Noah’s Boy – Snippet 11

And then he was reaching in and saying, “I’m sorry, this is going to sound very odd –”

He stopped and sniffed, and for a moment she wondered what he was smelling, besides the obvious smoke in the air, but his voice was subtly different as he said, “Or perhaps not so very odd.  Listen, I shift into a dragon and I’m going to shift.  And then I’m going to fly you down to an area behind the dumpsters where I can shift and change.  Do you think you can climb on my back?” he asked, even as his face seemed to already be elongating in for the shift.  “And hold on while I fly you down?”

She wanted to make a joke about wanting to be introduced first, but instead she nodded, once, and watched as he coughed and writhed in the change from human to dragon.  The hand grasping madly at the windowsill changed to a giant clawed paw.

The dragon facing her looked nothing like her own dragon.  He was sturdier, more massive and looked less like the serpentine dragon of Chinese myth.  Bea didn’t look like Chinese dragons in tapestries and parades either.  For one, she had wings.  But this man’s dragon looked more like something that would have been carved into the front of a Viking ship: barrel chested and heavy jawed.

His mouth worked, and he said something that sounded like “now.”

She scrambled hand over hand, grabbing at his neck, surprised at the feeling of warm scales, wondering if hers felt like that too, then stepping onto the narrow ledge of shingles, trying to throw a leg over the massive ill-balanced body, and mentally cursing the Great Sky Dragon.

She lost her footing and held her breath, seeing the fire trucks so far below.  He grabbed her with his spare paw and threw her over his back, barely giving her time to hold on to his neck, before flying down,  carefully keeping behind the smoke, to land with a jar on the alley, behind the dumpsters.  He started contorting almost immediately and Bea jumped off.

She stood, shaking, not believing she was on solid ground, and it was all she could do to keep herself from kissing the compacted dirt of the alley.

Moments later, he was saying, through a coughing fit, “I’m sorry.  I had to hurry you.  If the breeze shifted, they would have seen us.”

“No, that’s fine,” she said and averted her eyes, as he dove for a bundle of fabric behind the dumpster.  “Thank you for saving me.”  She wasn’t sure if she should fake astonishment at his being a shape shifter, but in the next second she was glad she hadn’t, because he came from behind the dumpster, fully dressed, grinning, tying back his hair with a rubber band.

“So,” he said.  “I guess you don’t shift into something that flies.”

“I –” She started, then hesitated.  “I…”  And blushed.  “Dragon actually.  But… How did you?”

“You smell shifter.  You know?”  His eyes widened.  “No.  You don’t know.  I see.  Dragon?”  His eyes went up to the tower.  “But then –”

“I — “  She took a deep breath.  “I don’t know.  There was… there was…  I woke up in there.  It was on fire.  And I couldn’t shift.”

“Oh?” Tom Ormson said, but didn’t press it.  Instead, he said, “We’d best go around and you tell them you came down… the drainpipe or something.  Dang.  We should have tied some sheets or something, to make it seem more likely…”

“That we didn’t fly down?” she asked with a shaky smile, unexpectedly liking this man more than she’d expected to when she figured out he was the Great Sky Dragon’s candidate for her hand.  “I don’t think it will matter.  The way my door felt, the fire was just behind it –”

A loud crash-bang from the tower, and Bea looked up to see the roof cave in.  A scream went up from the parking lot.  Tom took a deep breath.  “Well, that’s that,” he said.

He walked her around to the parking lot, where the firefighters were looking up at the tower with a look of the sheerest horror.  That was when a matronly woman suddenly yelled “Ms. Ryu!”

Bea was puzzled.  She had no idea why this woman knew her name.

“You poor thing,” the woman said.  “You’re confused and no wonder.  Of course, when you checked in, you didn’t really spend much time talking to me.  I’m the owner of the Leather and Lace, of course.”

“Oh?” Bea said.  “I checked in?”  Zombie drugs.  They must have given her zombie drugs.

“Oh dear.  Well, of course you’ll be confused.  You know, you were wearing those dark glasses, and I never realized how unusual your eyes are.  I was thinking about you up there on the tower.  I’m just glad you got out.  How –”

“I… climbed down sheets,” she said.  “Until I could get to the shed roof.”

The owner blinked, “I didn’t think we had that many sheets.”

“Er… closet.  Ten.”

“Well, very glad to see you,” the nearest firefighter said.  “We have a paramedic who –”

“No, I’m quite well,” Bea said.

“I’m just going to take her into the diner and get her some coffee,” Tom said, with a tone of quiet authority.  His absolute calm — his absolute certainty — seemed to carry its own weight.  One of the firefighters made a sound, but the owner of the Bed And Breakfast pointed out that Ms. Ryu couldn’t be concerned with starting the fire, after all, nor could she know anything about it, since it had started several floors below her, and then Tom Ormson was leading him to the back door of the diner.

Bea was impressed by the fact that with the tragedy playing itself out back there, in the parking lot, there was no one watching at the back door of the diner, or through the window that faced the fire.  In fact, it seemed to her, as she entered the diner, that she’d just entered a classroom where kids had been very naughty and then become models of good behavior when teacher came back.  There was a sort of strained “I’m being good ma” quality to the groups sitting around the tables, and even to the two employees behind the counter, one a young man, manning a grill and fryer and the other a woman doing something to vegetables that included a lot of very fast chopping.  Neither of them gave of the vibe of being the “teacher” figure that had caused the diner to behave so unnaturally.

And then Bea saw her.  She was tall — taller than Tom Ormson — and, Bea though dispassionately, that she was also very beautiful with golden skin and long brown hair, the edge of it dyed in a way Bea wouldn’t mind imitating if she could figure it out.

Bea knew two things at once.  One was that this was Tom Ormson’s girlfriend.  And the other was that if she tried to steal this woman’s boyfriend she would be in for a hard, hard fall.

Not that she had any intention of stealing Ormson.  Even if he was nice and good looking.  The world was full of nice, good looking men, and trouble like this she didn’t need.

As the woman turned from giving coffee warm ups to the table she’d been attending to, and looked at Ormson, Bea could feel some form of communication pass between them and, as she felt Ormson touch her arm very lightly and point at the corner booth in obvious invitation, she dug in her heels, and turned around and said, “I– I’m sorry, Mr. Ormson, I –”

“Will sit down,” he said, very quietly.  “And tell me who sent you.”

She realized she’d called him by name and he’d never introduced himself.  She could explain it.  She could say that she’d heard it somewhere.  But, as she slid into the booth, and saw those blue eyes watching her with an odd mixture of interest, amusement and wariness, she realized that perhaps it would be best if she avoided any unneeded complication and if she told him everything.  He was a dragon shifter — the only one she ever knew about for sure other than the Great Sky Dragon.  And unlike the Great Sky Dragon, he seemed to be sane.

Sitting quietly, she folded her hands on the table.  Tom Ormson got two cups of coffee, slid one in front of her, took one for himself, sat down.  “Now, suppose you start talking.  In itty bitty words, because it’s already been a long day.  Tell me who sent you.”  He gave her a look.  “You don’t look quite like one of the Great Sky Dragon’s people but you look close to it.”