The Dragon Chain
By charmdfate (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: A woman who doesnt know where she belongs; a city about to be destroyed; and a secret, hidden deep beneath the streets, that could save them both.
Disclaimers: These are original characters in an original story that belongs solely to me. I dreamed the whole thing, and believe me, if I can get half of it down on paper I think youre gonna like it J Any resemblance to anyone, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story will eventually deal with same sex couples, so if this is illegal where you live or it just plain is not your bag, please move on.
She followed Gareths large form down a narrow stone hallway. She expected the private areas of the church to be drab: functional brown carpet, bare walls painted white, minimal lighting. But this hallway was exquisite. Her thief eyes couldnt help but notice the rich carpets (at least $500 a piece, black-market) that muffle their footsteps. Nor could she pass the thick, hand sewn?, yes, definitely hand sewn, tapestries that cover large portions of the rough stonework without trying to estimate their value. They seem to all have a dragon theme, but Gareths pace never slowed enough for her to study the pictures. Even the light fixtures were ornate: the scaled neck of a dragon upturned so that the creature held the light bulb in its mouth, a delicate powdered white fan of glass between the light and the hallway. One glance and a quick finger scratch in an unnoticeable place showed that they were at least gold-plated.
He stopped and turned, a look of irritation on his face.
"We must hurry, you waited too long and now there is hardly any time to prepare you," he spoke more to himself than to his companion.
"No problem, Ill sprint the rest of the way if youll just answer me one question."
"What do you wish to know?"
"You have enough wealth here to buy detox for yourself, the father, and at least three of the people in the cathedral. Why didnt you?"
Gareth looked at the dusty splendor around him and sighed.
"Father couldnt leave and fulfill his duties at the same time. He sent as many people through detoxification as he could. He would have sacrificed even these, his most precious objects, to send at least one more person through the Tunnel, but the last group that tried was attacked. Instead of stealing the Tunnel price to use for themselves, the attackers tore the rugs and tapestries to pieces, started a fire, and ate the three of the four members that didnt make it back to the safety of the church. Father deemed it too dangerous to try again.
"Samantha," it was not a question.
He nodded sadly, and she could think of nothing else to say. The only run-in she had had with the Anys (so called because the would do.. .and eat.. .anything) was brief and consisted of her stumbling upon a pack, scrambling hastily up the nearest building to the roof, and running all the way home. What she remembered most was looking into the pack leaders eyes and seeing nothing. The woman had ceased to be human.
Gareth turned and continued to walk briskly down the hall, which had begun to curve left and angle downward. A plain, rough-hewn wooden door marked the end of the trip. Gareth knocked softly, and the creak of wood and leather and then sliding footsteps could be heard. A latch was pulled back and the door opened slowly inward.
"Come in my children," a frail voice said.
They entered a small room. Directly in front of the pair a large fire blazed in a stone-worked hearth, a wooden chair with leather tooling pulled so close to it that the leather almost appeared to be melting from the heat. The stranger turned to look at the old man clinging to the door.
This was not the Father Meary of her memory. This man was incredibly short, barely five feet tall. His hair, which, in her mind remained a deep black with bright gray tingeing the sides, was white. His barrel chest and strong arms were gone, replaced by skin hanging slightly from thin bones. His hands, which once so fascinated her child-self with their strength and eloquence, have been transformed into withered, twisted roots that flail towards her, attempting to take her hand. He grabbed her hand firmly, and she looked into his eyes. His eyes, blue, clear, commanding. .loving. This was the man she remembered. She shook the disturbing images from her mind and peered around the room.
This was more like what she expected. A wooden desk, the pattern matching the chair by the fire, sat to the left of the door. A yellow legal pad (its top page blank) and a ballpoint pen rested on the desks polished surface. The only other object in the room was a shield hanging on the wall to the right. A silver dragon was curled in the center of the shields dark gold field. The entire piece was scorched and slightly bent, as if it had been plucked from a fire just before it melted. Well, at least nothing here was a surprise. She turned to face the Father and Gareth.
"Now will someone please explain whats going on," she said as she ran her hand over the desks surface, checking for flaws.
"Ah, still the same after all these years arent you, my child. Basil, look at the way she inspects the wealth of a room. Even when she was a little girl she did that." Father Meary chuckled and poked at Gareths massive arm.
"Basil," she asked with a barely suppressed a grin? "That sure explains the accent."
Gareth looked embarrassed, and as he opened his mouth to retort Father Meary placed a shaking hand on his arm and with a serious expression on his face started to speak.
"My child, we havent much time. I should have sent for you years ago."
"Whats the matter Father?" Her voice was soothing; the poor old man looked so flustered.
"Nothing is wrong now. Now your here and you can fix everything. It has to be you. Its been so long since the Great One spoke, I cant remember some of the words. But Im positive..." Father Meary let his ranting words trail off.
"Im sorry. Ive just been so worried and.. .never mind. My child, you have been Chosen. You will enter the caves beneath this church and petition the Great One for the right of Kaleran."
"Petition the who to be the what?" She asked, incredulous. Apparently the Father had ceased to speak Standard English.
"The Great One needs a companion, or it will die like the rest of us when the defoliant bomb is detonated." Father Meary spoke earnestly.
"What is the Great One?" She knew she didnt want to hear this answer.
"There." Father Meary pointed to the shield on the wall.
The stranger walked to the shield and stared at the roughly drawn silver dragon for a few minutes. She could hear Gareth and Father Meary engaged in a quiet argument. They still had their heads together when she turned around quickly and pined them both with a furious stare. They looked up with guilty expressions on their faces.
"Let me get this straight. You (pointing a finger at Father Meary, who jumped at the anger in her voice) want me to go into a cave and talk some mythical beast into letting me be its friend so it doesnt get blown away like the rest of us?! First of all, what the hell would a dragon be doing living under a church in the middle of New York. Second, why would I want to spend my last moments on earth walking around a dark cave that is probably just filled with spiders and other creepy bugs (shudder). And third, if this thing actually exists, what is to prevent it from making its last meal out of me?" Her anger slowly wound down, and as she tried to return her breathing to normal, Gareth began to speak. Now, when shes angry its not a good idea to talk to her. She took a deep breath and prepared to launch into another tirade when something Gareth was saying made her pause.
.. .will protect you from the blast."
"Hold it a minute, rewind. What did you just say."?
"I said that if you are truly the Kaleran, the Chosen One, the Great One will protect you from the blast," Gareth was very calm.
The stranger looked into his deep brown eyes and said in wonder, "You really believe that there is a dragon under this church."
He nodded and gazed at the scorched shield.
"I didnt believe the Father, so one day I took the shield and entered the caves. I had just rounded the first bend, and I guess the Great One heard me, for there it was. It was huge, and silver.. .glowing. The most beautiful, terrible thing I have ever seen. It looked at me with blue... red... eyes, opened its mouth and shot flame at me. I got the shield up just in time." He looked at Father Meary and smiled ruefully as he bent down and rolled up one pant leg. "But I forgot about my legs."
Gareth legs were a mass of white scar tissue that should have been smooth black skin.
"How much..." the strangers voice trailed away .
"Both legs from the thigh down. Father was waiting for me when I crawled back into this room. That was two months ago."
Her eyebrows shot up as she turned, surprised, to face the old priest.
"My ancestors have been entrusted with the care of the Great One since it first came to us, over five hundred years ago. They learned early on how to make a salve to heal the effects of dragon fire in a short amount of time. The Great One itself gave us the initial formula after it accidentally burned one of its caretakers." Father Meary spoke gently, a look of fond remembrance on his face.
This was way too much information. The stranger breathed deeply, holding out her hands to forestall any more conversation.
"Just give me a minute to think," She said, her gaze never leaving the floor.
"O.K.," She looked up. Both Gareth and Father Meary are looking at her with anticipation. She chose her words carefully and spoke slowly.
"Ill take your word for it that the...Dragon...really exists," She spoke to Gareth. "And Ill take what Gareth said about the dragon protecting me from the blast as truth as far as you both know, but Father, why me? Surely there is someone more.. . appropriate than me."
"I know what you are asking my child. This is not a religious matter. It has nothing to do with your beliefs, or my beliefs. I am the first and only priest in my family. The Great One was not sent by (he paused and looked at her) my God, although I count it as one of my blessings. I dont know why it chose you. All it told me was that it felt your presence years ago, and that it felt that if you continued to follow that path that you would become its Kaleran." Father Meary paused and looked into the strangers eyes.
"Father, I know what I am. I know how you see me how others see me. I was a horrible child. I became an impossible teen-ager and I have become a dangerous adult." She reacted to his gaze in anger. People always tried mincing their words around her, and she wouldnt have it.
"You are always so defensive. You are not as dangerous as you would have people believe." He saw the look she gave him and decided not to argue. "Fine, believe what you will, but you were always on your best behavior here." His eyes danced with humor and she felt a bit sheepish about her overreaction.
"Child, we havent much time. I will explain everything to you when you return. Perhaps the Great One itself will tell you of its past and how it came to be here." He gestured to the stone walls of the church. "But you must make your decision now. Will you try to save us?" He looked beseechingly.
The stranger wanted to agree at once, if only he would stop looking at her that way. Father Meary had always been a man of action; if it needed to be done, he could and would do it. The idea that he finally came across a problem that he could not solve himself was frightening.
"How will you be saved, Father?" She asked the question without thinking.
"When the Great One has its Kaleran it will allow the people in this church to enter the caves. It assured me that the caves would withstand the force of the blast." The old priest spoke slowly.
"But the caves must be saturated with spoor! If your not infected now, surely..."
"The spoor cannot survive near the Great One. I dont know why, and the Great One refuses to comment. The caves are clean. Gareth was a carrier before he entered the caves, when he came out he was detoxified. The Great One assures me that that will be the case with all of us." Father Meary was growing more impatient. It was obvious that he had complete faith in his "Great One" and that he hoped that just this once the stranger would choose to trust his judgment. She looked at the flustered, elderly priest; dressed in a long, wrinkled black robe, his white hair rumpled; lines of worry and hope etched on his ancient face. She looked at Gareth. He stood by the old man, supporting his frail weight with one strong arm. The only brightness in his dark face was his eyes, which shine with sympathy.., and pity. He understood her inner battle; her desire to do nothing that people want her to do. She came to a decision.
"Ah, hell Father," She said, a huge smile on her face as she walked over to Father Meary and thumped him, gently, on the back, "I can think of worse ways to die."To Be Continued ..