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Musical Nightmares

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Prologue: Even From Birth

 

Even when I was still in my egg, I understood something of the fate intended for me. A dragon spends a long time in their egg, where they are protected by the thickest shell of any egg-laying animal from the intense heat of the volcano that is needed for them to hatch and the kind of predators that might dare steal from a dragon's nest. They develop all their senses, including the magic-handling senses not shared by humans, some of which don't have names in human languages, before they hatch, and some of their learning is imparted through a mother dragon's telepathy, so I knew a lot about the world around me before I could even see. I don't think they were aware of this when they stole me from my nest to be used in the experiment. If they knew exactly how much I was spying on them, they would have at least put me in a different room, instead of on a velvet pillow on their desk, right next to the crystal ball.

 

My first memories were of comforting warmth and darkness. Images and sensations came to me while I was curled up in a ball, suspended in my nutritious fluid, as though I were dreaming. Mostly I heard the soft machine-like sigh of the processes keeping me alive, and the vague, reassuring mental pulses, more fundamental than words, from my mother, the occasional sensation of motion when my egg was moved. I was sung to a lot. The dragon-songs were the roots of magic, not just a rhythm to lull me into a trance so I could focus my mind on learning, a cyclical tune that matched the circular nature of fate, but also an active chant that unlocked a dragon's magic. I saw the magic working in my mind, bright rainbow strands drawn out of the cracks in the many-layered blackness like colours washing out of ink. I saw the words, light and sound behind everything, how it was all just the same energy, and that it could be fixed, the broken made to resemble the whole, or reshaped entirely with an intense enough thought. A dragon shapes its own existence, wills itself to exist, in the egg, and so it is the first thing we are taught to do.

 

With time, my mind grew enough that it could grasp more concrete concepts, and I began to think in words and images, not just sensations, noises, movement and light. My mother had begun to teach me more practical lessons, about the outside world, the other dragons in the roost, which were family, which might be dangerous, how to survive hatching, what would happen to a newborn dragon when it hatched and how to keep myself out of danger. It would be a year or so yet, as a dragon who hatched early could not survive the conditions that dragons live in. The lessons stopped early when I was taken from my nest, but by then I was not being kept in a place where dragons normally roosted.

 

The first I heard about the attack was a wave of panic hitting my mind, a telepathic signal from my mother that a trespasser had been sighted near the nest. She flew off to intercept the intruder and cut off her connection to me. A mother does not fight near her eggs, as the psychic connection between them is so deep that a badly wounded mother can accidentally transmit too much pain and fear to the unborn children and psychically fry their minds or even stop their hearts. When she did not return and I realised I was being moved - placed somewhere not warm enough for a dragon egg - I panicked, but then someone had used magic on my egg to warm it up again, as well as some powerful protective wards, and I was somewhere soft and comfortable again, and something was speaking to me reassuringly.

 

It wasn't my mother, or even a dragon, but it spoke in a way dragons could understand. Its way of speaking, with its odd, stilted sentences and strangely-angled thoughts, its concept of itself that was too purposeful and mechanical for a living thing, amused and fascinated me as a knowledge-hungry young dragon. As long as I was still being kept alive and I had another mind to talk to, I didn't worry about my mother. After all, I had no proof that she was gone forever, and I barely had a sense of time anyway. The thing that identified itself as a crystal sphere full of swirling mist told me about a purpose it had been created for, and that I had been selected to be involved in very soon. It was a magical experiment - something that might or might not work, it wasn't known yet, but that it was worth risking. There was another in the room, a powerful magic-using human (I had been warned about humans), who was conducting the experiment. The crystal ball's job was to contain the experiment, to be the physical structure it was kept in, whatever it turned out to be, and that in a way, it was like an egg itself. I had to be contained within it too, so there were certain shapes that had to be in my mind, certain ways I had to shape reality.

 

These were complicated, and I didn't understand them, so the crystal ball explained them with a song. It was a beautiful song, a song of motion, an endless voyage. I felt myself walking into the mist until I was lost in it, but the more I concentrated on it, the more I saw, angles and lines and walls being built in my mind as I walked, more permanent than any stone. For a long time, I think most of the year, I simply existed within the song, building walls out of mist with my mind, and I was beyond rapture, I had reached a point beyond the need for it, I simply existed completely in the form that I did.

 

Then the crystal voice declared that a suitable candidate had been fond, and the experiment proper was about to begin. My egg was falling, and I was worried it would break, but then I landed on soft grass, somewhere else entirely, and I could sense in my mind that he was there.

 

 

 

Floor 1: A Stray Human

 

He was lost and confused as I was. No, more so. As soon as I registered his presence and scanned his mind further, I was hit by an overpowering wave of disorientation and homesickness. I couldn't even learn his name, his mind was so full up with the same fog that I felt rising up all around me, dampening my shell. He had no thoughts of his name, of where he had come from and what he had been doing, and at first I was afraid he had lost his memory entirely. After a short while of shock, then a slightly longer period of absolute panic, he seemed to calm down. He began talking to me, in his physical voice. He was a human, I could tell, an ordinary human with no magical powers. My instincts told me to fear him as the predator he was, adaptable to any environment, intelligent enough not to act on motives other than instinct but not intelligent enough to understand the long term consequences of his actions on the world. This particular human didn't seem that dangerous, though, and not all dragons were the same, so maybe not all humans were the same.

 

"Hello, egg," he said, "You're big for an egg. I don't have anyone else to talk to, so I might as well talk to you. At least you're alive, and you aren't trying to kill me. Not yet, anyway," he amended, "Maybe you will when you grow up. I'm Leander, by the way. I'm not from around here. In fact, I'm completely lost. I don't see a nest around here, so I'm guessing you're lost. Um... so, what's your name? I guess you can't answer, but I can't talk to something that doesn't have a name, so I'll have to name you myself."

 

With some fairly insistent and not at all polite mental prompting, I managed to project my name into his mind, so that he said, after a few utterly ridiculous guesses, "I know... you're sort of reddish brown... I'll call you Burgundy!"

 

I sent out a telekinetic wave to make my egg shudder slightly.

 

"I'll take that as a yes," said Leander, "Well, we need to keep moving, or we'll starve. There isn't much food around here. Not for us, anyway. Some things here seem to think I'm food. I don't have anyone else to talk to, so I'm going to take you with me."

 

With that, I was picked up and put somewhere dark and warm that kept jostling me, probably some kind of large sack. I didn't like being in a sack, but I did like the way Leander hummed along to the music that we could both hear inside our minds everywhere we went.

 

Floor 2: A Winding Maze

 

With every step I take (or rather, that Leander takes) I am learning a little more about the world I find myself in. Leander actively narrates what is happening a lot - I think it helps his sanity, as his limited human senses cannot pick up much stimulus from this lonely world he finds himself lost in - and some of it I can infer from the sensations I pick up. For instance, I now know that the mist is physically present in the world, not just in my mind, and that it is impossible for Leander to see through it, but that the mist parts as soon as he walks through it, so that he can see a small distance around him. The world is an endless labyrinth, deliberately constructed and perfectly tended by an invisible gardener. Its substance varies - some mazes are made of avenues of tall conifers winding around forest clearings, some are deserts lined with giant cacti, yet others are mountain paths separated by statues of giant humanoid heads, broad with large foreheads, a little like Golems. The heads are magically enchanted to change expression from a kind of ponderous frown to a smile that Leander says is creepy. The other backgrounds also change reactively - for instance, a field of sunflowers begins to bloom more rapidly as Leander walks past. Periodically, Leander steps on something that feels strongly magical, and from his reaction, has to be a teleportation circle that leads to a different labyrinth.

 

Leander plans to mark time using these, treating them as important milestones in his plan to escape. He is treating the experience overall as a challenge for him to overcome, something deliberately set up for this purpose, as it is so well planned, and contained so many things both to hamper and to aid him. In his home town, a master would set such artificial tasks for an apprentice to test him in a safe environment, although the Labyrinth is by no means safe.

 

Myself, I am mostly concentrating on thinking, and preparing for the inevitable time when I have to hatch out of my egg.

 

 

Floor 3: Unwise Experiments

 

Scattered around on the ground in the clearings there are a number of objects. They radiate magical power so that they look like a rainbow of different glowing auras, easily bright enough to penetrate the darkness of my shell. Scan them down as I may, I cannot tell what their function is, mundane or magical. Leander usually narrates out loud what he thinks their mundane function is, so that I can tell apart rings, scrolls, potions and wands. They are marked with different colour labels as well as emitting different coloured magical auras, so that I tend to get told all about the 'red potion' or 'purple scroll'. I am starting to wonder if this experiment is a test for an apprentice wizard, to see how we handle unlabelled magical items that are shielded against detection. If this is the case, Leander has already failed. He insists on trying each one by immediately activating it, usually targeting himself with it.

 

"If we find out straight away, we'll always know for next time!" he explained to me in his usual suicidal human logic. To give him credit, he did discover very quickly that a particular type of item with the same colour always has the same effect - whoever it is that placed all these items here is meticulous when it comes to colour coding them.

 

As well as the magic items, someone leaves food, gold, weapons and armour for us. The food is necessary to survive, because none of the monsters can safely be eaten (Leander tried it once, and he was very lucky to have picked up a Cure potion on the previous floor). Leander makes good use of the weapons and armour - he told me that he works as a town guard when he isn't trapped inside magical labyrinths. However, neither of us can think what the money must be for. There is nothing here to buy or to sell. The beasts that hunt us can't be bribed. No merchants live in these woods, or any sentient beings at all. We are entirely dependent on the ineffable and fickle distributer of things lying around on the floor.

 

"Maybe whoever finds my bones can buy me a nice tombstone," said Leander once, in a fit of unusual optimism.

 

Floor 4: Beasts

 

As we advance through this labyrinth, the beasts that hunt us become more dangerous. While before Leander complained about giant toads, slimes and the unintelligent giant land-worms that are my brute ancestors, I have detected the first hints of true magical power emanating from the creatures that he battles with now. One was described to me as a giant floating crystal that summons waves of fire along the ground, another is a bloodshot disembodied eyeball, yet another some kind of hideous ogre in long tattered robes, barely intelligent enough to cast some kind of spell that causes Leander to become even more befuddled and wander even more aimlessly than usual. I should point out that these beasts should not exist in the same environment as each other: the toads are marsh -dwelling creatures, the eyeballs and slimes are subterranean, I think the ogres live in the ice tundras and I'm fairly sure I've seen at least one aquatic creature swimming around on land. Whoever put these creatures here has put in a great effort to capture them from all around the world.

 

Leander is now convinced that the purpose of this labyrinth is purely to execute him, so that the twisted voyeur with the crystal ball can watch him struggle futilely against his inevitable death while throwing ever larger burdens at him whenever he thinks he has a moment to rest. I still believe this is a trial that we can legitimately pass. Leander's battle prowess is being honed through these constant fights for survival, and I watch him kill the same beasts with less and less effort. The weapons and armour left out for Leander are increasing in quality, a fact that he points out to me every time it happens but seems unable to be grateful for. I can only do so much while I am still an egg, but I try and contribute to our survival as well. For instance, I broadcast psychic warnings whenever I feel the aura of a monster sneaking up behind us. I am also trying to pulse reassuring emotions into his mind in order to boost his wavering morale. While his pessimism seems to spur him on, as though he is determined to put in ever more effort just so he can prove to me that even the greatest feats of heroism are futile, this fugue of his can't be good for his health.

 

Floor 5: At Random

 

Today Leander ran out of food. It had crept up on him rather slowly. When he has to concentrate on watching out for monsters every single step he takes, he forgets to notice things like the fact that he had gone through an entire floor of the maze without finding anything edible on the floor. I feel slightly guilty for not pointing it out sooner, but I can't detect food, especially not human food, I don't need to eat anything here in my egg and a random dead animal or lump of ground-up corn doesn't have a magical signature to spot. There isn't anything either of us could have done anyway. If there isn't any food, there isn't any food.

 

The maze can be like that. Sometimes we don't see any food for an entire floor, then we'll see rooms piled up with nothing but food, so that he stuffs himself sick trying to store up fat for the next time he has to go hungry. On the same floor, we'll see no scrolls at all, then it'll be potions and we'll suddenly have too many scrolls to fit in the scroll pouch. It's been a while since Leander was given any new armour, and this fact worries me. The monsters are growing more dangerous and that battered old thing he wears can't fend off their claws and teeth any more.

 

Leander takes this seeming randomness as a sign that he is imprisoned at the whim of some mad sorcerer and will probably never be released, unless his captor forgets to feed him one day or deliberately starves him to death out of fickle spite, but I can see a sort of pattern emerging. This world has seasons, a season of plenty, a season of scarcity, one of new things and one of rest and recuperation. They change quickly, they have nothing to show for them except the placement of objects on the floor, they don't always follow each other in the correct order but there is some kind of cycle at work. It isn't guaranteed that it even works as intended - this is a magical experiment, and experiments sometimes fail.

 

I hope Leander finds some food soon. His strength is flagging a worrying amount. I didn't realise such a scrawny, lazy creature needed so much food. I worry that I will soon have to make this journey alone.

 

Floor 6: Starvation Point

 

Leander finally has food, moments away from it being too late. He was so weak from hunger, he barely had the energy to keep walking in a straight line, never mind fight the battles ahead. He began to use the healing potions he was supposed to be storing up for the middle of battle, but then they ran out as well. Being alive, going anywhere at all, was sapping his strength to a dangerous degree. At the exact moment when he was thinking of giving up, of just dropping down onto the floor and waiting for one of the beasts to find him, so that 'at least one person in this purgatory could have some food', he found a loaf of bread on the floor. Actually, I think he must have tripped over it, as his vision was beginning to blur over by that point. It didn't last very long and it was a little stale, but Leander said it tasted a lot better after so long without food. Compared to most things you find lying around on the floor, I am surprised at how edible the food has been so far. Why have the beasts not been eating it?

 

Maybe they have. Maybe the entire floor of each room in the maze is full of food, but how much is left over at the end depends on how hungry the other denizens of the room have been, and how fast you arrive at the scene. Maybe some of them have been drinking the potions as well, or making nests out of the scrolls. Leander doesn't really think about it, because he is struggling to survive most of the time, and so doesn't have much liberty to sit and ponder his situation any more, but the monsters must be doing something when we aren't invading their sanctum. For instance, I am now convinced that the reason for the increasingly savage and bizarre types of monsters is the increasing levels of magical energy.

 

Which makes me wonder what exactly is awaiting us when we arrive at our destination.

Chapter Text

Floor 7: Are These Called Floors?

 

Today was more relaxed, what with Leander having food again. He's been finding more food than he can possibly eat or even carry with him, maybe as some kind of compensation, and I am sometimes worried he will overeat to the point of suicide in a desperate paranoia that there won't be any food later on. I've heard humans do that. Or it might have been rats. Anyway, I've been pondering some more, trying to answer a few questions that have been bothering me:

 

Leander calls the different sections of our world we are transported to, through one-way portals, 'floors', or sometimes 'rooms' or even 'maps'. The truth is, neither of us know whether we are slowly travelling up, down, inwards through the rings of one giant maze until we reach the centre, maybe even through a series of unconnected worlds swirling around in one giant pocket dimension. We do not know if we will be wandering indefinitely, if there is an end point to the journey we are making (and what kind of ultimate challenge and/or reward will be waiting for us there), and if there will ever be a point where we are allowed to return to our previous lives.

 

Maybe it is fallacious for me to be thinking in such terms: that I have a 'previous life' to 'go back to'. Leander refers to the home he was born in, but I haven't even been born yet. I was taught this task when I was still learning the basics of how to be a living entity - in essence, I was programmed to be a part of this world, like a cog in a machine. For all I know, this world could even be dependent on me in some fundamental way, or myself on this world. Even if I was ever to leave this world, and I was not immediately destroyed in the process, I would have to forge a life of my own from the very beginning, after unlearning how to live in this one.

 

I lied earlier: sometimes Leander does talk of 'getting out of here' and 'going home' a lot. He marks down time, using what changes equivalent to day and night that exist, and complains that he is going to be old and grey by the time he returns, like someone lost in the Fey Kingdom.

 

He should complain. I haven't even been born yet.

 

Floor 8: The Other Dragon

 

As soon as I started to really think about what this place was for, what I was doing here and what I would do if I left, presuming that would ever happen, some odd things started to happen to me. My dreams became surreal. They're already rather different to how I used to dream before I came to be in this world. Mostly my dreams are a continuation of my waking life, more sensations of endless moving, the music still playing. I can tell dreams from waking, even though there is no difference between what happens to me when asleep to when awake. At least events happen in a logical order when I am awake, and I do not have any knowledge of things a dragon's senses shouldn't, and the words Leander speaks to me appear in sound, not in pictures, and stay the same instead of becoming garbled when I think about them. Lately, my dreams have been making too much sense, more lucid than my waking life.

 

And I swear I can hear another dragon.

 

Not hear, in the way that I would hear Leander's voice, but I can instead hear some kind of signal, like a beacon, drawing me towards it. All dragons can sense other dragons in the area, but lately I can't sense anything at all if it's in the mist, and not immediately close to me. This dragon-like signal is transmitting from very far away, definitely somewhere several rooms away, or floors, or whatever they are.

 

I'm not sure I like this other dragon being here. It changes everything, to think that we might not be alone in this realm, and the thoughts that this dragon's signals put into my mind are not pleasant. When I sense the dragon, I feel like I am not under my own control, and that I am going to do something I know I shouldn't do, something that would make me no better than the raging beasts. While dragons can and do live together in one place, this dragon is not the type any other dragon should go near.

 

I have not told Leander about this yet.

 

Floor 9: Ready to Hatch

 

I think I am going to hatch out of my egg very soon.

 

As I have already described, a newborn dragon has some idea of when they are going to hatch. Dragons can be sustained using magical energy, and with the amount that saturates the air in this realm, I realised that it wouldn't be long until I had stored enough energy to attempt to hatch.

 

I began feeling more uncomfortable in my own body, which I hadn't really even noticed the existence of before. I hadn't needed to; it was a rather useless shell that did nothing but absorb energy until it became useful. I was aware that I had grown properly shaped limbs, and that I was soon about to be a fully formed young dragon, but that hadn't been anything more than an academic fact until now. It was painful to be sitting still, to be suspended in nothingness, and I longed for a full set of sensations. Now that I was strong enough to move at all, I was frustrated at how weak I still was. I was cramped in my shell and I longed to stretch my wings. The processes going on in my body while I was still growing began to itch, to push my body outwards in all sorts of directions.

 

I am already starting to see why so much energy is needed for the process of emerging from an egg. Already, it doesn't feel like enough.

 

Leander had his first experience with what he has dubbed the 'wither rod' today. I have never heard such colourful language coming from him. I really wish he would stop just trying out the magical artifacts at random. At least he was trying out the rods on the enemies, not just into empty space like the first time he tried one. Actually, it isn't good at all. The effect of the rod hit him just as the giant worm was striking at him.

 

I would have thought he'd learned his lesson after the Confuse Potion incident.

 

Floor 10: Welcome to the World

 

Today I finally hatched from my egg. I can barely stay awake to record what happened. It was the most exhausting and terrifying process I have ever been through - not that I have really been through much yet - and I wouldn't encourage anyone to try it more than once. I spend most of the process thinking that I wasn't going to have enough energy left to break through my shell, and that I was going to die in the attempt, or that I would be stuck there forever in sensory isolation and go insane, or that a beast would attack me while I was still hatching, or that Leander would do something stupid to kill me halfway through the process by accident, such as try and help me. Also wishing that Leander would shut up. He was getting into more of a panic than I was. Honestly, he acts like he's my father! I think he was more taken by surprise, though, as he had no way of knowing when I would hatch, and he often told me he suspected that I would eat him as soon as I hatched.

 

Come to think of it, I don't think he actually realised I was a dragon before now.

 

I've turned out to be a fine specimen of a dragon, if I do say so myself. All four of my legs work, my wings sort of work okay for flapping although I will need to wait for them to grow until they can support my weight enough to fly. I can breathe a small flame, although I wouldn't want to rely on it to defend myself quite yet. I'll need to keep following Leander around for a while longer.

 

He doesn't seem to mind. He said that I look 'cute, a little like a puppy with scales'. I may have taken this the wrong way, and I may have accidentally on purpose singed his backside while he was bending down to pick something up off the floor. Dragons get indigestion when you feed them random things to try and determine what they eat, you know.

 

 

Floor 11: Step Up

 

As I stepped onto the portal that took me into the eleventh tier, the music changed.

 

I was already having to accustom myself to the new sensations available to me - the feel of grass and dust under my feet, the awareness of having feet at all, the warm wind rushing past me, the music that went directly into my ears now instead of echoing softly through a hollow chamber. When the music changed, everything suddenly changed along with it. I hadn't realised how integral the music was to the nature of this world. The music doesn't fit the world, the world fits around the music. The changes I mistook for seasons were ebbs and flows in the rhythm, while all its laws, everything constant, was a function of the repetitive tune, a song that did not need to change, that could be listened to over and over and be drawn further into its every detail, without a thought of boredom. A song meant to support a world, or rather, become a world.

 

It wasn't the physical quality of the world that changed - it was still a maze of endless corridors of something, in this case, the disturbing statues that I could now see the grins on, with random things appearing on the floor and beasts trying to kill Leander. Rather, it was the story of the world that changed, the reason behind it. The music of the eleventh area was not the music of a lost wanderer, stumbling blindly around a world and finding out ever more of its nuances. This was one of advancement, of elevation, as though I had reached a point where I could finally accomplish something in this world other than learning and staying alive. I felt like a more advanced person as well, just by listening to the song, as though the new music was in itself a reward.

 

I knew then that we were going in the right direction. It feels like an 'up' direction, so I'm going to go along with calling them 'floors'.

 

Floor 12: Dread Premonition

 

I've had this sense of premonition all day that something terrible is going to happen. Not exactly a full vision of the future, more of a sense that I already know what will happen, as though it is a memory of something I have witnessed before. At first I thought I was only worried about what the future may hold in such a dangerous world, but this is more vivid than any imagined situation.

 

I am fairly sure Leander will die before the sun rises again tomorrow.

 

Clairvoyance isn't an unusual talent for a dragon. However, a dragon usually already knows which talents they will inherit from an early age, and I have never been given any reason to believe I would experience foreknowledge of the future. My only guess is that, as a function of my being somehow fundamental to the construction of this world, I was given exclusive access to knowledge of its future.

 

I flinch every time he picks up a potion and drinks it, even though I know he has already tested and recorded the effect of almost every single type of potion we encounter now. Every weapon or ring he grabs, I expect to be cursed. Each time we turn a corner, I expect him to be ambushed by a monster he can't fight yet.

 

The fact that I personally am powerless to aid him does nothing to lift my mood. Even though I have perfectly serviceable teeth, claws and flame, I cannot damage the monsters that beset us. I cannot pick up the items on the floor and test them in Leander's stead. Every time I try and gesture to him, to warn him about something or point to the correct path at a turning when he is lost, some kind of veil goes over his face and he looks straight through me. If it involves Leander's quest, I cannot interact with it at all. Leander has become a friend to me, and I cannot do anything about the fact that he is marching to his death. I do not understand why I was placed in a position to become Leander's friend in the first place. Maybe his earlier assumption, that this world had a cruel streak, was more than just paranoia.

Chapter Text

Floor 13: Prophecy Fulfilled

 

As I predicted, Leander died during the night.

 

It was quite sudden and nothing that I could have predicted. As our feet touched Floor Thirteen, we spotted a new kind of monster, one that acted differently to all that we had seen before. I immediately knew that it was something we should stay well away from. It looked like a floating metal orb, around the same size as myself. The waves of destructive energy radiating from it, a deep blood-red aura, were heavy in the air, a magical signature larger than anything I had encountered before and fully devoted to slaughter. Even Leander felt uneasy looking at it. Although I couldn't warn him, try as I may, something about its appearance made him loathe to go near it.

 

"It's not moving," he said, "It's not attacking me on sight, like all the others. It must be very confident, to let me make the first move. Either that, or it's laying a trap for me."

 

All the way through the floor, he avoided them, even when they were floating on top of valuable treasure, but then there was one parked right in front of the exit. Leander tried to use a rod on it, but even when he used the most powerful attack magic he possessed, its carapace was barely scratched. Then it fired some kind of beam at him, and after two shots, he was dead on the floor, two large holes through his body where several vital organs had been.

 

I expected myself to be next, so I started flapping my wings to beat a retreat, but the minute after Leander's death, everything went dark, and I found myself transported to the beginning of a floor, as though I had stepped onto a transporter circle.

 

Leander was back; pale and shaken, but alive.

 

"I saw my tombstone," he told me, "It was a fancy-looking one, and lots of people from the village were crowded around it. I think it's a good thing I picked up all that money. I know I sound like a raving lunatic, but look," he held out his backpack, "The money's gone."

 

 

Floor 14: Rise From Your Grave

 

I was curious about Leander's experience of death and resurrection, and it turns out he is more than willing to share it with me in great detail.

 

"I felt everything, you know," he told me, "The pain of dying. Although that only lasted for a second. Then everything just sort of switched off like a candle being snuffed out. Then I could see my tombstone, but that felt more like a dream, and when I had to wake up, I was alive again, in my own body. The whole thing felt like suddenly dropping off to sleep after spending too long without sleep, and having really vivid nightmares, then feeling absolutely terrible when you wake up."

 

"I was half expecting you to eat my corpse," he admitted, looking over to me in one of the few times he truly notices that I am a fellow living being, "I never see you eat anything, come to think of it. I don't see you do anything apart from be standing there whenever I turn around. Did you even run away when the beast killed me? I wonder if it killed you next. You don't look like someone who's just come back from the dead."

 

"I wonder why you never do anything," he continued, "I don't suppose it matters. You must be fending for yourself, because you've never needed me to get you food or protect you from the beasts. I was just curious."

 

After a few seconds of silent eating, he said, "I suppose I should really be more curious about the fact that I can come back from the dead. It changes everything. It isn't something I can really go around experimenting with, though."

 

I'm so glad he realises this. I wish he would apply the same principle to everything else we encounter. I have to admit the phenomenon is fascinating to me as well. One of the few things a dragon cannot do, even an ancient dragon, is return from the dead. However, I wasn't even killed - I simply appeared next to Leander. Am I actually being forced to go wherever Leander goes?

 

I would also quite like to know where exactly we are.

 

Floor 15: Paperwork Break

 

Mapping this place once you lose track of where you got to is a nightmare. As possible consequences of death go, this isn't one of the most worrying, so I shouldn't complain too much, but I would still like to not be trapped in this maze for the rest of my life.

 

Based on the observation that the magical aura becomes denser as I move onwards, and that the change is fairly regular, I'm using my magical senses to predict where I am now in relation to where I was. There doesn't seem to be much of a change, so I don't think I have moved more than a floor or so in any direction. Leander had the same idea as myself but he is relying on the more physical clues, such as how dangerous the monsters are, and how strong the weapons and armour are that he finds. The traumatic experience of his death does not seem to have dampened what little morale he had. If anything, the knowledge that he can recover from death has given him hope.

 

He is still convinced that the money is what allows him to return from the grave, and was very cheerful when he found some more. His latest theory is that the gold is Fey gold, enabling him to make a contract with the land. This makes a certain amount of sense, except for the fact that we haven't met anything remotely resembling a Fey creature. For someone obsessed with the idea that he is lost in the Hedge, he seems surprisingly willing to eat the food he randomly finds on the floor.

 

Leander has dubbed this the fifteenth floor. Nothing has changed about the world, and we technically 'left' the fourteenth floor, so now we are on the fifteenth floor.

 

Floor 16: Growing Up

 

Today I noticed that I was as tall as Leander when I stood upright, which I don't usually bother doing, as I move more efficiently on four legs. My wingspan is easily enough to overshadow him, even though he is wearing heavier and bulkier armour these days, and I am wondering how long it will be before I can fly. I can already hover continuously without tiring myself out. I have become aware that I am now a fully grown dragon, and that if I were in my natural environment, I would be able to defend myself against any predator and hunt any prey.

 

In this labyrinth, nothing attacks me and I cannot attack anything pre-emptively, even to save Leander's life. The most I can do is hover a little above the walls and see some of what is coming. I am not letting myself become complacent over this; I plan to find a cave somewhere and live a normal dragon's life once I leave here, so I must train myself for the many dangers that a dragon faces. I am also aware that I have an important purpose within this labyrinth, one that is so crucial that it almost literally holds the world together. I do not know what will happen to me once I come face to face with my purpose.

 

Leander has also noticed how much I have grown, and it makes him nervous. He still doesn't trust me not to suddenly turn against him, or instinctively regard him as food or a rival for a mate, as soon as I fully mature. His ignorance regarding dragons is laughable, that he thinks I am an unintelligent animal, to react purely on instinct, or that my behaviour so far in taking absolutely no action to affect my fate has been normal for dragons. I am even growing faster than usual for a dragon, because of the high concentration of magical energy in such a small, enclosed environment. He is also naive to believe I couldn't have killed him easily by now if I had wanted to.

 

Floor 17: Intrusive Presence

 

I am starting to have the visions of the other dragon again. It is immensely powerful compared to myself, even now that I am a fully grown dragon. I wonder if it is because it lives a lot further into the Labyrinth, where the concentration of magic is even denser. Maybe I will become that strong before I leave here.

 

It's aura, easier for me to scan now that I am magically more potent and that it is letting me deeper inside its mind for some reason, tells me that it is a blue dragon, one of the exceptionally solitary and magically skilled types of dragon that lives in the ice wastes. Their magic is often subtle, to do with the weaving of time and fate, and they have longer lifespans than other dragons due to life extension magic. I imagine that a blue dragon is in its element here, where time and fate are so much more artificial and therefore more malleable if you find out the rules behind their construction.

 

I even wondered if the other dragon is part of the experiment, like myself, and linked to the construction of the Labyrinth, but I don't get that aura from the dragon. It feels malevolent and destructive. Blue dragons aren't inherently malicious - the fights we have with them are always over territory and food, not ideological values - but this particular individual radiates evil. If it is part of the Labyrinth, it represents the fickle and cruel side of it, the side that puts orbs of death in front of transporters and denies you food for days on end.

 

Again, the dragon urges me to betray Leander. I resist, but only just. Now that I am a greater threat, the dragon's urges become stronger as it uses the full force of its will against me. However, in doing so, it cannot as easily shield its own mind against me. I think that is the only reason I win any battles against it at all.

 

 

Floor 18: True Hell

 

Today Leander had his first encounter with a Shift Ring, and this is where the true nightmare of the Labyrinth began.

 

I had already been aware that the ability to resurrect, no matter how many times it can be kept up, would not guarantee our safety. Leander had become stuck with no way to reach an exit at least three times so far, and it was only after rigorous examination of every square inch of the walls until we found the secret passage, or, in one case, Leander starved to death in the middle of the search, that we escaped the floor we were on. Each time, Leander remarked that it wouldn't be long until we were stuck wandering the same floor forever. While I have my doubts that such a thing could logically happen, this state of existence, this complete lack of control over where we end up, is, in my opinion, much worse.

 

A Shift Ring, as it has been dubbed, is a cursed ring. I had warned Leander over and over again never to equip a strange ring unless he had a Bless Scroll to undo any potential curses on it, but we hadn't found any more Bless Scrolls for five floors solid, and Leander's natural sense of suicidal curiosity was beginning to itch at the back of his neck. He put the ring on his middle finger and then he teleported to a different area of the floor. Whenever he teleports, I teleport along with him - damning evidence that I am forbidden to leave his side by the laws of this world. He began walking again, then ten steps later, teleported again, somewhere else on the floor.

 

This only stops when Leander teleports less than ten steps away from a floor. I suppose it could also be stopped by being close to a monster that can kill him, but I really hope he doesn't try it. We have to run into a Bless Scroll soon.

 

We have to.

 

Please do.

Chapter Text

Floor 19: Unexpectedly Elsewhere

 

Today, something happened that I'm fairly sure isn't supposed to happen.

 

The curse of the Shift Ring was still making my life a living hell. Leander had just teleported out of a room while one step away from picking up some food, emerging in a small room full of giant snails that dissolve armour with their acidic slime. The food supplies had just run out, Leander was down to his last spare suit of armour. He was resorting to some complicated plan involving tying a ring to a rod, using the straps from the broken suits of armour tied together, in order to make a kind of fishing rod for entangling and pulling in objects further away than one step. So far, it hadn't worked, and then a giant toad tried to eat the ring, which activated the rod. It was a flame rod, and the fireball set the whole contraption on fire along with the toad. At least he killed the toad, but it had wounded him in the process and he now had no food or healing potions left.

 

Staggering forwards, he immediately teleported to a different room, a room I swear there wasn't actually an exit from, but at least this wasn't a problem for someone under the Shift Ring curse.

 

However, the next time he teleported, I didn't follow him. Everything went black, so abruptly that I assumed at first that Leander had been killed instantly by something in the next room. But he wasn't there when I could finally see again, and it wasn't anywhere near the same floor. It was somewhere very far away, where the mist was so thick that it choked me and the aura of magic was so strong that it roared in my ears like a hurricane.

 

Somewhere very close by, I could hear the other dragon calling me.

 

Floor 20: Eye to Eye

 

"Welcome to the centre of the Labyrinth," said the dragon, directly into my mind, his will close to overpowering me with even the most detached and neutral of statements, "You have been moved ten rings of the spiral inwards. The change is great, so it may take your body and mind some time to adjust. I'm afraid I don't have that long to wait. The laws of this world will resolve the anomaly soon, and force you back to that foolish human's side. You must be made to listen to me."

 

"You seem to know a lot about this world," I replied. My voice was awkward. Since I very first existed, I had never spoken to another member of my species before.

 

"This world was made for me. It is my prison," he said, "I am a felon. I killed my entire roost and caused a paradox with unlicensed time magic."

 

"Criminals are executed or branded an outcast forever," I said. My mother had warned me about rogue dragons. Criminal behaviour was rare among dragons, and punished severely. Dragons are too large, and space for them too much of a luxury, to build prisons, especially as they need such specialist prisons for them not to just burn the door off and fly away.

 

"This prison is the first of its kind. A magically created dimension stable and closed off enough to imprison dangerous magical beasts."

 

"Then what am I doing here? I was barely even an egg!"

 

"You are not here as a prisoner. You are the lock and the key, the bars and the walls," he explained, "I know that a dragon would never normally aid a criminal, but if you do not, you will never be allowed out of here. My term is for life, and the prison cannot hold without you. It needs an intelligent life form as a key, someone who can stop any attempts to reshape the world. who can introduce a fluid and adaptable dimension to the world. And," he added, "You should know that my jailers are not exactly paragons of justice. They do not want a powerful dragon as a captive just to keep the world safe. I think they plan to harvest my magical energy, to bleed me dry. Or maybe find a way to turn me into a powerful servant, for even worse evil than I was planning in the first place. They'll probably do the same to you. Or do you think an ethical person would have stolen your egg from your mother?"

 

"That may be, but I can't trust you. I feel malevolence in you."

 

"But no deception," he said, "What I wish you to do, will benefit both of us and harm neither. Destroy the other key to the gate. Kill the human."

 

Floor 21: Dragonslayer

 

"Why is Leander even an important part of the prison? He's just a human, you know, and not particularly competent," I said, "I thought he got caught up in all this by mistake."

 

"It isn't something a red dragon would be able to spot," said the dragon, "Especially one who has never seen the truly bloody side of the world. That human, Leander, he's a hero. An adventurer. They are a kind of human that is blessed with a particularly important destiny, but they're also completely enslaved to their destinies.

 

"I've heard of them. They often run into conflicts with dragons."

 

"That's because a hero's destiny is often that of dragonslayer," he said, "I don't know what is wrong with the human species, that their very destiny can be specifically to kill another intelligent species, but murder has always been just a part of this world."

 

"He hasn't tried to kill me yet."

 

"He logically can't kill you. You can't affect his fate, can you? He can't affect yours. But once he finds me, he will try and kill me. Then you will be obsolete, and the chains that bind you, of jailer and executioner, will come to an end. Your normal fates will resume. He will have no choice but to kill you after that."

 

"Do I have a 'normal fate' too?" I asked, fascinated by the insight of this venerable, if thoroughly evil, dragon.

 

"How about I tell you as a reward, after you aid me?"

 

"Aren't you going to tell me anything else, to back up your case? At least tell me your name, to show that we can trust each other. I'm Burgundy."

 

"Chronos," he introduced himself, "That name doesn't hold any power over me, by the way. It's an assumed name. Like yours. Now, if you are satisfied, I am going to release you, so you will return to Leander's side. It would do you well to consider everything I have told you very seriously. My plan is the only way you can leave here alive and as a free man. You will be on the twenty-first ring. You have nine rings to make your decision. If you arrive with Leander alive, and I do not see you leading him into an ambush, I will attack you both on sight."

 

With these words, everything went dark again, and I was standing behind Leander. He jumped and made a noise like a human female when I suddenly appeared.

 

And the music had changed.

 

Floor 22: Peaceful Interlude

 

This new music is surprisingly peaceful, considering how lethal everything becomes once you delve this deep into the labyrinth. There are beasts here who can slay with a single blow, even with the almost divine-wrought armour that Leander wears these days. Other beasts can drain strength and life energy, destroy armour and weapons, even steal food. No battle is straightforward any more. Even with this pandemonium all around us, the music is slow-paced and calm. There is a curious aspect to it, as though the new levels of power mean that the rules of battle have changed, that the world itself has become something different, and that the skills for survival have to be learnt anew. I'm not sure even the world itself knows what it is doing any more, and is making it up as it goes along, surprising itself when it thinks something up. At such power levels on both sides of the battle, it must be difficult to know what makes an appropriate threat, and what items can be given as an aid, without them either being so trivial as to be inconsequential at this point, or so powerful as to become imbalanced.

 

I don't know why I'm sympathising with my captors. Maybe Leander's mood is rubbing off on me. Or maybe the peaceful music is lulling me into a false sense of security. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be working on Leander. He's too busy fighting for his life every step of the way.

 

Talking of steps, Leander seems to have freed himself from the curse of the Shift Ring. He isn't talking to me about it, but I think he died while I was gone, and didn't get to keep his ring when he came back. He blamed me for his lack of success while I was away. I didn't realise I was so crucial to his morale, what with my being completely unable to causally affect him.

 

I hope I don't end up having to betray him.

 

 

Floor 23: Financial Emergency

 

My suspicions were correct. Leander died while I was away. He admitted to me last night that he was out of money. While he was under the curse of the Shift Ring, he was unable to collect much money or, well, much of anything. Now that the curse is over, the labyrinth is withholding money from him.

 

"This is it," Leander told me, as though I was still his loyal pet and not twice his size, "The next time I die, I won't come back. And this place is going to kill me. After I'm gone, you'll have to make your own way out of here. That means you'll have to actually do something for once."

 

I'm not sure how he's noticed that I don't do anything to help him without noticing that he can't do anything to help me. I'm also not sure how he came to such a definite conclusion that his resurrection is contingent on his financial situation. It isn't like he can test the theory.

 

Please, don't let him have been experimenting with his ability to come back from the dead.

 

It has left me wondering about a few things, though. Like, if Chronos knows how this world works, about Leander and I, he must have noticed the small detail that Leander comes back from death. And yet, he's asked me to murder the man. He hasn't given me any clues as to how to get Leander to stay dead. It had only occurred to me at this point that I should have asked advice on this matter. If Chronos had everything planned out in so much detail, it was up to him to give me the information I needed, if he was going to rely on me to be part of the plan.

 

Not that I'm actually going to do as he asks.

 

Floor 24: Fear of Mortality

 

Another floor and still no money. Leander's attitude is changing dramatically. He fights defensively, he uses rods on enemies or throws cursed items at them rather than getting into melee with them, he even avoids some battles when he doesn't feel confident. He doesn't aim to clear floors, but watches his food meter and only goes as far as his food will last almost never tests strange magical items on himself, although I'm not sure if this is entirely out of caution or due to the fact that he hardly ever finds items he hasn't already identified. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he really has found all the possible items. If Chronos is telling the truth, he is approaching the end of his journey, whatever 'the end' may entail.

 

I think Leander feels the aura of decisiveness in the air as well. The atmosphere is so thick with tension, even a creature bound to the mundane world must be able to feel it. He no longer speaks of being trapped, or of going around endlessly in circles. He either believes he will leave the maze, or at the very least reach the centre, very soon, or that he will die.

 

While I can smell the same finality on the breeze, I do not think that ending will be so simple as either completion or death. There is no guarantee it will go well for us, even if Leander survives every challenge from here until the thirtieth floor, even if we see the outside world again. I agree with at least one point made by Chronos: the people who created this maze and placed innocent sentient creatures in it are not benevolent, possibly not sane, probably not either.

 

I do not know if it is such a good idea to go along with their intended plan for us any more.

 

Chapter Text

Floor 25: Rebellion Plan

 

Leander's life has been fairly simple today, so I have used the respite to concentrate on my new project: attempting to exert my will upon fate by any means necessary.

 

I am a very large and powerful dragon now. Although I have exhausted every mundane and directly magical method of circumventing my ban on interfering with Leander's artificial destiny, a dragon of such power levels is not restricted to affecting the world on just one plane. Added to which, I am already part of the construction of this world, giving me a two-way connection to its inner workings. A red dragon is not a master of subtle magic in the same way as a blue dragon but this only makes the use of fate magic difficult for me, not impossible. With enough raw power behind the spell and a little knowledge of exactly where to poke the laws of reality to tweak them, I can still bend fate in the right direction. If I cannot affect Leander, I will affect the world around me in a way that affects Leander.

 

I am not sure what kind of change I should bring about to test the limits of my powers. Maybe the placement of a simple item, such as a loaf of bread, or one of the bags of gold that Leander panics so much if he doesn't own. Or maybe I could remove an item, such as a monster. But before I can even start to shape that thought, I must connect to the world at a deeper level, the place where the food and gold and monsters are brought into this world, where the laws about their placement are made. At this basic level, everything becomes the same substance.

 

In the place where the song is sung, every change is just a shift in the music. It is there I need to go: the place where the spirit goes when it surrenders to the music.

 

Floor 26: Spiritual Surrender

 

Reasoning that it didn't really make a difference to Leander whether I was able to watch him or not, I closed my eyes and let my other senses take over. I put one foot in front of the other, knowing that I would simply carry on in the path that this world automatically led me. The rhythm of my feet, the swaying of my whole body, fell in line with the music. It had only ever been a breath away, through a veil so gossamer-thin that the tiniest brush of my mind would sweep it aside. It wasn't a case of drowning out my senses. All my senses became more vivid at once, as they connected with their source and drew power directly from it, so that a rainbow of vivid light came flooding in. I could feel the warm roughness of the stone beneath my feet, the caress of a conifer branch, the wind against my face, was though I was part of everything I touched. The magic was an ocean for my third eye to swim through. Above and beyond everything, inside of everything at the most basic level, was the music. Stretching out my claws and my wings, I let go of my hold on anything that was keeping me apart from the music.

 

And I wasn't following the path any more. I didn't know where I was going but it wasn't in any direction that was possible in the spatial dimensions of the mundane realm. I was standing still, or I was falling through the world, or inside the world, or suspended in its core.

 

It was such a simple solution, the kind of solution that existed in this nexus filled only with a song. The only option available when the world was forcing you to move in a way that you didn't want to, when it had you trapped in a world where only that path existed, was not to move.

 

Leander carried on to the next floor. I did not.

 

Floor 27: Unravelling Fate

 

Although I can feel instantly (in the form of a gaping loss as though I had just torn my own wings out, muted only by the fact that I have already surrendered to a greater master than pain) that Leander is not here, I know that I am not on the floor as when I closed my eyes and began to listen. I am somewhere further down. It is not the Floor Thirty, and I cannot feel Chronos' presence weighing down on me, as I did when he summoned me, but it is not far off. This is another place, another Floor created solely because I am unexpectedly somewhere else and I need a place constructed for me to be in. It is not the ordered hedges of the Labyrinth, it is a wild, overgrown place, with a stony grey lightning-veined mist that roars its seething fury at me for an offence against the world itself. There were no beasts here, no wondrous artefacts on the floor, only dark mist and chaos and anger.

 

This was a place where I was not supposed to be.

 

Suddenly, I felt the terror of a traveller who has strayed from the beaten path and found themselves in a forest full of glowing eyes that snarl and howl at him in the night. I knew that I was dealing with forces that could, and would, unmake me. Then I remembered that I was one of those forces myself, and that dragons were not afraid of wolves.

 

Stretching my wings, I flew through the mist. I flew over the top of the hedges, high into a dark void where a sky had not been formed, but only motes of pure white light danced and occasionally burned themselves into the canvas of unformed Universe. I knew that flying higher would not reveal the world to me - there was nothing to reveal - but it proved to the world that I could break another law, the law of rising upwards and outwards.

 

I challenged the world to invent something to be there, so I could be in it, and it could make sense again. Suddenly, there was another floor around me.

 

Floor 28: Going Up?

 

When I describe this as the 'twenty-eighth floor' I am oversimplifying. I am soaring through an endless sequence of hastily generated realms. They abandon all pretence of following a direction or a pattern, or even of being complete worlds. They are simply planes of endless fog and winding mazes of stone leading nowhere. They cannot trap me within a realm but, fly as far as I might, I know I am always on the same ring of the spiral.

 

For a brief moment, I almost panic and lose my concentration. Sheer will and absolutely accurate following of the waves of music are the only things keeping me from my destined path, and if I lose my hold for one moment, I will be back at Leander's side and the defences will be tightened. I quickly realise what the problem is: this world has no dimensions other than the ones it feels it needs to have at any moment, and despite the appearance that I am ascending, the word 'up' is meaningless. Flying for the rest of my life will not get me any closer to the exit. The rule for leaving the floor is that I need a transporter.

 

I reach out with my third eye to that most fundamental level of this world and I carry on searching until I find the place where the transporters are kept, constantly moving as I do so. My mind has a clear picture of a transporter existing on the ground in front of me, like a lucid dreamer shaping their dream. It is exhausting, but as I am affixing the transporter to the world, I also walk forwards.

 

My feet touch the transporter. The surging noise rushes into my ears. I am no longer on the same floor. I am almost there.

 

Floor 29: To the Rescue

 

Heading closer to the Thirtieth Floor probably seems like an odd goal for me, like a prisoner trying to escape from his cell by running towards the Warden's office (or, if Chronos is telling the truth, the cell of a far more dangerous prisoner who will probably murder me). My goal is not to escape. I do not think such a goal could even be achieved. Nothing I have found in this world suggests a connection to the outside. I thought the objects might be dropped in here from outside, but they are actually stored in one of these floors that is specifically never used, and the food preserved by not giving the floor a time dimension. This process is supposed to be automatic. The only way an outside observer would want to interfere with an automatic process is if it stopped working. I already have this world's attention. To get the attention of its creator, I must break something more important. I believe this climactic battle on the final floor is such a crucial part of this world.

 

My second motivation for flying to Leander's rescue is not so rational. I have been his friend for my entire life. I am feeling genuine emotions, worry and empathy and maybe a tinge of loneliness, here on my own in a half-formed world where the very laws of creation battle me. I can feel his presence in my mind. He is projecting very strongly because of his extreme emotions, and I leave my mind directly connected to his out of habit.

 

He is lost and alone and he is worrying about me. He doesn't believe he can make it through the Labyrinth without me. What remains of his primal instincts, heightened in this hostile world, tells him that something is hunting him. Something much larger than him.

 

Floor 30: Final Destination

 

Finding the centre of a maze is never easy. The gate security is ramped up around the final circle. Willing myself through the gate to Floor Thirty is less like manipulating a lucid dream and more like keeping yourself inside a lucid dream that wants to wake up, while unknowingly you're sleeping on your wings at an awkward angle and the agony is seeping into your dream. With a kind of disgusted shrug, I am finally thrown through the opposite side. I immediately roll into a low crouch, foreclaws extended, teeth bared, spiked tail swishing. I don't know if I can free myself from my fate enough to actually fight someone, but I'll try even if it kills me.

 

Leander is already there. He is squaring up against the dragon called Chronos. It towers over him, five times his size, twice even my own. His terror drills into my psychic senses but he stands resolute, sword drawn. He has gone to that place he goes when he believes with all his heart that he will lose. Defeat becomes a mantra for him, and he fights in its name.

 

I am behind the dragon. Chronos doesn't know this yet. I don't waste the element of surprise. Tensing my muscles and releasing them, I spring forwards, grabbing his wings with my claws and biting into the back of his neck. I draw a deep breath, activating my fire glands with a subtle contraction of my throat muscles. Roaring in outrage, Chronos whips around his whole body with a force that throws me backwards. Ignoring Leander, his eyes lock with mine as we circle each other, looking for a weakness.

 

Then I hear it. A hollow, echoing distortion in the music, as if the bards have moved the instruments into another room and started playing there instead. The angry storm-clouds in the sky twist themselves into a whirlpool and I can see a stark black void that hurts my mind to look into it. It is drained, I know, the source of the power used to create this world.

 

Something is reaching through it. I don't wait to find out what it is. I am already flying towards what I know is the only chance to escape I will ever have.

 

Roaring, I project a full-force mental warning into Leander's mind, then grab him in my claws and lift him off the ground. I had expected him to run and hide, but the moment I look down to make sure I am actually lifting him by his arms, and not, say, his hair, he is standing over the still form of Chronos. Blood drenches his sword. I wasn't psychically scanning Chronos, in case the connection became two-way and he mentally dominated me, but now I realise the dragon is dead.

 

Leander looks more surprised at this fact than anything.

 

 


 

 

 

Epilogue: What To Do With The Rest Of Our Lives

 

Leander, I asked , how are you with hatchlings?

 

How am I with... good grief, that was fast! I always thought dragons were slower at getting round to such things than humans!

 

I don't have eggs yet. I just wondered what I should be telling them about my adventure, if I happened to meet an eligible drake and we settled down together. For instance, what exactly the moral lesson was supposed to be.

 

I have no idea, sorry. I don't think you can have adventures with morals to them in a world that artificial. They probably forgot to add any morals. Maybe you should just invent your own parables, or just tell them straight out that being nice to each other is worth their while.

 

It's not very romantic, but it sounds like a good idea. It doesn't matter anyway. I can't find any drakes who would make nice colour hatchlings. You have to mix their colouring with your own to predict the new colour hatchling, you know. I was hoping for a golden dragon, so I can have orange hatchlings.

 

That's seriously why you don't breed with other colour dragons very often? I thought you just didn't like each other.

 

You still know hardly anything about dragons. I thought you were supposed to be studying.

 

All the books you gave me are about the legal issues around becoming a bounty hunter for dragons. Nothing to do with mating or childbirth. Although the chapter about young offenders was... interesting.

 

Yes, it's a complicated issue. You can't just sit in the study with your snout in a book, though. You need to go out into the world and meet some dragons other than myself. I'm not exactly a prime example of a mentally healthy, socially well adjusted dragon living a normal life.

 

Humans don't have snouts. You're as bad as me. And how exactly am I supposed to meet other dragons? It's not like you can go to the tavern and buy the local dragon a pint.

 

Clearly you aren't going to the right taverns.

 

Because they're all on the top of an unscaleable mountain peak. And I'm a destined dragonslayer. I'm not going to be very popular even if there are any dragons on the same continent as me who don't eat humans on sight.

 

I'll fly you to the old homestead as soon as my wings don't hurt like hell. I've already told my grandsires all about you, so everyone in the roost should know by now. They're terrible gossips.

 

You sound less like an over-institutionalised hermit every day.

 

I'm trying my best to recover. What did you tell your roost?

 

It's not called a... never mind. They didn't believe a word I told them anyway. They think I ate the red mushrooms again. I've been discharged from the Watch.

 

That's sad to hear. You'd think they would be worried about the threat that's still on their doorstep.

 

We don't even know who's responsible or where they are. We're going to have to go back and sort it out, aren't we?

 

When I recover. And you have a good enough understanding of the law to do so while following procedure.

 

Sorry if this is bringing up painful memories, but don't you remember anything at all about the place you were held when the experiment was being set up?

 

Only the music. And that's going to stop now that the experiment has collapsed. I could try listening out again. There can't that many sources of strange music in the woods.

 

Burgundy... I know I say this a lot, but thanks for helping me out in there.

 

I barely did anything. I should have done more from the start. We're partners after all.

 

I guess we are. Leander and Burgundy, Dragon Bounty Hunters Extraordinaire. We need to get a shop sign. And a shop.

 

And a landing pad.

 

Yeah, that too.