The votes are in (although about half the time this month I forgot to include the poll in the weekly post) and the winner by a landslide for the next Scene of the Month is perennial favorite Dragon Stones! Will The Wolf ever come out on top again? Who knows? But the moral is, werewolves shouldn’t mess with dragons, on account of dragons breathe fire. At least my dragons do.
Diasa and Pyodor Ponn had been shadowing T’Sian as she searched for Qalor. Ponn was sure they must make a suspicious pair—a tall, pale, armed woman and a short, dark, obviously foreign man—but they attracted little attention. People went about their business as if the two of them didn’t exist. Perhaps Diasa’s demeanor frightened them off; she conveyed the impression that she would cheerfully impale anyone who looked at her the wrong way. Especially now, as they waited for the guards to come out of the Screaming Eagle tavern: She had one hand on the hilt of her sword, fingers opening and closing, as if she were eager to draw the weapon and start hacking away.
A tall, misshapen man came out of the building, along with three of the four soldiers who had gone in not long before. “Qalor,” Diasa whispered.
“What’s going on?“ Ponn said.
“I would guess the alchemist has been summoned to the castle. Perhaps one of Dunshandrin’s whelps has need of an aphrodisiac, or a tonic to relieve loose bowels.“
Qalor mounted a spare horse and the four men rode off in a great clatter of hoof-beats; the remaining soldier’s horse stamped its feet and snorted, unhappy at being left alone.
“One guard stayed behind,” Ponn said.
“He’s probably dealing with T’Sian,” Diasa said. “I wonder what she’s going to—“
Suddenly the guard came flying out through the tavern window, smashing through the shutters and rolling some distance into the square.
“Hellfire,“ Diasa muttered, breaking cover and racing toward the tavern. Ponn followed, listening to crashing noises emanating from within the building. It sounded like T’Sian was tearing the place to pieces.
Passers-by eyed the fallen guard, but none went to his aid or acknowledged the ruckus from within the building; they kept their heads down and hurried on their way, willfully ignorant. Only two dirty, unshod urchins stopped. For a moment Ponn thought they might try to help the man, but by the time Diasa arrived, one of them had stolen his purse while the other kicked him repeatedly in the head. She shooed them away, then grasped him under the shoulders began dragging him back to the tavern door. Ponn lifted his ankles and they carried him into the Screaming Eagle.
The dragon had wrecked the place. The remains of smashed tables and chairs littered the floor; she had ripped sections of the bar out of the floor and hurled them across the room. She was not in sight, but sounds of destruction came from the kitchen.
“T’Sian!“ Ponn cried as they dropped the guard. “Stop!“
The sounds halted momentarily, and then she barreled through the kitchen door, knocking it off its hinges and sending it clattering to the floor. “I weary of these games,“ she said. “I am so, so tired of passing among you men!“
She gave the unconscious soldier a look that should have set him on fire. “He put his hands on me,“ she said, “and so I hurt him.“
“I knew this plan was ill-conceived,” Ponn muttered.
“I will pull their castle apart stone by stone,“ T’Sian said. “I will roast them in their own fat and feast on their charred remains.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort without your fire,“ Diasa said. “Without your fire, you are nothing but a very large sort of winged lizard.“
T’Sian looked at Diasa with narrowed eyes; Ponn put a hand on Diasa’s shoulder. “Have a care,“ he whispered.
“I could kill you with one claw,“ T’Sian hissed. “I could flatten this building with a flick of my tail.“
“Perhaps,“ Diasa said. “But your stones are in the castle. Would you demolish it and bury them forever?“
“I could fly to the north,“ she said. “Where the blue crystals grow among the icy wastes. I do not have to get them from the castle.“
“But you said it would take a long time,“ Ponn said. “You said sometimes dragons froze to death on the journey. Without any fire to keep you warm, what would happen to you?“
She grunted, but said nothing.
“I have another idea,” Diasa said.
T’Sian ignored her. “What would you suggest, Pyodor Ponn?“
Astonished, Ponn said: “Are you asking me for advice?“
“I asked you once about seeking aid from another dragon,” he said. “Have you reconsidered that?”
“They would not help us,” she said.
“What about the one who fathered your hatchlings?”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes.” From the look she gave him, he understood.
“I’m sure Ponn has been a brave and loyal friend, but this is not good advice,” Diasa said. “We cannot afford to let Dunshandrin’s pups run rampant while you journey as a supplicant to some other dragon who may or may not be willing to help you. Even now they will be consolidating their hold on Barbareth, and their wizard has probably already dealt with Wert. No, we must look to the castle.“
The guard groaned. Diasa glanced down at him, then kicked him in the head, hard. He fell silent again. “I have always been of the opinion that you can tell much about a ruler by observing how the people treat those who wear his colors,“ she said. Then, to Ponn: “Help me get his clothes off.“
“We’re going to undress him,” she said.
Immediately seeing her plan, Ponn said: “His clothes won’t fit me. I’m too short.”
“Of course not. I’m going to wear them.”
They removed the man’s uniform, leaving him in his noisome undergarments; Ponn found himself wishing for a basin to wash his hands. Then Diasa handed him her cloak and quickly disrobed. Ponn only stole a few glances as she donned the stolen uniform, although T’Sian stared quite openly.
At length, Diasa said: “How do I look?“
He turned. She had rolled up the sleeves of the uniform, which were too long, while the breeches ended in the middle of her calves. Because she lacked the guard’s rather large belly, the tunic was loose around her stomach, but tight around her chest. She had tucked her black curls under a helmet that seemed more artifice than protection, and had declined to take the man’s sword, cinching her own scabbard around her waist instead.
“You look like a woman dressed up as a man,“ T’Sian said. “Even I can see that.“
“She’s right,“ Ponn said. “You won’t pass.“
Diasa pulled on the guard’s heavy black cloak, which helped to disguise the ill fit of the clothing. “Better?” she said.
“It will have to do,“ Diasa said. Then, to T’Sian: “Are you ready?“
“Ready for what?” she said.
“To be escorted into the castle.”
“What?” Ponn cried. “That’s madness! They’ll know you’re not a guard. They’ll arrest you at the gates.“
Diasa had a gleam in her eye that made Ponn uncomfortable. “If they try to stop us, they’ll regret it.“ She hefted the soldier’s sword, swung it a few times, ran her thumb along the edge. “Especially if they’re all armed with blunt knives such as this.”
“And what do you expect Tolaria and me to do while you are playing the spies?”
“Stay out of sight. If a hue and cry goes up, flee.”
“If a hue and cry goes up, it will be because I am pulling the castle apart,” T’Sian muttered.
“Yes, of course,” Diasa said. “But just in case that is not what is happening, it would be prudent for Ponn and Tolaria to assume the worst.”
“What about him?” Ponn said, pointing at the guard. “What happens when he wakes up and starts calling for help?“
Diasa glanced down at the unconscious man, then stabbed him through the heart with his own dull sword. Ponn turned away, appalled, the sound of snapping ribs echoing in his ears.
“He won’t,“ Diasa said.
The results have been reset and voting is now open for the next Scene of the Month!