Dangling Dragon Glass
by Michael McNichols
Stirred awake, the dragon Malagant flickered his eyes open and yawned. Yet another idiot knight had crawled down into his cave to wave a sword and call him a wretched beast, an unholy fiend, and a curse upon all that was good.
“Run away,” Malagant mumbled though he knew the knight wouldn’t understand him. “Please, one of you just run away for once.”
Instead, the knight, decked out in heroic shining silver armor, charged forth. Malagant shook his head. Why couldn’t one of these knights just take some treasure and leave?
Gold and jewels piled up in massive mounds all throughout the cave, gleaming in the faint sunlight sneaking in through cracks from far above. Every time Malagant woke up, there was more, so much he lost count long ago.
Humans left their valuables here, thinking that if they didn’t he’d torch their little world. As if Malagant had any use for human money! What? Was he going to buy some pants with it?
Smokey black, armor-hard scales covered Malagant from snout to tail. Black apple-shaped pupils swirled around in his monstrous, cloudy eyes. Two dark, majestic wings curled up off his back.
What made any knight think they had a chance against him?
The one here now reared back his broadsword, ready to plunge it deep into Malagant’s heart. Rolling his eyes, Malagant slammed his claw down onto the knight, smashing him into the floor. Not wanting to put up with the vile rotting corpse smell, Malagant picked up and flung the crushed human off the wall fumbling down into the small, cramped hole in the corner. He heard it splash into the rushing underground river below.
“Leland!” a hoarse voice echoed from down a tunnel. “Are you there, lad? We told you to wait for us!”
Armor rattled loudly and heavy feet pounded. Malagant swiveled his head around toward the tunnel opening. Squinting his eyes, he saw perfectly in the dark ahead for miles.
Down that way, a whole band of knights trod forth. They wore heavy armor, wielded swords and spears, and trailed a long, star-speckled banner behind them.
Well, if Malagant was ever going to get back to sleep, he’d have to take care of this.
Taking a deep, gulping breath, Malagant hissed open his mouth. Eerie blue fire erupted, flaring brightly down the tunnel and lighting up the whole cave. The flames swept up all the knights like a great scorching wave, leaving only only ash-caked shadows seared into the cave walls and burning armor scattered across the ground.
That settled, Malagant nestled back down onto the cave floor and curled up, wrapping his wings around himself. Almost immediately, he fell back asleep.
He dreamed of when dragons ruled the skies, hunting and looping through the clouds together, coming down to use their flame-breath to fashion gorgeous glasswork from beach sand.
The world had changed slowly around them. Some lands grew colder, others hotter. Continents shifted. Humans soon appeared and came to outnumber the dragons. It didn’t take long for them to go to war.
With their strength in numbers, the humans did much better than Malagant would have thought, and prevented the dragons from dominating them, even if it was for their own good. Eventually, Malagant grew tired of the constant fighting. The humans just never gave up! He retreated underground to slumber away until they all died out and dragons ruled the planet again.
Of course, all these damn people had to keep waking him up!
Like right now, a sudden sobbing piped up, bouncing and echoing off the cave walls. Malagant tried ignoring it, but his keen ears wouldn’t let him. He sighed.
Whoever was crying probably wasn’t going stop unless he did something about it. Though, at least, this wasn’t another inane threat from an overconfident, borderline-retarded knight.
Wearily, Malagant blinked his eyes open. He blinked again, certain he couldn’t be seeing what he was, but she was still there. A young blonde dainty thing lay before him, wearing a raggedy blue dress. Filth crusted her too long hair and streaked across her cheeks.
His hot breath washed over him, fluttering her dress and hair. She arched her tear-ridden face up toward him. A smile broke out across her mouth.
“You’re awake!” she said.
“I certainly am now,” Malagant grumbled.
“Wait, you understood that? You understand me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“No other human ever has.”
“Then they’re stupid.”
“I agree,” Malagant said, sniffing and gazing the strangely unflinching girl over. “Now exactly what are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” she said. “Here, look at this.”
The girl slipped her little hand down inside the front of her dress and pulled a necklace out. A small, shiny glass dragon dangled at its end.
“I don’t really remember because I was so young,” she said, holding the glass dragon up, “but our village had a dragon. Whenever the invaders came, he protected us. When our men marched off to war, he died fighting side-by-side with them.”
“Fascinating,” Malagant said. “It truly is, but what does that have to do with me?”
“Our dragon left us this.” The girl finger-tapped the glass dragon pendant. “He said to bring it to another dragon if we ever needed help.”
“While that’s clearly a beautiful piece of glasswork,” Malagant replied, “I’ve no idea why it’s supposed to make me want to help you.”
Stomping down her bare, dirty feet, the girl angrily thrust the glass pendant out at him. “You’re a dragon!” she said. “You have to help us! The invaders are back! My parents heard there was another dragon around here, but everyone except me was too scared to come look. My pa would kill me if he knew I snuck off.”
“I’m not what you think I am, child,” Malagant replied. “You’re better off going back to your family and finding somewhere safe to hide from these invaders.”
“But...but I brought the pendant!”
“I’m sorry. Please, take some treasure when you go. Buy a couple of armies with it to fight these invaders.”
Crossing her arms on her chest, the girl flung herself down onto the cave floor, sitting cross-legged and pouting. “I don’t want any treasure!”
Malagant rolled his eyes. “You’re going to make this difficult for me, aren’t you?”
“What are you going to do?” the girl asked. “Eat me?”
“Eat? No, humans don’t taste that great, no matter how well-cooked. But I have killed my fair share. Didn’t you notice all the bones on your way in here?”
“I thought they were bad people. Why else would they be fighting a dragon?”
That took Malagant aback. “You know,” he said, “hearing you say that, I almost want to see this village of yours now.”
Though he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually smiled, Malagant found his fanged mouth widening into one to match the girl’s.
At that moment, boots tromped, echoing all around them, seemingly from every tunnel. Looking nervously around, the girl trembled. Malagant’s larger, sharper ears perked up and traced the noise. He poked his head out over a mound of silver and gold to glance down one passageway.
A small army of knights marched toward him, waving the same star-speckled banner the others had. They’d probably come to avenge their fallen comrades. The ever-increasing racket indicated they’d brought more of their brother-knights along than usual too.
One-by-one, Malagant stuck his head down all the winding tunnels leading here to his cave and found them packed with knights. Soon, they’d have him and the girl surrounded, but even an army of knights hardly frightened him.
However, he didn’t want the girl caught in the middle of a battle. He couldn’t guarantee her safety, and she had nowhere to run and hide. Lacking any better idea, he put his head down to the cave floor and told her climb on up.
“Are you going to fly us somewhere?” she asked, her eyes wide and her hands fidgeting in fear, though not from him.
“Not yet,” Malagant replied. “Just hang on.”
Nodding, she took a tight hold of his scales to scramble up onto his meaty neck at apparently just the right time. The knights spilled into the cave, stepping and kicking over the treasure. Their armor and blades gleaming, they shouted their battle cry. Baring his teeth, Malagant roared, snarling and slicing at the air with his claws to back them all up.
Normally, he’d have torched the lot of them, but he couldn’t just burn all these men to ash and bone right in front of the girl. Such a sight would doubtlessly weigh on her young mind. Plus, she seemed to think he was some sort of hero, and he didn’t want to spoil that for her, at least not yet.
The knights rushed him in waves, poking and slashing their swords and spears. Malagant lashed out his tail, knocking them down to the ground in their heavy armor. More simply climbed over the fallen and swarmed at him in mass.
They stabbed at the weaker flesh between his scales, finally drawing blood with dozens of little pinprick wounds. Scurrying up, they climbed all over him, clinging to his tail, ears, and wings, jabbing their blades into him.
Howling as all the little wounds added up, Malagant collapsed, toppling over onto a good number of the knights and throwing a few more off as well.
Crying out, the girl fell too, crashing down against and sinking into a pile of gold coins. Several knights stopped in mid-sword swing to stare at her.
“He had a girl!” one shouted. “A little girl!”
Screaming at the tops of their lungs, the knights piled onto Malagant, madly spiking their swords and spears into him. Throwing out his wings and whipping his tail, Malagant backed them off, giving him and the girl some much-needed space. The knights, despite thinking that they were now fighting for the girl, were about to trample her. A sparkle caught Malagant’s eye.
Glancing away from his attackers, he saw that the girl’s glass dragon pendant had shattered. Shards of it lay intermingled with the gold coins with cracks of sunlight shining off them.
It dawned on him then. The dragon who’d defended that girl’s village must have fashioned the pendant himself. In fact, with its intricate curves, only a dragon could have created such a beautiful work of glasswork.
And it was so small! It could only fit a human!
That was what he had meant for Malagant to realize upon seeing the pendant. Dragons and humans could live together, and even be friends. Just not all humans. If that were true, he’d have given them all glass pendants. However, only the worthy had deserved such a token, and protection. Like the girl, whom the knights were likely to accidentally kill to get to Malagant.
That settled things.
Malagant’s tail swooped up the girl, and held her high and clear of the knights as he sucked in a great, gasping breath and let loose.
Crackling blue fire gushed out of his mouth, flame-flooding the entire cave, and scorching through the knights and their armor.
The heat became so intense Malagant sweated and felt the gold and silver around him begin melting. His claws snapped around a few bundles of still solid coins to preserve them for the girl. He had been serious before about her buying a couple of armies.
When he snapped his mouth shut, the blue fire snuffed out, leaving melted gold and silver dripping down onto the ashy mess of bones and black-burned armor.
It’d be hard for Malagant to live here now with this mess, but he wasn’t staying. Not anymore. Leaping up into the biggest tunnel, he folded his wings down and squeezed through like a snake.
He shouldered and bashed his way through the hard rock and dirt, crunching old bones and armor beneath him, careful always with the girl wrapped up in his tail. However, he couldn’t help it if she got motion sickness. After he busted up through the earth, leafless trees and muddy grass surrounded him. He took a moment to fill his lungs with the clear, fresh air. It’d been so long since he’d tasted it.
With his powerful legs, he pounced up into the blue, cloudless sky, barreling over a few trees in the way. His wings flapped and glided along with the air currents. Despite his many, many years underground, it was like he’d never left the air.
He soared higher and higher, and then dove down just for the thrill of it, skirting a forest’s treetops. Feeling the wind blitzing past, he howled joyfully, free and, finally, fully-awake.
Curling up his tail, he set the girl down against the back of his neck and her hands dug into his scales. His tail still stayed at her back, holding her still while in flight. He wasn’t about to lose her now.
Malagant pivoted his head around toward her. “Now show me where this village of yours is,” he said.
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I have an MFA from Columbia College Chicago and my work can be seen in The Banana King, Worse Than Pulp, AfterburnSF, Lost Souls, Inclinations, The Externalist, Hungur, Coyote Wild, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Dark Reveries, Leucrota Press, Lumino, The Ranfurly Review, The Fantasy Gazette, Cerulean Rain, SnipLits, Doorways Magazine Life in a Bungalo, Pen Cap Chew, Writing Raw and CinCity. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Labels: Michael McNichols