The Dragon Round

The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power

Book: The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen S. Power
crest. The earthy smell of dragon wafts toward him, deeper and uglier than the one he smelled on the Comber . He crouches behind a tree.
    He sets the cup down and pulls himself up the rise. He lays on the edge of the crest. Beyond is a clearing not made by nature.
    In a broad hollow scoured by fire, trees have been shattered and others toppled so their root mouths yawn at the world like wooden octopi reaching for prey. Sunlight fingers great furrows in the earth. Blood stains exposed wood and tattered leaves. Jeryon sees in the midst of the destruction a line of short jagged spines atop an enormous black back.
    This isn’t the maturing black of the Comber dragon, but the abysmal black of a very old one. Its wings are folded neatly, soft and floppy. Jeryon feels the urge to touch them until he thinks that each is probably bigger than the Comber . The dragon is withered with age. Its ribs and spine show through its skin, which rises in strange bursts like the chest of a person struggling for breath.
    Jeryon inches over the crest. He’s moving as silently as possible, but sounds, he thinks, like a sword on a grindstone. Before he peeks over the edge he pictures himself staring straight down the creature’s throat. He hopes it’s sleeping. Its head must be the size of the dinghy. Its back alone looks nearly as long as the Comber dragon.
    What he finds is carnage. The dragon’s neck is ripped in half. Its empty eye sockets bloom with nerve tendrils. Half its rotting tongue is clamped between its teeth; the other half has been chewed away. Its sides are rent, its tail, thicker than a man, is broken like a carpenter’s square, and the neck left on the body, wide enough to push a barrow down, has been cored of meat and bone. The remaining skin partially drapes it.
    Jeryon sighs with relief. He could render the dragon for himself. A dragon bone blade is better than steel, and mounted in a bamboo culm it would make a spear or a knife far easier to wield than his tiny blade and far sharper than a bamboo blade. The skin would be too heavy for a sail, but it would be a great tarp. If the phlogiston hasn’t leaked away, he would have a precious source of fuel for light and fire.
    If he could bring the renderings to Hanosh, he would have the wealth to ruin his mates, their families, and everyone they ever knew. He could go in disguise under an assumed name so they wouldn’t suspect anything. He could befriend them so they would also feel betrayed when he finally revealed his identity. And being close to them would make his revenge more exquisite. Such a complex plan, though, would have too many potential pitfalls. Better to trust the Trust and the law.
    It occurs to him: How can the dragon be breathing?
    Its skin doesn’t rise so much as it bulges in places. And the bulges are moving. The skin draping the neck billows out. Something is inside. The skin flips up. A broad blue claw, leaf-shaped and smiling with sharp white teeth, emerges. A thinner claw, as long and as toothy, tests the air, followed by two eyes the size of shegas on stalks. They peer in every direction before settling on Jeryon. He doesn’t move. The frontlegs come next, a darker blue and as long as hand-and-a-half swords, followed by the body, blue with white smears and big as a buckler. Whereas the crabs on the beach had stubby white horns, this crab has a crown of them.
    It scuttles out of the neck toward Jeryon. He dares to slide an inch down the rise. The crab takes a few more steps forward. Jeryon snakes away until he can barely see over the crest. The crab’s eyes bend from side to side, as if it can’t see him anymore, and it clicks its claws. Jeryon smiles at the crab’s frustration. He’ll return with a bamboo spear, he will kill and eat that crab, and he will take this dragon for his own.
    A few answering clicks come from inside the neck. Then a few more. Another claw appears. And another. The watch crab

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