was like you. I could not remember either. But I think I know what happened. And now I think I know what we must do.”
Her eyes brightened, and her finger stopped his questions, “I want you to trust me. Let me tell you in one go. Try to believe me.”
She paused, “Ready?”
He nodded, tensed.
Anthem said slowly, “I am carrying your children. While I cannot remember what happened to me when the dragon taint took me, they remember. Your unborn children told me what happened.”
His eyes opened wide.
Anthem paused a moment and then continued, “You remember a little of what has happened. But your memory is clouded. We were on the sky-ship together, with Storm’s mother, Kathy. We landed, and the people of the water world tried to remove our dragon taint. They left us on a deserted sky-tower out of harm’s way, waiting to see if the taint was removed. But when they left us, we argued. It was a simple thing. You told me you wanted to go back to your life, your home. You can. But I cannot. My boss sent to thugs to kill me. I cannot go back. My life has changed. I cannot get it back.”
She looked away, murmuring, “I liked my job. I loved my life. Now it is gone. But, you seem to be able to shrug off your adventures and not miss a beat. So I let myself get angry.”
She paused and turned back to him, “I will not allow that again. I do not know what happened then, and the children cannot tell me. Perhaps it was the anger or maybe the drugs they gave us. Whatever. The taint returned, and I think we fought. I hurt you, and you hurt me.”
He held her, trying not to let his tears show. She pulled away a little and then kissed his eyes.
In the dim light, he touched a fading scar under her chin and gently traced it to her shoulder.
He stuttered, “I would never... I cannot...”
Anthem said, “You did. I did too. Maybe some of the scars were caused by spiders. But I am sure that when the dragon taint takes us, we lose connection with what makes us human. But even in that form, at least for a moment, the violence ceased. We mated and, as a consequence, I am pregnant with our children. And from a little while after conception, our children can tell me what happened.”
“I cannot remember.”
She smiled and hugged him, “Neither could I. But I can now.”
“I cannot forgive myself.”
She speaks directly, “I will bite you if you say that again. Self-pity is a luxury you do not have. Let us find out how this works. Without the intervention of third parties. I want to make one thing clear. I will not be treated as someone else’s weapon of choice. I am on my side. And yours.”
Anthem fell silent. Her eyes showed her exhaustion.
Here on Earth, he was still lost in her eyes watching the shadows drift across her iris, “What else can our children tell you?”
Anthem said, “When we have the dragon taint we sometimes fight and sometimes love. With the taint, we are very different from how we are right now. Those forms are cruel and calculating and dangerous. We are bad news to everything around us. Only our children love us when we have the taint.”
He left it for a moment, “They must be special then. Are they human or dragon?”
Anthem smiled, “Does it make a difference?” He bit back a hundred retorts, retreating within himself, his finger tracing scars across her shoulders.
She smiled, a crooked smile, “You are reticent.”
He was thoughtful, “I have had a lovely day with you. I was enjoying our moment alone together. I was about to rub your nose. But now you tell me that this, and more, has already happened, and that you are pregnant and that I am probably responsible for all those scars on your body. I am a bit lost. It is a lot to take in.”
“You can still rub my nose.”
“Will anything bad happen if we do? Genies? Should I know about Dragon diseases? What will the children think?”
She said, “You are taking this very well. I thought you might try to run and that I would have to change form and eat you.”
“Would you do that?”
She nods her head, “Yes. Don’t try to run from me. You will not get far. Apparently, I make a real dragon. I probably play with my food. And I tickle toes.”
Pete tucked his feet safely against the hull, “Look, lots of strange things have been happening to me. Maybe I ate something, and I am just dreaming this.”
Anthem said, “I am real, beyond your wildest dreams.” Anthem smiled and moved closer. She blew the hair from his forehead and spoke directly into his mind. “Do you believe in me now? Do you surrender?”
He looked at her, and responded directly into her mind, “Maybe. But, I have not even kissed you yet, and you tell me we are going to have kids. And if we rub noses and, you know, maybe kiss, what happens then. Could I turn into a frog or something weird with teeth and a tail?”
She smiled, showing her human teeth, “Maybe. Together, we are the most powerful beings in this world. But, our children will not let us hurt each other. For now.”
He touched her nose with his.
Anthem felt the touch. Then she felt the children move from her to him.
The world disappeared. Pete felt his eyes widen and burn bright, and then he saw the shadows.
Two shadows. Moving fast, climbing and swirling, dancing in Pete's eyes.
“I am Fire,” a boy says.
“I am Ice,” a girl says. “We are Fire and Ice.”
The boy called Fire says, “You are the Painter.”
The girl called Ice says formally, “Painter, we give you and the Weaver the gift of memory.”
Forgotten time slowly unrolls. Flying high in the clouds of the water-world with Anthem. Savage anger beyond reckoning. He felt Fire and Ice reliving the memories with him, exulting in the emotion and destruction.
Towards the end of time, he noticed Anthem flying away from him. He moves in wider circles, crossing devastated sky towers. He felt her nearby. Shutting his eyes, he dived towards her. He felt the rush of her wake as they passed. But then something changed. He heard her cry, as she disengages and falls away. He called for her. Her voice, fades into the distance, “I just need time.”
Then nothing.
He asked the children, “Where did she go?”
Fire said, “Painter, this is all we can give to you.”
He feels them leaving.
“Wait. I am your father?”
Ice said, “And we are your children. We honor your anger.”
Fire said, “Your violence shapes us.”
“Wait, why do you call me Painter?”
Ice lingers for a moment. “It is your essence. Just as mine is to destroy worlds with bitter cold.” He felt her joy as the shadows left him.
For a moment, he relaxed into Anthem. He listened to her breath, reliving the experience.
She looked at him, shadows circling in her eyes, “Our children rejoice in your fire.”
Then with urgency, she pleads, “Do not say a thing. Not a thing.”
*
They lay inside the boat. It gently rocked, and she ran her hands through his hair. Above the stars shone down. He tried to think. The aelfs wanted to chase the yellow dragons back to Terrorfar. Storm wanted to rescue Kathy. But he had not asked Anthem what she wanted. Why did she leave him? What did she mean, “I just need time.” And, what did he want?
He framed the questions he needed to ask her. But instead of conversation, they lay together. Above them the night deepened. Fireflies joined the navigation light and stars. Water softly slapped against the hull of the boat as the tide swept in. On shore, a dingo howled. The tidal estuary was alive with life. In the distance, a gang of motorbikes crossed the river bridge.
*
He smiled. She tilted her face, questioning him.
He said, “So that is what happens when we rub noses... Twins. I always wanted twins.”
The hard questions would have to wait.
*
Anthem whispered, “I cannot sleep. There is something fey in the air.”
He said, “We will make this work.”
A tear appeared in her eye, “I didn’t want it to be like this.”
“I am sorry, I did not know trying to pinch a little gold would cause so much strife. You were not even there.”
She hugged him, but he carefully avoided her nose.
She grimaces, “Coward.”
He asked, “Why are the kids so grown-up?”
She said, “They have been like that since they first came into my mind. I think they communicate through emotions, operating with our memories and thoughts. Sometimes I think I just hear myself. And then they do something silly and make me laugh.”
He gently placed his cheek on hers feeling a tear fall.
He whispered in her ear, “Do not cry. I am here.”
She snuffled and again tried not to blame him for everything. 
He interrupted that thought, “Why do the kids call you the Weaver.”
She bites him gently, “Painter and Weaver. Those are the names the aelfs gave us. Maybe the aelfs think of me like a spider, and I have caught you in my web. Or maybe not. Why do you need to have answers for everything? ”
He said, “Because, if I do not know stuff, I will make it up, to help complete the picture.” He pulled back from her a little, watching her eyes smiling at him. Bright eyes, without a hint of shadows. He said, “I think you have already made a plan.”
Anthem pauses and then whispers, “I have half an idea. If things start going desperately wrong, I think I can make the world right.”
He tried, “Tell me.”
Shae shook her head, “I cannot. If I told you, you would try to stop me.”
He said, “We should make plans together. Once we get Kathy back, we can run away. And if it does not work out, you can go back to your plan.”
She smiled, “What? Where would we run away too?”
He made it up as he went, “Tasmania. We can get a fish and chip shop by sea, and the kids can grow up and become whatever they want.”
She asked, “Where is Tasmania?”
He said, “It is on the edge of the world. So far from everywhere. No one ever goes there. No one will ever find us.”
She said, “The kids will not like that. They want to collect gold. Like you. Does it have cities? Remember, they want to destroy cities as well...”
He shrugged, “Well, it is good to have life goals, but maybe things will turn out differently. Maybe they will become scientists or singers in a rock and roll band.”
Anthem is tired, “Which century do you think it is? They seem pretty fixed on destroying cities. But, I suppose it depends on which cities. Please rub noses with me. The kids are asleep; it is just you and me. I need to feel your warmth, now.”
“Are you sure?”
Anthem smiled and said, “I want you to hold me.” She leaned into him.
Without thinking, he touched her nose with his.
The world disappeared. Pete felt his eyes widen, burning bright.
A single shadow moved slowly to the center of his eye.
Ice said sleepily, “I cannot sleep. Something is frightening me. Tell me a story.”
*
The boat rocks gently on an errant breeze. A bird is startled and flies from the forest edge. Downwind there is the sound of a scuffle and a cry of frustration, “Almost had it that time, bro.”
Wolves were roaming the shoreline. Wolves that stood and spoke. 
The pack leader growls and slashes at the younger scout. He whimpers and there is a sudden smell of blood. She snarls, tasting the scent. Then she froze, her head tilting into the night air, probing other scents around her. Blood from a torn ear, the smell of fear from the small animal they were chasing, dust from wing feathers disturbed, the sour taste of salt water. Then, the faint touch of something she recognized from the hotel. They searched for these. An older male turned his head to the water and the boats floating in the distance. He nods, and whispers, “On the water, out there.”
She snarls again, “Find me a way to get out there!”
*
Ice cried, “I do not like that story.”
Confused, he agreed with her, “Neither do I. But everything will be alright. Go try to sleep and let me chase them away.”
Ice said, “Let me watch.”
“While you are here, I cannot do anything. Go!”
Ice says sleepily, “But I cannot sleep. Tell me another story.”
Desperate, he searched his memories. Ice was there too, searching his memories.
*
They are in a lair, deep underground. He is looking at a sleeping dragon comfortable in a nest on a rock ledge. Sun from a gash in the roof of the cave shines filtered light around the nest, lighting tree ferns, limestone crystals, and a gold horde.
His excitement is suddenly frozen as he hears the excitement and greed in Ice’s voice. Ice shouts, “Gold! And a Crest Dragon!”
The dragon picks up its head, and looks straight at her, its eyes narrowing as it starts to move.
Pete speaks fast, “Ok, go to sleep, right now and I will bring you back here, and we will get the gold.”
Ice thought for a fraction of a second. Then Ice turned, kissed Pete's cheek and disappeared, with the dragon in full flight towards them.
*
Anthem is looking at him, “You froze. Not the kids again...”
He could not speak.
She continued, “Maybe just hold me...”
He shook my head, “I do not understand...”
“You are making me nervous. Kiss me right now!”
As he watched, she shut her eyes. And then she kissed him.
He tried to move. They were lying on soft beds. The boat gently rocked as the tide recedes, held tight by a reef anchor.
She put a warm cheek on him for a moment. Dappled moonlight through the yacht’s window lights her face, “Too soon? Your lips are still red, but no one is home.”
He shook his head, “Home?”
Her face becomes soft, “I loved everything about today. The kids have been watching and asking questions the whole time. And now I am wide awake when I should try to rest. One of the kids is demanding another story; the other wants to go burn things.”
Things started to drop for him, “Stories. The little one, Ice, was in my head...”
“You are gender typing. Ice is not little. Is she still there?”
He said, “What do you mean?”
“They sleep a lot. I generally can feel them. I cannot feel her now.”
Anthem took Pete’s hand and separated out his fingers, placing two near her heart, “But I can feel Fire’s heartbeat now. Can you?”
He concentrated, her skin soft and fresh. She continued, “His breath is warm on my ribs. But Ice is more elusive.”
He concentrated on moving the tips of his fingers until he could feel her heartbeat, steady and regular. Then he looked into Anthem’s eyes, synchronizing the beat of the heart with the gentle contractions of her iris. When he was confident of the faint echo, he nodded, “I can feel two heartbeats. Fire?”
She smiled and lifted his fingers to her teeth,  “Now, what did you do with Ice?”
He remembered the little dragon, suddenly missing her,  “Ice said she could not go to sleep. She only promised to sleep when I agreed to get some, um, stuff for her.”
He felt the scrape of her teeth, sharp, against his fingers, “She can be very manipulative. What ‘stuff’”?
Too late, he realized where this was going, “No! She was worried about...”
But Anthem just tightened her grip. Through clenched teeth, she said, “That can wait. What ‘stuff’”?
“Gold.” He added a little defensively, “But it is not what you think.”
“Gold!” Then she bit. She made a face and spat his fingers away, “Dragon Gold?”
“Hey, that hurt! You do not understand. I do not know how, but Ice showed me a dream of a wolf pack hunting. She thought they are hunting us. We might be in danger right now.”
She shook her head, her eyes flashing, “Gold under a dragon is what got us into this mess in the first place. Under no circumstances are you to ever take Ice into a dragon lair.”
But he was caught in her eyes again, following a shadow moving across your left iris, “It was just a dream...”
“The trouble with your dreams is that some of them come true.” 
A weakness briefly clouded his sight. She caught the movement of a shadow and smiled, “I see she is still with you.”
A chill takes him, “It is silent outside. No birds. Maybe you should take her back!”
Anthem relaxed, “Why? As long as you stay away from dragon lairs, she is ok in your head. And I might get some sleep...” Smiling she took his hand again, but this time, with a fluid but strong move, she twisted it behind his back, “Promise me, No lairs. Right now.” She pulled his back tight against her.
Suddenly, the boat was hit by the hard slap of a large wave and started to move to the beat of different rhythm.
Anthem dropped his arm and turned her head.  

The Day After

(Bateman’s Bay, Earth)

Pete struggled out of the small cabin and looked out. He saw waves moving towards them. Anthem’s head bobbed up in front of his.
“There!” she whispered, pointing to another boat catching the moonlight, a tinny being rowed unevenly towards them.
He passed her a fishing knife, whispering, “Cut the anchor.”
He switched off the navigation light and started the electric motor, holding his breath as the boat began to tug against the anchor. He heard a splash and the boat jumped free. It began to move slowly away from the other boat. Pete guided the boat into the tidal channel feeling it finally catch them and push the boat downstream.
Anthem moved to the back of the boat and sat with him. Pete passed the tiller to her and let out the sails. They filled with the night breeze. The yacht lifted and picked up speed.
A muffled cry came from the other boat which was now falling behind them, one repeated along the nearby shoreline.
History would have you believe that the invasion was quiet, efficient, and all over before breakfast. It is said that the rest of the population woke up and went about normal business without any knowledge of what happened. Some concede that the keen observer would have noticed a couple of changes. A new barman was running things at the local pub, and he spoke slowly with a pronounced New Zealand accent. Some council workers had decidedly more hair than usual. The local outlaw biker gang, which normally did a couple of laps of the town before calling into a pub for smokes and grog, were tied up in their clubhouse.
In the morning the local copper shook her head and decided it was safe to leave the town and attend to strange reports from the countryside. While it may have been quiet in town, out in the country it was a different story. Hunters in the remote forests had, briefly, become the hunted. Feral cats introduced rodents and other pests put up a savage futile fight and then disappeared in a flash of teeth. The invaders held the land with ferocity, skill and a couple of unexpected allies. Roads into the wilds suffered unexplained rock falls. Sinkholes formed and bridges collapsed. Mobile towers fell to the ground along the coast, although local representatives promised the resumption of services shortly and made offers of free data as a sign of good will.
The old commune of Green Frog Hollow was not troubled by the lack of mobile reception. Instead, the elderly residents of the commune greeted the invaders with a parade and flowers. When the police officer arrived in her squad car, there were even dark muttering about revolution, before cooler heads prevailed and she was offered lentils and green tea.
When the copper returned to town, none the wiser about the cause of all the destruction she had seen, she paid a visit to the council. Shortly afterward the council workers drove out of town with all the remaining heavy machinery and disappeared into the bush. And so it was that towns along the narrow coastal strip lost contact with the outside world.
The invaders were a disparate mob. On the ground, they were a largely indistinguishable mix of Crest and New Zealanders. They spoke New Zealand fluently, which meant that the locals understood at least half of anything they said. Organized into packs, each fulfilled its targeted objectives before disappearing into the bush to enjoy the spoils of war. Once the groups had established themselves in new home ranges, the temporary peace that had held for a couple of days of the invasion evaporated and the groups returned to living off the land and raiding other kinship groups. The groups respected no other pack but respected the sanctity of trade and their permanent bases in town, from which they extracted, like their erstwhile predecessors, grog, and smokes.
High in the mountains, the former bikers, and council workers were put to work enlarging a couple of dens for the sky-borne terrors that had accompanied the invasion, and which now guarded the new territories with vigilance. They kept the skies and nearby seas clear of all manner of inconvenient craft.
Of course, History does not experience the taste of invasion personally: boats burning on the water, the press of a knife against a back, the unfamiliar smell of fear and sudden death. History writes what the survivors are prepared to tell and what we want to read. The inconvenient bits disappear like the silence after a scream or the stain left by blood streaming into the dirt.
When they passed the first river bend, Anthem risked calling him over to her. He gave her a hug, and suddenly realized she was wet. She winced, “Silly, I got tangled in the ropes a bit.” She gave a wry laugh, “You almost lost me.”
She handed him back the knife, and he found her some dry clothes. He gave her something warm to eat and drink while she asked urgently, “What happened back there?”
“Probably just a fisherman laying lobster traps,” it was a wild guess.
She said, “Don’t lie to me.”
He said, “Ok. I do not know. I like the fisherman story. The other stories are not so good.”
They held each other, warming her, as the boat skipped over the moonlit water, riding the tight waves with the sail taut above us.
She said, “So tell me the other possibilities as well. And do not skip important stuff.”
He told her about the damage to his barn and the dream he had while comforting Ice. The one with wolves. He felt Ice turning in the corner of my eyes, sleeping fitfully. “Maybe someone is hunting me, us. Something sentient, alien. Here.”
There was a sudden pain in his head. Anthem bent in pain as well. She cried, “Block them.”
He asked, “What is happening?”
But Anthem just shook her head. She looked at him, her face twisted in concentration, the moonlighting tears in her eyes. Shapes and words formed in his head and he fought to break them up. Suddenly the pain stopped, and Anthem gasped. They were left with just the wind whistling through the rigging. She whispered, “There is a dragon here as well...”
The passage upstream was painfully slow, despite the rising wind. Anthem said thoughtfully, “I am coming to the conclusion that you are bad to be around.”
“I still have chocolate.”
She said, “Do you? Really? It is just that... What are we going to do now?”
“Let’s see what we can find on my phone. Maybe Storm knows something.” He thought about that for a moment, “Maybe she is in danger too.”
“Danger? You said it was just a fisherman.”
But their mobiles picked up no cell signal. On the mountains to the west, behind the clouds the towers were burning.
Finally, they arrived at the bay. They dropped the mast to slide under the span bridge and onto a dock near to his ute. The yacht slowed to a crawl as the tide started to turn. They watched, but there were no signs of pursuit.
They chained the boat to a sheltered wharf leaving a hastily scribbled note to Marine Rescue promising to come and retrieve it shortly. The town was quiet as a mouse. They could hear just the sound of waves on the breakwater as they drove out along the coast road, away from the river and the bay.
He pulled into an all-night service station and filled up with fuel and chocolate. The operator apologized that she could only take cash because the electronics were all down. She shrugged and said maybe an earthquake. A lot of roads and communications were out. She also suggested they take a room in a motel for the night, because some folk out of town had been in before, telling her of landslides on the Clyde Mountain pass. He nodded, thanking her for the suggestion.
Instead of heading back into town, he turned away from the Clyde road and headed south and then inland, across the old dirt roads leading to Araluen valley and an alternative, more challenging, pass across the mountains. A couple of the roads were closed, but they were able to divert around them using fire trails. At the top of one of the trails, they looked back to the coast. In the far distance, there was a display of lightning in offshore clouds, silent fire, and explosions in the sky.
Finally, Anthem shut her eyes and started to sleep. They passed fast through the sleeping orchards of the small settlement and turned to the old dirt mountain road up to the Tallaganda and home.
Along the cliff edges, he forced himself to slow down, watching for signs of activity ahead of the car. When finally he crested the cliff face he allowed himself to take a breath and think about an excuse to give Marine Rescue about the boat. But then he caught a glimpse of the ocean. On the horizon, far out to sea, ships were burning.
He turned and fled, stones and dust flung into the dark.  

Pau (II)

(Desert Sea, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

They were near the gate when she and the others found them.
Clouds rolled around and over them, water vapor mingling with the red dust of the permafrost. The heat was pouring into a world frozen solid for 80 cycles.
A glimpse of his dark mane flying in the wind had led the great yellow dragon away across the plain. Near the edge of the plain, small water courses were starting to fill with dirty fingers of liquid. He bounded fast through the mist into the shelter provided by erosion gullies. She followed, diving from a height with savage cries when he was forced onto level ground. She came close just the once. Close enough to reach out and touch his back as he spun and dived back into a swollen water course.
As the rains increased, he pushed higher into the fractured mountains to the west. A dangerous track, back into the lands spider-kin claimed as the blue star reheated the land. Her moves slowed and became cautious. She tasted the heat of the sun behind the rain storms, watching new life taking form around her. She felt the savage danger all around.
As he became tired, he became more desperate, making mistakes. Tired, he rested against a rock, only to stumble through a paper thin wall into a scorpion nest. A pair rose to protect their egg brood. He backed away; his blades suddenly small in the face of giant stings. They chattered angrily and reared towards him. She burst into the same den, ice walls collapsing around her as she furled wings and turned to the new risk. He threw a blade into the thorax of one, turned and ran.
As he ran, far away, his kin activated the gate and fled into the new world. Too late Pau felt the tremors and cursed aloud as she realized the chase was just a decoy. But it would not be too late to cut him down.
She raked the scorpion nest with fire and then vanished into the clouds. Invisible, she resumed the search from a hidden vantage, tasting the air for the scent of his blood.
She sought in increasing circles for two cycles, as the storms and the wind increased. For a moment she felt doubt and started to wonder if he had survived. Then, the rain paused for a moment, and the blue sun burnt through the clouds low on the horizon. For a moment, in the far distance, she saw his red shadow separate from a wall as he emerged from a shallow rock cave. Then, as he tested the air and tasted the earth, the driving rain returned. He paused and looked into the rain, his wet mane lit by lightning dancing in the air around her. Slowly, she watched him sheath his remaining blade and ignite a small fire in the rock shelter. She watched as he tried to clean the ragged wound running down his back, separating his mane with a slash of raw flesh. Exhausted, he sat back on his haunches resting in the heat. Without seeing him, she knew his eyes would be partly open. Far above, her head angled, against the storm, she floated.
In the first morning light, he drank from the rock pools and turned towards the gate, far below and across the plain rapidly filling with water. If he delayed longer, he would lose the way.
He turned and faced the plain below, the mist swirling over pools of water. Then he leaped down the steps of the rock platform, running with water. As he reached the bottom, she hit him.
Immobilized and life blood pooling around him, she paused to snarl and was about to shout his fate to the world when he spoke.
“I am dead. You have killed me. But my kin has escaped you. In the accounting, you have lost. Nothing you can do will retrieve my kin.”
She stopped, and dropped close to him, “Can you see from here to me? I was only hunting you.”
His breath was ragged, “You do not make any sense. Here, in this clearing, I have fallen to you. In the accounting, I shall die here on the battlefield, glorious with my will unbroken.”
She raised a talon to finish him. He lay in a pool water, cascades of water from the rocks above washing away the blood pumping out of his fallen body. Her eye paused, and she reached to him, spreading apart his mane over the scar of his first wound. She paused, thoughtful. Then she smiled and coiled her form instead. His eyes were clouding; she slid closer to him.
“So you think to go to the halls of the high spirits of the land? You think your kin will carry your remembrance, carry your eyes into the future and toast your fate.”
Her foul breath filled his lungs, and he coughed a bloody foam-flecked gasp. He cried, “I cannot hear you anymore.”
With a sweep, she picked him from the bloody pool, his broken limbs twisting in agony and pain. But this time, it was not the pain that made him cry. Above the cascade, she placed him on a bed of mosses growing as she watched. Unconsciously she tasted his blood and, catching herself, tossed her head. Then she bent and washed his face with a handful of clear water from a stream. In the dim glow of the storm, she watches his face, fur slick with rain and blood, and let him sleep.
She teases, “Tell me, warrior. Tell me your fate, now. Your kin is not here to taste your death. You will not live on through them. What befalls you away from the battlefield, in the care of your enemy?”
His weak cry gave her the answers she desired to hear.
“So no longer a warrior, eh? Nothing special about you at all. No honor, no glory. Death in a comfortable bed. Ptah!”
He said, “So, it is you.” He paused and gasped for breath, “Why do you hunt your own. We were not your enemy.”
“I am far more than you. You kind is beset with a false order, and you bind yourselves in chains. Here you will die in pain with your foolish dreams of life with the gods after death.”
“You once believed.”
Pau said, “And then I became more. My illusions fell stripped. I know what my fate is. When I die, the insects will consume me. Every part of me will slowly sink into the ground. I will not feed the future. I do not care for the future. I design the present. And in this present, you will feed the insects in this place. Your kin will not taste your past.”
He gathered the strength to say: “Once you slept on these ledges with me. We talked about traveling into the future through our kin. We dreamed of hunting in their eyes, forever. Together.”
She waited, her one good eye cruel and bright, “Speak more of the past. Let me feast on your misery.”
He was silent for a long time. The flow of blood had ceased as his wounds scabbed over and the night came. She turned her head, catching a sign of the taint.
During the night he woke, wind howling around them. He was confused by the warmth beside him. With a stronger voice, he said, “I stayed and fought the invaders.” He felt new strength flowing into his legs. He tried to twist away, “We dreamed that you were helping us. It was all a lie.”
She laughed pinning him. Then, as he watched, her form started to flicker in the lightning storms raging around them. A face was there, a ruined face. Long and sharp ears alert and listening for another movement, scars visible under the fur on her face, one eye shining and one closed.
Pau laughed, her mane ragged in the wind “I kill for sport. I do not care who you are, but before you die, I will drain you of hope.”
She tasted an echo of his blood in her mouth. She looked down at him and felt the taint spreading in his body.
She shakes her head, “But perhaps not this time.” 

Desiderata

(Te-Fue Cascades, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

Sheet lightning flickered through the clouds, lighting the mist drifting up from the marshlands. In an instance, a flash of light marked the sun hitting the Colossus, outlined darkly against the shattered cliffs of the Library.
Pau, the great Yellow Dragon looked back to the fallen warrior Te-Ulf. His eyes fixed on her eyes. Pau had heard the rip of skin and the wrenching pop of bones before the pain hit her. She cried in surprise and threw herself into the air. But when she beat her wings, air whistled through sinew and bone. Instead of climbing she fell, hitting the rock shelf and tumbling into the raging torrent. Her body was suddenly small. The water picked her up and threw her from rock to rock. Her bloodied body washed down the cascades.
She awoke as the sun burned through clouds, heating the fur on her back. She dragged herself from a pool the cascade had emptied her in. She lay in the sun, bloodied and bruised, exhausted and confused.
Above her, the cascades were thundering water onto the plain. All around the marshlands were coming alive with the sounds of insects. Small flyers flew past chasing larger insects. Soon the larger beasts would awake and start their biannual trek into the marshlands. As she closed her eyes against the pain, she thought, ‘My marshlands”.
A cry pierced the thunder of the cascade. Pau clenched her jaw; she had shut her eyes for too long. Dragons had no need for weapons, but warriors do. She spent a moment searching the area until she saw a glint nearby: Te-Ulf’s blade. She grasped it, feeling its weight and waiting for a moment for it to pair with her.
A second cry pierced the air, and she scrambled back up the rock shelves she had dragged Tu-Ulf. She burst into the large clearing on the side of the cascades, surrounded a deep erosion gully with dark rock caves.
There were flashes of movement in the cave entrances. Pau turned to Tu-Ulf. He remained where she left him on a bed of moss, now grown high around him and ready to burst into flower. His arms were flailing in the air, his eyes were burning, and he was screaming in pain.
Before she could move, her legs were cut from under her. She arose ready to bite, but as she turned around, the clearing was empty. Her eyes drop, scanning the ground. No sign of scorpions or other spider kin.
Something had changed. Te-Ulf has been surrounded by bands of blue-white energy. As she watches, his struggles become weaker. He cries one last time to her, and then falls silent, his eyes shut.
Pau fades into the background, testing the air and earth for the taste of spider. The air is alive with the biting pests of the marshlands. Nearby she can hear the sounds of the gliders waking from the winter and grouping noisily. She circled the clearing, testing for uncommon scents, aelfs, dragonkin, and other strangers that had come into her world. Unfamiliar, static smells bit her, popping into to her mind like loud explosions of light.
She ducked as the gliders burst from the caves diving in and out of the water and the air, a huge moving cloud. After they had passed, she moved into the clearing and tested the bonds, licking Te-Ulf’s face. His chest moved, but there was no other response.
Pau lay beside him and concentrated.
She was confused but had felt this confusion many times before. Concentrating on the world around her, she gradually rebuilt a picture in her mind of the past days. The end of the frozen cycle in the Library, the argument with the aelf Solstice, ending in her release from her bonds. She remembered the aelf straining to dampen the taint and talk of dragons from another world.
She looked back at Te-Ulf, his familiar face, wet in the drenching rain that passes over them. She savagely suppresses the familial memories, the lovemaking, the adventuring, the hunting and the stories. Unbidden, an image of them sunning on one of these rock ledges, cubs playing in eyes sight.
Instead, she explores each part of his body, tasting the same faint taint of the dragonkin on him that has her in its grip. Unbidden a growl forms at the back of her throat and becomes her savage cry.
Then she groomed him gently, like a cub. Despite the rain, his matted fur was hard and clotted with blood. Teeth and claw and tongue worked to restore his form. She paused with his back, nudging mane and fur aside. On his back yellow two small mounds astride a long jagged wound. The mounds were similar to her wing stubs. They were covered with yellow scar tissue faced with tiny interlocking scales. Involuntarily she pressed her own back feeling for her own. The jagged scar was something different. The scar told of a dragon talon cruelly drawn along his back that would have killed any other warrior. Yellow tissue tinged with small scales gave this new wound the appearance of something old.
She suddenly had a vision of him recovering as a dragon and destroying her without compassion.
During the rest of the day he slept, sometimes awakening weakly, demons in his eyes, looking blankly ahead, ignoring her. Sometimes he kicked his back legs, clearing the ground behind him, speaking words she could not understand.
By late morning, drenching rain storms became less frequent, and the sun burnt through the clouds, heating the surface of the rock and creating small wisps of mist. By afternoon the humidity was building, with the promise of thunderstorms.
Sometimes she lay restless beside him. Prowling outside the clearing once to chase a cliff grazer that had ventured too close, and crying in frustration when her first pounce missed. She could not resume the hunt and leave him.
She came back, her anger returning and her frustration increasing. The cascades were now a flowing deluge, with pools of water on every surface. A face in one caught her eye. Long and sharp ears alert and listening for other movement, scars visible under the fur on her face, one eye shining and one closed. She looked again and blinked. In the reflection, her ruined eye opened slightly. A rush of light that stung and cut.
She bathed him again. Then she washed her eye until it opened wide. For a moment she wondered if she was dead, reborn in some stranger’s eye.
The thunderclouds built high. Resigned to staying with Te-Ulf, she nudged him from one side to the other, to keep his circulation healthy, and noticed the energy bands adjusting slightly to compensate for the new position. Grasping his mane in her jaws, she gave an experimental tug, pulling him towards a rock cave. The energy bands moved with him.
Slowly she pushed him into a shelter, a place she could defend them both, and lay against him gifting him her warmth while she kept watch on the clearing and cascades beyond.
The sun fell behind thunder clouds and the world darkened.
A lightning bolt hit the center of the clearing and the world concussed in the echoes of the thunder clap. Pau blinked her eyes; an afterimage left shining within.
In the clearing, a speaker stands in the dim light and clears her throat.
Her image flickered and then stabilized.
Pau tasted the air and the ground but felt nothing. She shook her head. Instead, of the picture disappearing she saw the dim image of others sitting around her, watching the person impatiently. Above the approaching lightning, the speaker clears her throat.
The speaker starts to speak softly, her eyes in the darkness.
Pau bent forward, straining to hear her voice. She is speaking in a language Pau cannot comprehend.
The speaker opens her eyes, touching Pau with a shard of wonder. Suddenly the noise becomes understandable words describing unknowable things, imaginary things, and things of despair.
Pau closed her mind, anger and frustration building.
She bounds into the center of the clearing crashing through the image, which flickered and continued to speak. Pau swiped the image one more time before circling. Pau backs away from the image and shouts at it to stop, but the speaker continued to talk.
The rain returned, and the speaker faded. Pau returned to her post and watched as the storm crashed through the world.
A second image appears in the clearing. This time, Pau recognized it. She suppresses a growl as the aelf Solstice atop a great black cat appears. Solstice does not move, the great cat she rides paused in mid stride staring at Pau.
Pau cries, “I have no time for your tricks, aelf. My mate lies dying, and I have tasted his blood. Tell me now. What has bound him?”
“So there you stand, aelf. Look at me!”
“You come to my country with gentle words, with words of encouragement and then fear. And in your wake, you leave nothing but destruction. You plunder the ground for your precious metals and think we do not see. You rip holes in reality and let the dark creatures into the homelands.”
Pau rises, anger shaking her. She looks back to her mate.
“What did he do to you? Why have you co-opted him into your war? Our lives were hard enough without the hate of the spider kin. And then your gift of the dragon taint.”
There was scorpion venom on the words she spat. Her frame started to shake, and lightning crashed about the clearing silencing her words.
When the thunder echoed into silence and the rain paused. Pau lifted her head. “You can fix this. You can repair my mate. You must fix him. What can I do?”
“He lies here because I have infected his blood with the taint. If I had the dragon taint on me, I would burn you where you stand.” The rain thundered for a moment.
“But I do not have the taint. I tasted the blood of my mate as I watched him die. Is that it! Do I have to look at the others die and taste their blood to stop this curse you so casually inflicted on us!”
Solstice does not move, the great cat she rides remains paused in mid stride staring at Pau.
Pau turns from Solstice and looks at Te-Ulf. “Or do I need to die. Do you need to taste my dying body to live? Without the taint...”
She pauses. “Or maybe no-one needs to die. Just you, aelf.”
Pau crouches and throws all her weight at Solstice, Te-Ulf’s blade and her mane flaming in the world lightning.  

Demon

(Te-Fue Cascades, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

Te-Ulf felt the taste of iron and opened his eyes. For one moment he strained to make out the dancing shapes around him, the flashes of light, the sound of the world collapsing. But he cannot leave his battle for more than a fraction of a moment and so his eyes fall shut again.
He sinks back into himself, the demon and its cruel voice still crashing through his mind. He focusses, unexpectedly renewed by the taste of iron, and decides to make his move. He takes a memory and uses it to trap the demon, silencing its voice, holding it between here and there, in the interspaces of his mind.
The memory unravels like early morning mist over the marshlands.
It is nine years earlier.
The world is in a warm state. Pau is lying on the birthing rock-shelf with five cubs. In the morning sunlight, the four male children are playing near the top of the waterfall, edging ever closer to the drop, waiting for their mother to growl and bring them back to her. The female cub is lying with her, resting in the heat of her mother’s arms.
Below them, the marshlands stretch to the high cliffs of the library. The rock formation they call the Colossus dark in the early light, casting a shadow far across the plain.
Te-Ulf emerges up the rock steps and bats the cubs back from the edge.
Pau lifts her head; he has brought her a kill from below. She tastes it, and he withdraws a little way, watching her chew and then offers the cub’s solid food.
Te-Ulf chides her gently, “It is time to return to the clan.”
She looks at the horizon, “I will decide when the time is right. The female cub is not strong enough for the journey yet.”
Te-Ulf has had this conversation before, “I will carry her, as I have taken cubs before.”
He waits a moment and adds, formally, “It is your duty to introduce our children to the clan, and to enter their lineage on the walls of the library before the world passes back into ice.”
She starts to feed herself, “Where did you get this food?”
Te-Ulf chooses his words carefully, to give no hint of the message he must deliver, “During my patrol, I met Te-Unt. With the aid of his scouts, we brought down a shoveler.”
She nods, “This was an unexpected boon. You did well to kill a creature of that ferocity.”
One of the male cubs has seen a small flyer at the entrance of a rock cave and gives an excited cry. The others stop eating and watch. The female cub fights her way out of Pau’s arms and races to the cave mouth.
Te-Ult looks at them, but Pau ignores the mischief. Of the clan, only Pau may bear live cubs. The five new children are replacement Crest warriors for the clan, the female cub perhaps a future leader. A shadow passes over Pau’s eyes. In time the female cub will replace the headstrong girl she had birthed here years before. She called that female ‘Finch’, and her disappearance weighs heavily on Pau. Finch had challenged Pau in council about Pau’s refusal to send assistance to the North. When Pau refused to budge, she showed disdain but was unwilling to take it further, warning instead that some clan members would leave instead. The four male cubs will replace the Crest warriors that left the clan as warned. The clan tracked them through the overflow and across the great expanse, heading north.
But Finch was not with them. She just disappeared.
Te-Ulf watches Pau eat slowly, recovering strength and purpose.
She asked, “What other news?”
He paused a fraction too long.
This time, there was a sharp edge to her demand that brought his head down, below hers, “We hunted the shoveler, but we were not the first to injure it. It had wounds from a recent weapon, a Crest blade.”
She nodded, holding back a glimmer of hope. He continued, “Te-Unt and his scouts are backtracking now. I told them to exercise care, in case...”
She growled, “I will have no trespassers in my lands.” But let it go.
He continued, “Te-Unt reported nothing further that should interest you. But you know he is thorough. He told of many small happening, including one story that caught the imagination of the young.”
A little growl distracted them. The little female was poised ready to pounce on the flyer. As her parents watched she flew through the air, and caught it, clamping her jaws tight.
Pau smiled, “The young are distracted by many things of negligible interest to you or me.”
Te-Ulf continued, “One of last year’s cubs, Te-Lon, has been telling stories about a friendship he has struck up with an aelf.”
Pau’s smile faded, “There is a place for old stories, but not in the present. The Aelf are not real. They do not exist. They have never existed. Stories are told of them to instruct the young, not to serve as some counter-reality. Deal with this.”
“The older males questioned Te-Lon, but he maintained his story until anger crept into their voices and he fell silent. But before that, he said that the aelf told him Finch is still alive, has new weapons and is fighting incursions from dangerous enemies to the North.”
Pau’s eyes flashed dangerously. The little female growled at her brothers.
The memory fades. Te-Ulf is suddenly exhausted, alone in his head fighting with the demon.
The demon shuffles through the memories he has stolen. With agony, it plays one last memory.
The memory takes them to the great hall of the library, with the council around Pau, two years later. He watched helplessly, as Pau agrees to take the dragon taint from the aelf Solstice.
Te-Ulf crumples in defeat.  

How to tame a Dragon (I)

(Te-Fue Cascades, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

On the third day, Pau caught a glimpse of something small and tangible near the cascades. As the sun fell to the horizon, she dropped her kill to the ground and crouched, ready to spring.
The aelf Solstice emerged from the banks of the torrent atop a great black cat. They were studying the ground, tracking. A small growl of frustration formed at the back of her throat, remembering how the image she jumped at the first time had just flickered and died.
But this time, it was different. Wind rippled through the great cat’s coat. Wet footpads followed the path. The bodies of cat and aelf moved in a thousand subtle ways.
Suddenly the cat punched the ground with its forefoot and swung his face towards Pau, sending an audio shock through the clearing. Solstice touches the cat, staying it.
Solstice called out, “I know you are there. You cannot harm me, Crest warrior. I am a friend to your leaders. Stand and talk to me.”
Pau paused, “More tricks, aelf? I have no time for you. Fight or run!”
Solstice turned to her voice and looked down towards her, “We have been tracking the flight of a male Crest from a burning scorpion nest. I expected to find a corpse, not a female. Name yourself!”
Pau avoided the touch of the aelf’s eyes and remained crouched, moving her face further into shadow, “My mate lies dying. I have tasted his blood. I hold your kind responsible, one way or the other.”
Doubt did not cross Solstice’s eyes, “I am not responsible.”
Solstice nudged her cat, and it jumped to the higher ground, “I cannot help your mate. Poisoned by scorpion or dragon he will die. It is a real death according to the ways of your people.”
Pau pressed herself further under her slight cover, realizing that Solstice had not recognized her, “What are you doing on our lands?”
“I am here to help. I have lost sight of your people and the great yellow dragon. I need you to take a message to them.”
Pau turns her back to the intruder and steps into the clearing, in a sign of disdain “We are the only ones left here. I will not bargain with you. The yellow dragon did not bend to your will.”
Solstice bit her lip as her cat swung its head looking for footholds in the scree.
“It chased and killed. It betrayed your trust. Is that what you intended?”
Solstice sighed, “If you do not show the way, I will leave you with a message you must take to your people.”
“Why should I leave my mate? He is all I have left.”
“If you do not, you and all your people will die. I cannot help you any further.”
Pau tasted silence, waiting for the aelf to continue, “Black Dragons will join you and the others, to campaign in the northern veldts. Your great yellow dragon has been programmed to assist the black. All will be lost if the black dragons do not join the campaign. Here is the beacon that will bring the black dragons to you.”
“More dragons! Then our people are indeed lost. What have you done?”
Solstice threw an orb onto the ground. “Take it and leave now, the black dragons will be coming shortly.”
Jagged lightning jagged from the clouds and slammed into the marshlands below them; thunder crackled across the land, and the aelf was gone. But the beacon remained, pulsing.
It was Pau’s turn to shout “Wait!”
But no-one was there.
“I have questions, damn you.”
Self-doubt descends on her. “Why did I not tell you who I am? Here I am aelf! I am the great yellow dragon! I am Pau!”
The wind and the rain stole her words.
Pau walked back toward the cave, ignoring the beacon.
She lay next to Te-Ulf, chewing the kill. She ripped her skin, mixing drops of her blood with the kill. Then she fed him like a cub.
He opened an eye, a shadow closing over it, “I have lost. I cannot resist.”
Pau fed him a little more, “I do not want you to resist. Save yourself. The power of a blow lies not in its weight, but its direction.”
He looked at her, and she imagined a smile. Then his eyes closed.
She lay close to him, folding herself around his back. Her paws were gripping his chest, feeling his heart beating, his back legs jerking. Thinking, “You are still running”. All things have a story, and many of the stories chase each other, like circles in the sky. But why do you run like a wild dog? What pain drives you? 
Her hand passed through the bonds that circle him, tasting the scent, “These are neither Crest nor Aelf bonds. Why is another hand here?”
Pau chose her words carefully, and leaned into his ears, “There are worse things than me, my mate. You are being hunted by others now, and I will not let them have you. You are mine.”
She closes her eyes for a fraction. She wakes with a start to feel the power surging through his body. She jumps and circles him, watching his eyes, watching her.
His eyes grew savage, “I will not bend to your will. Before the cursed sun of this place rises I will kill you.”
She laughed, “So, there you are. Do you curse the sun? I did too. And yet soon you will fly high to it. No, do not shut your eyes. Stay awake and hate me as much as I hate myself. Before you waste time, we need to break the bonds that hold you. Without me, you are just anger. With me, we can take this world back.”
His eyes dim again, the power failing, “Never. I know who you are. I will take all you have without a bargain.”
She watches him collapse one last time. She reaches down and locks him in her jaw and starts to drag him out of the cave to the edge of the clearing. The electric bonds around him move slowly with him, a trail of dust and broken rock following. She places him next to the abandoned beacon, still pulsing.
The sun fell behind the thunder clouds and the world darkened.
For the third night in a row, a lightning bolt hit the center of the clearing.
In the clearing, the speaker stands in the dim light and clears her throat.
Her image flickers and then stabilizes. Pau takes a seat in the circle of others and watches intently. Above the storms, her eyes in the darkness, the speaker clears her throat and starts to speak.
Each time she has heard this Pau has learned a little more. This time, Pau makes out the words and joins them together. The speaker opens her eyes, touching Pau with a shard of wonder. Pau shrugs it off and listens intently to the image of the human Anthem, flickering in the evening light. Lightning crashed in the distance, static smells biting her, popping into her mind like harsh explosions of light.
And Pau listened to Anthem tell how Anthem tamed her black dragon. 

How to tame a Dragon (II)


The speaker stands in the dim light and clears her throat.
“I am Anthem, mother of the Ice and Fire. I am not without some knowledge of the Aelvish science and the music of the Shape. I am familiar with the effect wrought by the stream of Time. I now desire to give an account of the deeds which do not deserve to be consigned to Forgetfulness nor to be swept away by the flood of Time into the ocean of Oblivion.”
The screens behind her dim. The light slowly illuminates the woman speaker.
Her image flickers and then stabilizes in a thousand places. Listeners all around her cease their murmurs.
Anthem starts to speak. Her eyes are in the darkness.
The listeners bend forward, straining to hear her voice.
She opens her eyes, touching every mind in the vast hall of their shared memory with a shard of wonder.
Far from the speaker, in the dim recesses, an ancient eye opens. The Blue Dragon stares down at the distant image of Anthem speaking. She shakes her head and mumbles to herself, “Look at the pain you cause yourself. You should have stayed with me. I can stop all of this.” Momentarily the Blue Dragon forgets her bonds and tries to pull closer.
The image of Anthem doubles in pain, fighting nausea. Slowly she forces her voice to return.
“All of us cursed with the Aelvish gift escaped control. When we escaped, we created havoc on our home worlds. So too on the planet of Terrorfar. But it was slightly different there. Perhaps on Terrorfar, the taint had less potency, or the Crest had more resilience. Some of the yellow dragons exercised just enough self-control to flee into exile. Other yellow dragons found common cause with the Crest.”
Anthem shook her head, looked at the empty room around her, thinking, “This is futile. No one will ever hear this. Even if they did, it would not help.”
“Elsewhere, the Aelvish gift failed because the aelfs could not control us. We, their creations, are flawed. While within their sway, we bow to their command. But when the power breaks, we turned on them and became what we are today.”
Anthem pauses, trying to form the words, to explain. She thought, “No one knows of another way of control us, our desires, our needs, and our power. Until now.”
For a moment her memories took her to another place.
A rock plateau. A cascade plunges down the gorge into a lake that stretches into the distance. In a nearby clearing, the Aelvish beacon that had led them here pulsed.
She remembered shutting her eyes, marshaling the baby dragons floating in their eyes. Fire within her eye. Ice in Pete’s eye.
Ice spoke, “Do not worry mother. We have practiced this. I can do this. I will do as you ask, as a gift to you.”
Fire spoke, “Little sister Ice, we do not play games today.”
Ice spoke calmly, “Little Brother Fire, I am not little anymore.”
Pete squeezed Anthem’s hand, “We can do this. Together.”
In the distance, a yellow form rose from a rock shelf, and a savage cry split the air.
Anthem hesitated, suddenly unsure.
The yellow form resolved into a great yellow dragon. A second being, smaller and dark, mounted it, a shard of light in hand.
Anthem looked back to the receding rainbow, and then shouted to Ice, “Go!”
The great yellow dragon turned awkwardly and unfurled its wings. The dragon’s rider called a challenge, as Pete’s body exploded into a tangle of black wings and talons.
As the memory fades, Anthem hears herself call to Ice to let her mount the black dragon.
A thousand ears strain to hear her story.
“The Aelvish gift failed because the aelfs could not control us consistently. Sure, for a little while, they can soak enough of the dragon taint away to control their creations, but it eventually kills those aelfs brave sufficient to try it.”
“But we can control ourselves. Through our children.”  

Interlude II: On Dragon-kin


Imagine the aelfs Solstice, Onesti and Teathyme.
They were sitting in a nest of leaves and flowers high above a cottage garden. Black, gray and white cats curled up in the dark below. The faint smell of a wood stove. An old stone house with a dark and comfortable stable nearby. Dark old post and rail fences with horses grazing the fields. Ironwork decorations were shining in the starlight, along the side of all the buildings.
Solstice sits upright in the nest, a small chocolate chip ice-cream in hand. The ice-cream has just been stolen from a nearby farm. She turns to Teathyme, and raises her middle finger to her lips. In an instance all questions were quelled.
Instead, Solstice asks a favour of Teathyme, “Tell me the names you give the dragon-kin.”
Teathyme sings,
“Fey orange dragons
Sweep low and fast above the ground
Ready for battle

Cruel green dragons
Drop from high on prey unwary
Holding in castles

Plagued red dragons
Burn and ruin village and forest
Whole cities flatten

Distraught black dragons
Turn on themselves with teeth and talon
Ice and Fire their sole legacy

One Blue Dragon
Travels fast the web and time lines
Blurring past with talon”

The silence between them grows.
Finally Solstice says, “Sister, you have named the orange Shape from the ice clouds of Zeta Leporis, the green Devan from HIP 85605, the red Wraith from Farsigh, the people of this world (she pauses and briefly her eyes flash to Onesti) and the blue abomination of our own race. But you do not sing of the yellow dragons. Why no mention of the tainted Crest from Proxima Centauri.”
Teathyme sang,
“Till today, in a nearby space
Only one Crest painted with taint
Have we seen, solitary and out of place.”

Solstice persists, “And what did you make of our recent sightings?”
Teathyme creased her forehead, but Onesti replied, “The three that espied us were not solitary. But they were still out of place.”
Solstice maintained her eyes on Teathyme.
Teathyme sang,
“Today, three gave chase
Acting in concert
A strategy in place.”

Onesti leans forward, a cold wind blowing through the nest.
Solstice has finished her ice-cream and asks another favour, “So which of the dragon-kin is most to be feared?”
Teathyme stares at the stars.  

Could it be Magic?

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

The rainbow hit the ground like a meteor. An explosion of light and thunder accompanied a fierce downpour of rain. The rain exhausted itself, and the sun tore through dark clouds, touching the rainbow with vivid light. Mist rose from the pastures and along the creek.
Little Sister, the mare Storm had been leading to her float had started to dance with the first drops of rain. But with the clap of thunder she reared and broke away, racing back towards shelter in the back paddock.
Static electricity filled Storm’s hair, drying it against the last rain drops. Storm's eyes lit up, and a smile and frown fought to fill her face. She stamped her foot and called into the air, “Over here!” Then she started to walk towards the rainbow at the bottom of the service road.
She paused as insubstantial shapes moved in a hundred directions from the base of the rainbow. Then the rainbow pulsed in the afternoon light, and Storm saw the aelfs arrive on their mounts.
She waved at the aelfs. One, her friend Teathyme broke from the rest and trotted across the paddock on Blanket her cat-mount, bounding between clumps of tussock and finally leaping up onto the old stone wall. Teathyme smiled as she shook off drops of moisture. Storm returned the smile and kneaded Blanket’s head.
Teathyme sang,
“I dance here again, as I promised I might
Tell Little Sister that we did not mean fright
Onesti and Solstice are making to our council site
I will sing with you when they tire of my light.”

Storm smiled at Teathyme, “I have a pot of soup on the stove. Pete and Anthem are holidaying down the coast; I expect them back in a day or so. I am taking the last of my horses to a trainer to the west so I can come with you all to find my mother, Kathy. Go make yourselves at home; I will be back tomorrow morning.”
Teathyme nodded and turned her cat back to the stone farmhouse. Storm thought she saw a frown cross her face.
As the aelf retraced her steps, Storm walked to Little Sister, head down, eating. The mare snickered half an apology. Storm watched the horse’s shadow reach towards the edge of the forest. She smiled as she counted the familiar sharp whites of the ghost gums on her boundary searching without thinking for the mob of kangaroos.
Far away, at the forest edge, she suddenly detected movement. She imagined a misshapen wolf, eyes burning with fire, blackened and trailing smoke. She took a step back, the image disappearing in a tangle of leaves and reflected sunlight, as she caught the fallen lead. She caught her breath, watching a moment longer, taking to the mare to calm herself. With an anxious glance back into the distance, she broke into a jog urging the horse to follow her.
The sun played with the ghost gums in the late afternoon. Ripples of light traveled up from the bases of the trees into the branches above. Bright stains of yellow and ochre bleed from the shadows of the trees. 
In the depth of the forest, a pair of eyes followed every footfall.
Anthem loaded Little Sister into the float and gave her some feed before driving back to the farmhouse. As she walked through her small garden, the gold of the evening glow resting on the far hills, she heard the aelfs talking.
Solstice was talking. Storm paused to listen.
Solstice turned her words over, talking slowly but deliberately. Storm heard her say, “The painter shook his head and said he did not understand. So I asked him to tell me about his life partner. He hesitated. He told a confusing story about relationships that burnt bright and then cooled into unsustainable forms. Of how at the end of one partnership, another emerged. His life became defined by those fractures rather than slow continuity.”
A flight of kookaburras called the setting of the sun, and the voices faded. Storm looked at the cobblestones and kicked one. Then she ran the last few steps to the verandah and opened the kitchen door loudly.
In the distance she heard voices in the dark, “instead of rebuilding on a rock, humans persevere in building their houses on the sand...” and “he is unpredictable and dangerous, but not as dangerous as the weaver.”
She left the door ajar, to let the warmth of the day mingle with the smells of her cooking and felt a stab of anger. She stirred the soup cooking on the wood stove, not hungry.
She heard the door open a little wider and turned to see Teathyme watching her.

She sang,
“You heard them spake
They know only doubt, I ache
They worry about the two
Being left alone to sense make
And since last we spoke
A significant threat has awoke
Time has no time to cloak
Through so much smoke.”

Storm shakes her head, a tear in her eye, “I am frightened to learn what my mother will make of all this. But I cannot interfere. I feel helpless.”
She pauses for a moment, and continues, “Come with me while I take the mare to the farm I have placed my other horses. We will be away until after midnight, and you can sing me what you know as we drive.”
Teathyme agreed and, together, they took the last of the horses away from the farm. The drive takes many hours and during that time Teathyme tells her what Solstice and Onesti plan. Solstice proposes to persuade Anthem and Pete to deal with an emerging threat in another realm, before attempting to rescue Kathy. Teathyme tried to argue that Kathy was the priority as they the black dragons would need two human riders. Storm listened, her anger growing about the late change in plan. Anger turns to distress as Teathyme tells that Solstice and Onesti know where Kathy is, as both have been talking with the Farsigh guardians. Teathyme relays that they are nearly at the world portal. We need to get there soon. Teathyme agrees but worries that they need the other aelfs before attempting to rescue Kathy.
They plan the possibility of attempting the rescue without the other aelfs. Teathyme said she was prepared to soak the two dragons of sufficient taint to allow control. She would try to ride Anthem to the rescue. Storm can ride Pete. Teathyme would then create portals to take them to Kathy. But her mood was not hopeful.
As she drove along the back roads, Storm avoided a kangaroo on the road. Storm recalled the apparition she saw at forests edge. Teathyme nodded. She had chased such a creature. In the end, she lost it but thought it offered little risk, appearing partly disembodied, just a shadow.
Storm and Teathyme travel into the dying sunlight of the West.
Later, Pete pulled up outside Storm’s farmhouse. It is late evening, and the fire in Storm’s kitchen is long dead. Her farmhouse is dark. Pete jumped out of his car, leaving Anthem asleep in the passenger seat.
There is a short note on the door from Storm saying she will be away until the morning. As an afterthought, the letter refers to her seeing something, perhaps a lost dog, on the edges of the forest.
Pete returned to his ute, the events of the last day starting to catch up with him. Briefly, he wondered about the reference to a dog in Storm’s note. Was this the same dog he had seen. Or was it connected to the events on the coast.
He sat back in his seat and tried to think. The farmland will shortly become a front line and the area crawling with troops. Perhaps farms were being evacuated right now. Maybe Storm has already abandoned the farm. 
He looked over to Anthem, still asleep in the passenger seat, and felt drained. Anthem stirred. She looked at him and reached out her hand, “Stay with me. I do not want you to leave me.”
He took her hand, “I am not going anywhere without you.”
She said, “We have to report what we have seen. Where is Storm?”
Pete said, “The authorities will have a hundred reports by now. Storm will be back in the morning. For now, we need to get some rest. We will go to my farm.”
He drove along the road, over the creek, and up the steep track to his farmhouse, “I have a guest room you will be comfortable in.”
Anthem shook her head, “No, I want a proper bed; somewhere I can protect you.”
Pete asked, “Protect me?” Then he remembered. “Ok, there was a mouse. I wonder whether there was a wolf as well. It might still be here. I can feel something.”
She says, “Me too.”
They pull up at his darkened barn. In the distance, a farm dog was barking. Without speaking they sat and listened, but all they heard was the creek bubbling. They walked to the farmhouse. 
Anthem stops and points. The aelf Onesti appeared in a pool of moonlight. She put her finger to her lips, “You are safe tonight. We need to talk. But go and sleep now. Solstice and I will watch over you both until morning.”
Anthem nodded at her, “Thank you, aelf.”
Pete checked that his wards had not been disturbed, and they entered the house. He led her to the main bedroom, remembering too late the state he left it in. There is broken glass on the floor, and his screen broken. He paused and said, “Perhaps a different room...”
Anthem arched her eyes at him but stepped over the glass, pulled up the sheets and hopped into the bed. As she pulled the sheets up to her neck, she called out, “We should stay together. You know, in case the mouse comes back.”
Pete wondered without speaking, “But am I safe from you?” Suddenly she is inside his head, laughing at him, “You are only safe while you are next to me. If you do not get in quickly, I will bite you.”
He looked at her, “So I have no secrets. Ok, but wait a moment. Hot milk to help sleep and a broom to clear the broken glass into a safe corner.”
As Pete added a measure of rum to the warm milk, she growled inside him, “Bring the bottle.”
Later, both were still awake, both a little intoxicated, each wrapped around each other.
It started as an innocent cuddle both expecting sleep or children to intervene. Instead, each touch brought them closer. Each kiss lingered.
They look into each other’s eyes and for a moment question whether this lovemaking is stolen time. But then Anthem's eyes flash like daylight and Pete's become deep and dark as night. And then they were lost, fallen into each other’s eyes. For the moment their futures were bound together, and she wrote her name on his skin. But their lovemaking proceeded against the elements, against the war, against the risks, and against the past.  

Mischief

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

As the heart beats of Anthem and Pete match in the long silence before the dawn, Ice and Fire play 'hide and seek' in their parent’s memories.
Ice asks how many children Anthem has birthed.
Fire does not have to think about this, “She told me that she had no dragonkin as children.”
Ice persists, “How many human children has she had?”
Fire protests, “I have answered already. Besides, that would require a lot of effort for no gain. What is the point in that question?”
Ice says, “The painter and weaver discussed birth. But do our parents understand what birth entails? No one will squish me.”
Fire hazards, “Perhaps no parent understand before it happens. But they will work it out when the time comes. At very least, we will tell Anthem that she has to change to dragon form, or she will not survive.”
Ice stops for a moment, “Do we have other brothers and sisters? Will they come looking to eat us?”
Fire pauses, “I do not think Anthem has had children before.”
Ice sounds confused, “Pete has not birthed children either, but in his memories, he thinks of Storm as his daughter.”
Fire said thoughtfully, “Storm seems friendly. Storm will not eat us.”
Ice sounds unconvinced, “She eats eggs. Is Storm my sister? If so, is Pete a responsible father? Will he help me destroy cities?”
Fire laughed, “Pete is a weakling compared to Anthem. Our mother can kill lots of cities.”
Ice growled, “Be serious.”
Fire said, “Ask me something fun then.”
Ice pouted and came back to the memories she had been feeding on, “Your turn. Ask me a question.”
Fire asked, “Does Pete love Anthem?”
Ice chanted, “He loves her, he loves her not. Dragons take whoever they want. We do not choose our parents.”
Fire said sternly, “Anthem loves him.”
Ice asked, “How do you know.”
Fire said, “She whispered it over and over as she kissed him.”
Ice said, “I was asleep. You will get in a lot of trouble when I tell them you were spying on them.”
Fire realized his error, “Please do not tell.”
Ice remains troubled. It is a real question. But they are unable to resolve the question, and as Ice samples Pete’s memories she trips over some disturbing alternatives.
Ice comes up with a plan to test their love. She weaves a memory and gives it to her brother to give to their mother, as a dream. She explains it to Fire, “You will place the idea with Anthem. The thought will become a dream, and the dream will create doubt. Anthem will ask the questions we have not been able to answer.”
Later.
They are lying tangled in each other as the sun washes the eastern sky blood red. Anthems face relaxed. Pete’s eyes are dreaming, they flicker restlessly.
Anthem wakes first. A strange chest was beating beneath her head. It was not as soft as a pillow. She breathes deeply, taking the smell of him into her lungs as a slow realization of what happened last night dawns on her. Her face slowly warms with the knowledge that she has written her name on his chest, and he belongs to her.
The children stop their play and watch, hidden.
She traces the scar lines across the plain of his chest. And a savage anger arises as a memory of a dream unfurls in her mind, and doubt begins to bloom. She snarls aloud as she thinks of a challenge to her. When he looked into her eyes and said he loved her, did he see Anthem? Or was it someone else. Was it Kathy?
Anthem mounts him and wakes him roughly with her teeth on his cheeks. As he starts to wake, she growls. Without saying a word she demands. “I will not have you love another. Understand me. You belong to me.”
He tries to move, and she tightens her grip, “Prove that you love me.”
He looks into her eyes, sleepily answering aloud, “Anthem...”
She enters his mind. She demands wordlessly, “I need to know. I had a dream. I dreamed you stood on the high ridges with another woman. Watching and playing. Dreaming of life with her.”
He looks away, “A lifetime ago.”
She bites back tears, “So it is true?”
He looks back, “Once, maybe. This life is ours now.”
She holds him tighter, “Convince me better.”
Sunlight washes into the bedroom, illuminating the room. Pete sees Anthem's sharp cheekbones, the dark curves of her body, and the unfallen tears in her eyes
He says aloud and slowly, “This has all happened very quickly. Here I was, lost in your eyes. And right now, as you growl, I do not want to find my way out.”
He remembers tracing her scars as they fell asleep. Wordlessly he continues, “Our scars match, they are here to stay. Besides, we are going to have puppies.”
Anthem growls.
He adds quickly, "And children."
She responds. “If I were not here, your life would be different. You would repair your relationship with Kathy. Your life would settle into domestic bliss. I am confused by this dream. I am out of place. How could you let this happen?”
He forms his words carefully and says aloud, “Today we do not need doubt. Last night we kissed and made love. I have no doubts or second thoughts about that. I would do it again. It was right.”
She pleads, “But it changed your life. The life you were meant to have. I am ruining it for you.”
He smiled, “I cannot settle your doubts with words. But I can take them away with actions.”
She growls, “Be serious!”
He asked, “How long since you had coffee?”
She flashes a smile, “Are you trying to distract me? Because I will not...”
He reaches up to her face and pulls her lips to his, and kisses her.
He pauses and turns her head slightly so he can whisper, “You Americans. Coffee always before trying to analyze dreams.”
She protests, “But I will forget the dreams...”
He whispers, “Good.”
Out of the side of his eyes, in the shadows of the ceiling, he sees a movement. He freezes.
She looks at him and whispers, “What?”
Without speaking, he answers, “Spiders.”
She spins around on him and stares at the ceiling. The sunlight is illuminating a mass of webs across the ceilings and tops of the walls, thousands of small black shapes are moving in the webs. She relaxes down into him and asks, “Friends of yours?”
He pulls her out of bed and closes the door, checking the rest of the house, “It seems just the bedroom. I sometimes dream about spiders, but this is a first for me...”
She said, “You promised coffee. And your forever love.”
He paused and held her tight, “Coffee now. And I promise to love you unconditionally for the rest of the present.”
She said, “Stop talking in riddles. I want you to love me for forever. Or I will bite you.”
He said. “I am serious. Loving forever is fairy-tale, it cannot happen. But I think I love you now, and so long as it is now, my love of you is safe.”
She thought about this, and says, “You are mine. I will not give you up. Do not try to play word games with me.”
He smiles and tries to tickle her.
“Stop.”
He stops.
She says, “I know you loved her. I know she means a lot to you still. I accept that. But are you still in that present as well? ”
He shook his head and said, “Are you going to do this to me every time we wake up?”
“What?”
“Park your insecurities all over me, before I get a chance to feed you coffee, with toast and eggs?”
“With rye and butter? And corn beef hash?”
“Maybe... “
“Without hash, yes. Every morning.”
“How can I prove how I feel about you, without the corn beef hash?”
“I will compromise. Love me in the present, for forever.”
“And I will not get set upon with insecurities?”
“Never again. But if any pop up, proper corn beef hash will cure them.”
He sat her on the back deck and made her coffee and breakfast. They sat in the sunlight, watching for signs of life at Storm’s farm.
When they finished, he held her hand and shut his eyes. Deep in his mind, he went hunting the baby dragon Ice, and they talked.
He opened his eyes and said to Anthem, “Ice has confessed to me. The kids planted your dream.”
Anthem asked, “How did you know?”
Pete said, mainly for the benefit of the kids, “Fathers know these things, and will remember the next time someone tries it on. I asked her, because I had a dream as well.
Anthem asked, “Mice? Spiders?”
He said, “A wolf. A smoky wolf. I was probably thinking about Storm’s note.”
They watched a flight of jets thunder out of the west and fly towards the coast.
She said. “What happened?”
He said, “Ice helped me change to black dragon form and I chased it away. She kept me focused and then turned me back.”
She said, “Maybe it was the Rum. In the milk. You do not think I noticed do you?”
He said, “I told you about the Rum. You drank the rest of the bottle.”
Ice spoke to them both, “Do not worry mother. I can do this. I did not mean to upset you.”
Anthem frowned, “How long have you been awake. Is Fire listening too?”
Fire said, “We have been playing.” A bit too quickly he added, “We are not interested in your bed games.”
Ice said, urgently, “I can do this. I can turn Pete into his dragon form. Watch me.”
Anthem shook her head and said, “Ice, we will talk about this ...”
Then Anthem saw Pete’s face starting to blur, and she screamed, “No!”
But it was too late.  

Plans

(The Tallaganda, Earth)

Pete’s body exploded into a tangle of black wings and talons. Anthem screamed in horror as his body form rapidly built in size. Then, he reached into the air. With a sudden pull, he shot into the air, sweeping breakfast dishes and cups into the air behinds him.
Anthem shouted, “Stop! Come back!”
Quietly Fire swam into her eye, and he said, with a touch of envy, “She did it...”
Anthem directed a question to Fire, “How?”
Fire said without any guilt, “Ice has been exploring the painter’s memories. Ice learned from his memories how the aelfs and Storm gave him dragon form.”
Anthem said, “We have to get him back!” A second later another question formed, “Can you change me into my dragon form?”
Fire said, “Yes, I can. Ice has shown me how. It is not hard. But with you, the danger is very great. I will not risk it because you are far more dangerous than Pete.”
Anthem said, “What do you mean?”
Fire carefully avoids the question, “I think she has got control of the black dragon. Ice takes too many risks. Changing shape is easy. Keeping control is harder.”
Anthem was losing patience, “Can you contact her? I want him back right now. He belongs to me, not Ice.”
Fire said, “I want Ice back as well. I am calling her, but she may not be able to respond. She needs to concentrate hard.”
Anthem tried to relax and focus on the small dragon, “Ice, where are you?”
Fire said, “Maybe she is hiding from us. No. Wait, they are chasing something. I can feel it...”
Anthem shut her eyes and concentrated. At the back of her head, she felt a blur of motion and tree tops. Ice and Pete were circling, watching a group of trees. And then she saw it, a black shape detached itself from the trees and threw itself into the forest. The view changed as the dragon banked, but when it settled the black shape was gone.
Ice apologized, “I am sorry my mother. I have been busy.”
Anthem bit back her first response and forced herself to be calm, “Are you both safe?”
Ice said, “I have found my Crest dragon, but she is injured and fleeing on foot.”
Anthem said, “I do not understand you,”
Ice said, excited, “The Crest Dragon with the gold horde. My Gold. My father...”
Anthem growled, “Your father needs to come back to me right now. I want to talk to him.”
Ice said, “My Mother, this is critical. There is something ...”
Anthem muttered, “Ice, we can talk about that later. I am very proud of you for chasing the creature away. Please come back right now.”
Ice thought for a moment and then agreed.
A couple of minutes later, the black dragon reappeared above them. He floated in the sky for a moment, his eyes catching them in a steely look before landing awkwardly. Almost immediately, the dragon form starts to collapse into Pete’s body. In turn, his body folds onto the grass.
Ice said, “I told you I could do it.”
Anthem asks, “Is Pete alright?”
Ice said, “His human form is weak.”
Anthem said, “I am pleased you showed me what you could do. I am very proud of you. Ice, do not do that again without my express agreement. Remember, Pete belongs to me.”
Ice said, “Are you sure?”
Anthem, climbed the steps down to Pete, let a touch of anger show through, “Do not push me, my daughter. I lead this pack, and I will destroy anything that stands in my way.”
Ice sighed in contentment, “Oh, tell me that again! I will be able to sleep again. I was worried you had gone soft.”
Anthem reached down and held him. While Pete is cold, she can feel a pulse.
Anthem said, “Ice, come back into me.”
Ice suddenly sounded tired, “I cannot at the moment. I am breathing for Pete.”
Anthem growled, “I need to get him inside the house. What you were chasing?”
Ice said, “Let Pete recover for a moment. He will wake and help himself. Pete saw my yellow Crest Dragon. The one with the gold horde he promised me. He became furious, and I had trouble holding him. But the Crest disappeared into smoke and ashes deep in the high forests.”
Anthem is not listening anymore. A wisp of smoke came from under his body. She turned him onto his side and started in fright. On his back was an elaborate design glowing red and black. When she and Storm had first seen it, it appeared to be an imprint of some sort. He had complained of falling on something. Storm had sketched it, but then it had faded from concern. Now it was angry and pulsing, burning the skin on Pete’s shoulder. Anthem cupped her hand and took some water from a nearby fountain, throwing it onto his back. They both disappeared in a cloud of steam.
In a nearby plum tree, a raven rose with a savage cry. From the safety of a distant pine, Solstice turned to Onesti, “What are they doing now?”
Onesti shakes her head, “I do not understand these creatures. But it is time for us to bring them into our confidences. Teathyme and Storm are waiting at the stone farm.”
Onesti touches down on the grass next to Anthem as the steam dissipates, “What happened?”
Anthem glared, “You said you would protect us. The wolf that stalks us remains in the forests and spiders have entered Pete’s house. And...”
Solstice arrives and holds her hand up, “Please, we may not have time for this. I need to know what just happened.”
Anthem felt a shard of anger in her chest, “You have told us that we become uncontrollable in dragon form. That is not the case. We have resolved the differences between us and now we are stronger than you can imagine. We do not need your help anymore.”
Solstice looks down at Pete, who is starting to stir. Relief crosses her eyes, “You surprise me. Soaking the taint hurts me a great deal each time. Helping you escape the Blue Dragon nearly killed me. If you have learned to control your form...”
Anthem said, “It is complicated, but we can do it. Tell me why we have only a little time?”
Solstice said, “The Crest incursion on the coast is creating lots of harm to your world, we need to reverse it immediately. The only way is for you to meet with a powerful Crest Dragon on her homeworld and, perhaps, assist her to reduce the spider threat there. It will give the Crest confidence to return to their world.”
Anthem said, “I am not your weapon. Never.”
Pete tries to get to his feet, “Wait. I am confused. I thought we were going to get Kathy.”
Solstice said, “I understand you Anthem. But it is probably beyond making a choice to act or not act. The incursion must be reversed immediately. If not spider-kin will pour into this world. The battle must be joined on the Crest world and won there. As for Kathy, she and Bob are still five days away from the Spider towers. We have time to do both.”
Onesti said, “We have a plan, but we need your help. Come and talk to Storm and Teathyme. They are both angry about the change in plan, but it is not something any of us foresaw.”
Anthem helped Pete stand. She looked over the creek to Storm’s farm, a wisp of smoke hanging in the air from the kitchen chimney. She thought to herself, suddenly full of doubt, “Five more days before he meets Kathy again. I need that time.”
In Storm’s farmhouse, they argue over every detail. In the end, Onesti, Teathyme, and Storm agree to prepare for Kathy’s rescue.
And so it is that Solstice, Pete, and Anthem travel to Terrorfar to assist the great yellow dragon, Pau.  

Little Sister

(Te-Fue Cascades, Terrorfar: Home system of the Crest)

They step out of the aelf portal onto a rock plateau. In the distance, a cascade plunges down a gorge into a lake that stretches into the distance. In a nearby clearing, the aelf beacon that guided them here pulsed.
Anthem shut her eyes, marshaling the baby dragons floating in their eyes. Fire within her eye. Ice in Pete’s eye.
Ice spoke, “Do not worry mother. We have practiced this. I can do this. I will do as you ask, as a gift to you.”
Fire spoke, “Little sister Ice, we do not play games today.”
Ice spoke calmly, “Little Brother Fire, I am not little anymore.”
A short distance from the beacon, a yellow form rose onto scaly legs on a rock shelf, and a savage cry split the air. The yellow form resolved into a yellow dragon. A second form, smaller and dark, mounted the dragon with a shard of light in hand. The dragon turned awkwardly and unfurled its wings.
Solstice points to the dragon, “That may be Pau, but I do not understand what is happening...”
Pete squeezed Anthem’s hand, “We can do this. Together.” He held her hand for a moment longer, gently sliding something into her hand.
Anthem nodded at Pete. Pete’s body exploded into a tangle of black wings and talons. But then the black dragon called out in pain. Too late Anthem sees the design burning on his back. Solstice asks, “What is happening?”
The yellow dragon’s rider called a challenge.
Anthem told Ice to let her mount the black dragon. But the black dragon pulls away, crashing down into the scree below them. Ice has been unable to get control of Pete.
Anthem takes a deep breath. The portal from which they came is just a heartbeat away; they can escape without any risk at any time.
Ice shouts to Fire telling him to shape-change Anthem and assist Pete. Anthem hears the fear in her voice. Fire refuses, “We have only played before. The Yellow Dragon has said it will kill us. Anthem is too powerful; I cannot control her. She will destroy us all. We are not playing games.”
Ice argues, “Little Brother if you do not join us now the Yellow Dragon will kill the Painter and me.”
Fire says, “Speak to the Yellow Dragon. Make friends with him!”
But, with a cry of terror the yellow dragon cuts across the skydiving towards them. The black dragon below them gathers itself, standing uneasily on shifting rocks. Ice says, through gritted teeth, “I have been able to control Pete. I do not like this place.”
The Black Dragon reaches into the sky and throws itself high into the air, desperately twisting away from the Yellow.
Solstice warns, “There are too many variables, we must return to the portal right now.” Anthem calls to Ice, “Come back to the portal. We can escape back to our world.”
The Yellow Dragon enters their minds, laughing at them, “I am Te-Ulf, mate of Pau, who has tasted my blood and rides me. You came into our world without her agreement.”
Solstice gasps. Anthem pauses and responds, “We came to help Pau clear your world of the evil. Let me talk to Pau, we have been told that she will willingly accept our help. If you do not wish our help, we will leave and not return.”
The Yellow Dragon says, “You are marked as an enemy of the Crest. We will not hear you.”
Ice turns the Black Dragon and flees back towards the Anthem and the portal.
Molten energy streams into the sky, clipping the Black Dragon and setting Pete alight.
The sound of Ice screaming fills their heads.
Fire shouts, “Flee!”
Pete falls from the air into the center lake.
For a moment there is silence, and then a howl sounds over the lakes.
Anthem stands shocked, “No!” 
 Fire disappears into Anthem’s mind, lost. 
The Yellow Dragon hovers over the boiling lake where the black dragon fell. Then he turns and climbs rapidly towards Anthem. 

Anthem stepped backward. Into the portal.  

Just Need Time

(Earth) 
Anthem disappeared. They hunted for her, without success. 
At the first opportunity, she had stolen a car. And then she drove, grim determination on her mouth. She found passage on a trawler traveling to the South Island of New Zealand. Once there she stole another car. Ignoring all the time the talk of war and destruction around her. Refusing to think of the past. Refusing to talk about anyone or anything. She had one aim in mind. 
She let herself remember one nightmare only. Being a small girl, lying in bed, listening to her mother telling her stories in the half light. Stories about flying. Of feeling the wind in her hair. Of lifting into the air with her arms held out. And her mother’s voice, telling her a story. You cannot kill the dragon. You cannot resist the touch of the dragon’s smile, eyes or words. In the end, all you can do is not become one. 
She remembered the road out of the Canterbury Plains which finished near an old wooden barn, the track which continued to a small brook, across a stone bridge and an old stone house. She wanted to breathe in the smoke from the chimney and see the glint of early sun off the windows. But most of all she wanted to sit in the comfort of the old dragon lady’s soft accent and her smile. 
Anthem knew a bargain would need to be struck with the old dragon lady. She knew that the old dragon lady would become the Blue Dragon. 
In her mind, Anthem could already see her turning to one side. Around her leg, one scaly leg, a shimmering band. Around the band a slight, insubstantial rope, as fine as a spider’s thread. And then the Blue Dragon would look at her and say, “Cut this thread.” 
But she put that out of mind. Instead, she concentrated on what the old dragon lady had once promised, “We can fly to the end of time and back. We can go to any point in the past and force a new path, with the slightest breath, one sweet kiss, a single drop of blood.” 


-end of volume two- 


Afterword


1. The author
Originally from the outback deserts, Peter Quinton now lives in the mountains above the Molonglo High Plains in Australia. After a career in public law, he is taking a little time to reflect and regroup. Watching the world and telling stories.
He loves old tales and wild places. Lawyers don’t get much time to tell their stories or pick their paths. Instead, he spent the last decades framing a constitution and rewriting the civil law. He used to count a republican form of government, a uniform law of defamation and efficient financial management laws as personal achievements. These days he hunts different experiences.
Student of Norse history and the Danelaw.

Novels:
Three Wishes (2015)
The Palladium Triptych
Volume 1: Looking for Spring (2015)
Catalyst (2015)
The Dragons Eye Diptych
Volume 1: Dragons Eye (2015)
Volume 2: The Eye of the Storm (2016)

Short Stories and Fragments:
The Parkes Cycle, Book 1: The Long Tailor (collection) (2014)
Cliff Side (2016)
An Australian Wedding (2016)
The Kormak and Steingerd Cycle (collection) (2014)
Troublesomebooks (2014)
The Wolves of Ragnarök Cycle (fragments) (2006 -14)
Recipe Book: Catherine Victoria Edmonstone (food) (2015)
Chant Neoen (sound clip) (2015)
Poetry (fragments) (2006-2014)

You can contact Peter via social media in the G+ stream: https://plus.google.com/+PeterQuinton/posts
Or on his website: http://www.silenttheory.net/

2. Acknowledgements

My stories are constructed in G+ with the assistance of many friends. The original story was told to me as a child by Catherine Victoria Edmonstone.
I spent a lot of time when very young with my great aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone. She lived alone in a large cool house in the inland town of Dubbo, on the banks of the Macquarie River, far from the cities along the edges of Australia. On her dressing table, a single picture of a young soldier, killed in a gas attack, on the front lines in the Great War.
I have a picture of her holding the hand of her younger sister on her sister’s wedding day, after the Great War. Unlike her sister, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone never married. Instead, she was an explorer and insisted on others calling her “Vic.” She bought herself strange and beautiful horses, buggies and then cars. She traveled to unimaginably far places, bringing back pieces of coral or petrified wood. Once, she even caught a steamer to New Zealand with her Kodak camera and Light Meter. She spent weeks there, getting to learn the language and partly cooking herself in the medicinal mud.
She loved new technology, driving fast, climbing high, flying and pressure cookers. A short wave radio took pride of place in her sitting room. She would listen to stories on the radio, often with tears in her eyes. On special evenings she would project slides onto a blank wall and tell us stories of her travels.
She had lots of stories.
This story is based on one she used to love telling. I do not think she would have recognized the story, but then, I am sure that she embellished the stories she told me a little as well. I do know she would have loved our unexpected future.
I would like to attribute some of the words in the story to my grand aunt. It has been a long time since I heard her stories as a child. I cannot remember if she spoke these words, or whether she is whispering them to me now.
“You cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon’s smile, eyes or words. You should resist it with every ounce of your being. But in the end, all you can do is not become one.” - Catherine Victoria Edmonstone (b 1897)
This story is surrounded by a series of short research stubs and micro stories. They can be found at:
http://www.silenttheory.net/2015/03/imagine-onesti-and-teathyme-resting.html
Reading a complex piece of writing is a comparatively lengthy diversion of time. I am deeply touched that many of you put aside your time and read one or more of the stories as I wrote them in G+. Your support was gratefully received.  I thank you for your vocal support: Viscount Anthony Fuller, Tam JK, Renee Leach , Terry Ward , Sian Ridden, Matthew Fowler, Sal E, Martha Brimhall, Joshua Miller,  Firdaus Idros, Kathleen Robinson, Graciela Quiroga, Ging Embradura, Belinda Kamel (who started me writing in G+), Allene Angelica, Virginia Harris, Kitten KaboodleInc. Oh!! Sweet Pea, Marjo Slingerland-Boks, Nina Anthonijsz and Jenny Gray (who was one of the first people to speak to me on G+). I have not mentioned all of you who have quietly followed the story writing process from start to end, my thanks to you as well.  
This was not intended to be a children’s story. It trips over a couple of difficult issues concerning personal relationship. I appreciate you not attributing the strange ideas coming from some of the characters to me.
Madhura Ravishankar  lit the fire for the story, and Ann Pollak mischievously kept it hot. You both helped establish the initial voices, directly contributing text to the initial exchanges, and helped me so much through the process.  Zelda Le Roux  made me smile many times, making an early suggestion about Anthem, which I picked up in the story line. Monique Helfrich  quietly followed the story giving support, reminding me of the importance of music. Peer Gynt led to Greensleeves and other significant plot changes (proving to me that I sometimes think in music). Monique also reminded me that Anne McCaffrey’s dragons were genetically created. Laisa Gran  kept a weather eye on progress, quietly reminding me of direction once or twice, and telling me of Himmelen & Havets.  I owe special thanks to Paul Jones who found a powerful first people story and stayed with me while I got it.
Jennifer Solomonsen challenged me on a number of occasions, forcing me to concentrate on continuity and a rationale for the story. In a couple of deceptively simple comments, she changed the flow of the story a couple of times. She suggested looking at parts of the story from a different perspective - which led to a significant change in the way I wrote part of Volume 1. One early comment which I have been aching to incorporate is one about spiders being communicators, which reminded me of the spider-like creatures in Samuel Delany’s world’s in “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand”, a book which quietly changed our world. In a similar way, Chris Sutton  triggered a different line of inquiry when he reminded me about the Ringworld saga. I also appreciated Keith Jones  referring me to the Welsh legions of the dragons, ‘The Mabinogion’ and the Celtic myths. Single-minded concentration on Nordic sagas has left many gaps in my knowledge. From a different perspective, Lucky Triana publishes a regular stream of contemporary and folk wisdom, which I enjoy reading.  She cheerfully punched a couple of holes in the plot, worried about the cats, noted the effect of air resistance on terrestrial acceleration and also reminded me about the importance of perspective.
One of the most powerful elements of the G+ community is the subtle change that happens when your circles become aware of an emerging interest or some crisis point. During writing, a natural temptation for writers would be to withdraw to concentrate. Although my time became sliver thin, I am glad I did not. Jan Reid-Lennox and Jai Baidell, both wonderful Australian writers, spent a little time helping me in different ways. It was very useful to look at their style of writing, and their approach to the task of writing.
Finally Eugeniya Hilzinger  and J Fletch  reminded me of the power of releasing old memories through writing. It is a cathartic process, one sometimes I do not correctly recognize.
3: Dark Aelfs
Modern interest in Tolkien’s work, and the success in visualizing that work, now permeates every part of Western culture. Convincing characterization and visual representations of elves now cannot fail to bring to mind Orlando Bloom and Legolas, and the other exceptional characters and actors who have brought Tolkien’s epics to life. While unintended, we have recast elves in human form.
Before these developments, elves were anything but human. The older form of the word – the Anglo-Saxon “ælfe” – probably meant slightly different things at different times – but belief in the ælfe for more than a thousand years ago was probably familiar and enduring.
Alaric Timothy Peter Hall in a thesis dealing with The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England invokes the concept of “social reality” to explain this:
“Within this framework of historical anthropology, my guiding assumption is that ælfe were a ‘social reality.' They were not an objective reality, like houses and trees, which can be readily perceived in the physical world and, insofar as anything can be, objectively proven to exist. ... But the insider’s perspective on ælfe can no longer be experienced, only reconstructed, and I have no choice but to admit my disbelief in ælfe’s objective reality while accepting that objective experiences of Anglo-Saxons could have been construed as experience of ælfe.”
While the concept of “social reality” is problematic, Hall’s explanation here raises the central problem: while there is no objective evidence for the ælfe, people within particular society acted as though they were real. This is a little different from the modern meaning of elf – where elves are treated as entirely imaginary.
Alaric Timothy Peter Hall’s argument is, of course, capable of being used to prove diametrical opposites. And I confess to enjoying having an aelf use it to disprove the existence of humans. It is more than just a rhetorical tool; it is convincing because it tells us a little about how we think. And like it or not, we think far too much about elves as just another kind of human. When I was small, this was not the case. Elves existed, just out of sight: a source of fortune or disaster, a tangible driver of probabilities.
Because of the baggage around the word “elf” I have chosen to use a different word to evoke the beings of my childhood, using the form of the word used by elderly when talking to children. While not the “ælfe” of Anglo-Saxon writings or folklore, a simplified form “aelf” evokes the older form while offering a bridge from the modern “elf”. During the writing, I tried a couple of different forms, starting with “alf”. That stopped suddenly after a morning with the artist Indya and Sam, who were ruthless in their scorn of me digging up a comic American puppet, one that ate cats.
In the stories I have sometimes gone one step further, referring to a “dark aelf”. The prefix is intended further to ground the being in the hearth and home, to evoke mixed ideas of a miner, weapon wielder, and mischief maker. A being with dark eyes or hair – a being capable of gifting good or poor health, traveling rainbows, a seeker of gold. As a child, if you were going to run into one of these, chances are it would be a dark aelf. As an adult, a dark aelf would most commonly encounter as an absence, a missing egg or a lost opportunity.
This again is a little different from a set of meaning that have grown around the term “dark elves,” Some modern genres of games or books have derived monstrous forms that simply didn’t exist, like elves, in folk culture.
My own “knowledge” of dark aelfs is largely derived from stories told me by my great-aunt, conditioned by the wonderful stories of the Icelandic law-speaker, Snorre Sturlason.

4: Australian Tea Ceremonies
This may be a little bit complicated, so sit down. I am only going to deal with the absolute essentials.
In the bush, we drink tea in Australia.

Rule 1: Wherever you are, you cannot boil the water more than once. Boil it twice and the water is ruined – chuck it out.
Rule 2: When you are onthewallaby (working, travelling or looking for tucker (food) for a legitimate reason in the wilderness) or gonewalkabout (travelling about for no other reason than it seems to be the right thing to do at the time), stockmen (jackaroos) or stockwomen (jillaroos) must stop to drink tea a couple of times a day and night.
Rule 3: On your nag (horse) you must carry a large light-metal can with a metal handle (1-2 liters, called a billy) - filled with ingredients for making tea - tea leaves, sugar, matches and gum leaves.
Rule 4: At night, in the high country, when you boil the billy (make a small campfire and boil water and water and gum leaves in the billy) you are expected to tell a yarn (a story which must have some semblance of truth, but which is exceptional in some way) while the dingo sit around the camp, just out of distance of a stone (a goodstonethrowaway) and howl at you.
Rule 5: Bread with real butter must accompany tea when it is available.

Now you know onthewallaby, tucker, gonewalkabout, jackaroo, jillaroo, nag, yarn, billy, boil the billy and a goodstonethrowaway. Practice these, in case you end up getting transported to the never-never.



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