So this week I’m reading a short omnibus, Spirelli Paranormal Investigations: Episodes 1-3, by Kate Baray, which — as you may surmise — collects three short novels about the adventures of Jack Spirelli, who, uh, investigates the paranormal. And he has a sidekick who is a dragon that can take the form of a human woman. Sounds like one of my characters, no? So of course I had to read it.
Jack’s dragon sidekick, Marin, makes her appearance very early in the first book, when she shows up in response to a “Help Wanted” ad that Jack Spirelli hasn’t actually placed yet.
“Who’s your reference?”
“My stealth entry into the store wasn’t reference enough?” She gave him a toothy smile.
That smile made him incredibly uncomfortable. Green eyes, creepy feeling—alarm bells were ringing. Fuck. His stealthy, green-eyed Amazon was a dragon. He’d bet cash on it. He stared back without answering.
She shrugged. “Lachlan McClellan, but that might not be entirely to my benefit when you check my references.”
So this dragon is looking for a job, complete with a reference check — not quite the same way my dragon introduced herself, when she met her first human:
Suddenly, Ponn heard something from the slope above him, faint scraping noises, like something large and hard moving over the rocks. A landslide? He scrambled back toward the shelter of the overhang, only to be blocked by a thick, scaly tail that descended in front of him like a giant snake. He cried out as a massive claw closed over him, knocking him down. Long, knobby fingers curled around his body, sword-like talons digging into the stone, sealing him in a warm, living cage. His greatest fear had been realized; a dragon had discovered him.
A sibilant voice said: “Do not struggle, or I will crush you. Do you understand?“
“Then understand as well that if you fail to answer to my satisfaction, I will crush you,” the dragon said. “Did you arrive here on the boat that was in the lagoon?“
“You did not come alone?“
“Where are all the others?“
“They left,” he said. “They went into the mountain, and when they came out, they flew away.”
The enormous fingers tightened around him. “You lie. Men cannot fly.“
“They rode giant eagles as if they were horses! I swear it!”
For what seemed a very long time, the dragon said nothing. Ponn closed closed his eyes, waiting to be crushed as a scoundrel and a prevaricator, because men did not ride upon the backs of birds. But the claw did not come down on him, the fingers did not squeeze him to jelly; and finally the beast said: “So that is the answer. They ride the birds. But tell me, man: Why did they bring a boat, if they flew away in the sky?“
“I don’t know,” Ponn said. “I think the birds couldn’t land on the lava, or it was too far for them to come and go back again carrying whatever it is they took.”
“And why did your companions leave you behind?“
“They weren’t my companions! They only wanted my ship, and once I got them here, I was no longer of any use and they abandoned me.”
The dragon made a snorting sound. “Consider yourself fortunate, then. When I found it, everyone aboard this ship of yours had been killed.“
Oh, no. “Everyone?”
“I found none alive.“
“Tell me—was there a boy on board? A young boy. He would have resembled me, but—”
“I did not look that closely,” the dragon said. “They were dead men, of no interest to me.“ The huge claw suddenly pulled away, but it was replaced a moment later by the dragon’s face, huge and terrible. Its interlocking scales glimmered in the moonlight like a series of small, black mirrors; its eyes, deep and smoky, glowed like glass orbs full of molten stone. Its snout was blunt and broad, not unlike that of the water lizards that frequented the coastal waters near Ponn’s village, though on the dragon it looked capable of swallowing a man whole. A scarlet beard of fleshy tentacles surrounded the jaws, whiskery, faintly luminous, each as thick as his finger. They wriggled and shook when the creature spoke. “So tell me, man, before you die: What reward did these men offer to persuade you to bring them to our islands?“
“Reward?” Despite his predicament, he had to give a bitter laugh. “They offered no reward, for they knew I would not bring them here for any price. Instead, they took my daughter, and told me they would kill her if I failed to help them. I did as they said, and instead of returning my little girl, they left me here to die.”
The dragon said nothing; it just looked at him. Ponn waited to be eaten or incinerated or disemboweled, but instead of killing him, the creature pulled back, its reptilian visage unreadable. Then it scuttled up the side of the volcano, vanishing into the darkness above.
Where was it going? Had it decided to spare him? Ponn moved away from the slope, peering at the sky, looking for some sign of the dragon. Nothing.
Suddenly Ponn felt a hand on his shoulder. With a surprised yelp, he lost his balance and nearly fell off the cliff; but a powerful grip closed around his wrist and pulled him back from the precipice, spinning him around, putting him face to face with a woman. She had a mane of hair that looked black in the moonlight, and eyes that seemed to flicker in the darkness. Her mouth was broad, her chin and lips protruding slightly; he got the impression that if she opened her jaws wide enough, she could bite off his head. A shimmering garment clung to her body like a tightly fitted layer of iridescent scales, glittering in what feeble moonlight penetrated the clouds.
Was this the dragon? He had heard that they could assume human form, but had always believed this to be one of many myths about the creatures. Before he could ask, she said: “They like to strike against young ones.” Her voice, softly menacing, retained some of the sibilance it had evidenced in her serpentine form. “They butchered my hatchlings. Your daughter was probably dead before you even knew she was gone.”
He refused to accept it. “No.”
“Believe what you must.” The dragon released her grip; he pulled his hand away, rubbing his wrist. He would have a bruise. “So tell me. Who were they? How many? Where did they come from? Where did they go?”
“There were four in the main group,” Ponn said. “Their leader was a man named Gelt. I don’t know where they came from, they didn’t say and they wore no colors that I recognized. But they flew to the north.”
“That means nothing. If the range of their eagles is as limited as you believe, they would have to fly to the north.”
“Yes,” Ponn said. “Yes, you’re right, of course.”
“My name is T’Sian,” she said. “What are you called?”
“Well, Pyodor Ponn, will you remember this Gelt and his men if you see them again?”
He nodded; then, thinking she might not understand the gesture, said, “Yes, I would.”
“Would you like to be revenged on him for what he has done to you, to your child?”
“Good.” Her smoldering eyes were bright, her broad mouth smiling; at least, it looked like a smile, but then, so did the jaws of the great reptiles that prowled the tidal salt marshes. “You will come with me, then.”
“Come … with you?”
She raised a forefinger, and he remembered that a short while earlier, that one digit had been as thick as his arm. “No arguments.”
“Yes. I mean no. No arguments.” Ponn ran a hand through his hair. “May we stop at my home and tell my family that I am all right?”
The dragon looked at him for a while, and then said: “No. Gelt believed you would never get off this island, or he would have killed you. He thinks you will die here. I want him to continue to think that.”
“I will swear my family to silence. They will tell no one.”
“Gelt may have spies in the area. You could be seen.”
Obviously, further argument was pointless. “As you wish,” Ponn said. “When will we leave, then?”
“In the morning,” she said. “I have business here, and then I must rest. I have had a long journey. You will remain in this spot; do not try to escape.”
“Where would I escape to?”
The dragon’s mouth broke into a broad and disconcerting grin, unmistakable, this time. “Nowhere,” she said.
So, yeah. Ask T’Sian for her references. See how far you get.