Dog And Dragon – Snippet 07




A chemical brine steamed and frothed as it gushed through the new tear in the black road that crossed the shattered ash lands. Something hissed up from a fissure, taking shape into one of the elemental creatures of the smokeless fire. Díleas backed away, barking. So did the travelers. “Back on the carts, men, it’s one of the big Beng!”


Fionn had spotted what he had been hoping for, deep down. This dolerite dyke had blocked it, and now the creatures of smokeless flame had cracked that. The bells that were ringing from the carts helped to hide the sound he made, as he sat down next to Díleas and scraped rock-sign onto the stone.


The fire-demon was less easily fooled than the travelers. “What does one of your kind want here in our demesnes?”


“Yours? I thought you liked places of ash and smoke and flame,” said Fionn mockingly, answering in the creature’s own language. “Not such a place as this is about to become. I am one of the advance surveyors.”


“Surveyors?” hissed the creature.


“Yes, that is what they call those who make accurate measurements and determine the boundaries. Those are busy changing,” said Fionn, with exaggerated patience, as if explaining to a simpleton.


“We changed them, in order to stop this endless incursion into our lands!”


“You did, did you?” mocked Fionn. “I was of the impression you liked incursions. Devoured their essences or fed them to your pets.”


“These have protections. We seldom get one. So we have broken their road.”


“And that has broken your land. You should have guessed that when you got the brine-boil instead of the lava,” said Fionn, with all the confidence in the world.


“We frequently have fumaroles,” said the creature of smokeless flame.


“Do they usually get cooler?” asked Fionn, his voice even. He had redirected sufficient heat downward for that to start to happen. All that heat was cracking the dome far below now. When there had been tiny fissures…the water had boiled and picked up minerals on the way up. But, if those fissures grew, more water would flow from the strata below. Water that had been trapped down there for millennia, under increasing pressure. A lot of water. Fionn chuckled to himself. The fire creatures would hate it, but it might help their ashpit world regenerate. They were running out of coal measures, and once, after all, it must have been wet and warm here to grow the forests to make the coal. It would ease the balance of forces here. So good to achieve two things at once. And seeing the look of startlement on the creature of smokeless flame’s features — you couldn’t really say “face” — was a joy.


Ah, he’d forgotten the pleasure of being the trickster in the last little while. The wider worlds needed him. Aside from rebalance, there was the pure delight in overturning the expected and changing the order of things.


The creature of smokeless flame left hastily, with no further words, not even of farewell, or of threat. No doubt it had gone to consult with its superiors. They had a habit of doing that, whenever confronted with something different. They were so hierarchical they struggled with independent thought. It was their weakness. Which was just as well, really. They needed some weak points.


Fionn watched its departure with some satisfaction. And went on talking. He did the fire-creature’s speech part too, while he backed up to the cart, and felt for the catch to their hideaway with his foot. The travelers would be hiding their heads from illusions, most likely. And anyone peering out could see his head and hands. He was just as dexterous with his feet, as with his hands, and he’d a lot of experience with hide-aways. He deserved a fee for this, besides the sheer pleasure of doing it.


In a way, he thought, he had taught his Scrap of humanity, and she in turn had taught him. He told her that there were many ways of solving a problem. She’d showed him that his ideas were still quite constrained to maintaining the status quo. His purpose was retaining the balance, but it didn’t have to be same balance — just so long as it was balanced.


A few moments later he was back at the edge of the flowing, fuming stream through the blue-black stone of the causeway. It was running stronger and fuller now, and definitely not as hot. He put his hand on Díleas’s head. “Wait. It will get cooler.”


So what was it about him, and her, that would have unbalanced Tasmarin, that meant she had had to go back to where she came from?


It didn’t make much sense to the planomancer.


There was a need for balance, but why the two of them? In terms of energy all things were different, but not that different that they could not be balanced out.


The traveler Arvan emerged from the cart. Fionn noticed he had his bow again, arrow on the string. “What were you talking to the Beng about, stranger?”


Fionn had spoken in the tongue of the creature of smokeless flame. There was no need of course. They were nearly as adept linguists as he was, but it unsettled them to have someone address them in their own tongue. He wondered how the Scrap was coping with a language that would be strange to her…only that dvergar device might just help. She’d learned to read fast enough with its help. He grinned at the traveler, cheered by that thought, and pleased with his bit of work here. Force-lines were realigning already. “I just ruined his day. What did you want me to say to him?”


“Nothing. They’re tricky, those ones. You know his language, though.” That was outright suspicion.


Fionn shrugged. “Rather a case of he knows mine. They have the gift of tongues, those ones. All the better to lie to you with. So I told him a truth, and made him very unhappy.”


“And what was that? You have a spell against them?”


“I wish. But they have a dislike for water. The merrows could sell you a few charms, if you had goods they were interested in. I’ve a protection I bought from them for a song and some entertainment. The Beng tried me, and the merrow spell has brought a counter to the demon. I pointed out to the creature that water is wet. Wet, and cooling down, and spreading out. It didn’t like that and has probably gone to consult with its master. We’d best be away before the master comes here too. They can put powerful compulsions on people, and the bigger they are, the stronger they are. We’ll have to contrive a bridge of some kind, but we’ll be able to cross it. The dog and I can swim it if need be. By now it’ll be like a very hot bath.”


Díleas growled and shook himself. Looked suspiciously at the water.


“He doesn’t like baths,” said Fionn, grinning.


The traveler burst out laughing. “Same as most dogs. Usually when the Beng find us here, they torment us. Send their creatures to attack us. We’ve got the bells and other protections on the carts, but the best we can do is to stay in them and keep moving until we get out of the local lordling’s territory. Never seen anyone chase one off before.”


“I wish I could chase them off. It was just the merrow spell doing it, and a lucky happenstance. But the chances are next time I won’t be near a lot of hidden water, and the merrow spells need water. You don’t happen to have a plank about those carts of yours? And maybe a rope? I could get you a start on a way across the water. It’s cooling, but I wouldn’t swim it for a while.”


“Plank?” asked one of the other travelers, curiously.


“Yes,” said Fionn, pointing. “There is a rock there, see. I could put the plank out to it, and then another — or maybe a long jump and I’ll be over. I can take a rope over and tie it off for you. There is some rock on the other side you might make something of a bridge with. Or you could take a cart apart and make one. But you probably don’t want to hang about here too long. The Beng will come back.”