Chapter 1 The Daymaker To Diane the oddest thing about him are his lips. The way they lay against each other like two…
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To Diane the oddest thing about him are his lips. The way they lay against each other like two ribbons of soft damp silt in a riverbed that, after seeing the river dry away, have folded together. She had always seen, in drawings, teeth, mighty and fierce fangs charging out of open jaws. But the wide flat drifts of skin that contained those teeth entirely, sealing off the terror, were to her unreal and yet altogether familiar. She found herself touching her own face to see if her own lips were the same. And, to her surprise, they were.
Standing there in the woods she was alone but for the only one like herself she had ever seen. The pictures weren’t entirely inaccurate, they just had no life. He was short on life himself and, perhaps, in too much pain to have even noticed her. He certainly wasn’t dead. Either way, he wasn’t talking.
Diane herself was hurting and tired but she knew the natures of their troubles were different beasts.
It was now long after dawn had broke and much longer still after she had given up on wrestling her damp pillow back to sleep deciding instead to leave her bed. In the middle of the night Diane had set out into the deep woods under the black–away from the village that reluctantly kept her safe–to chase down the trajectory of the thing she had seen fall–or felled–from the sky. And chase down the chance to hear aloud for once the language she was born to speak.
She had found it, him. Diane looked at her company’s state. Shortly, she would be alone again.
She knew by his shape that he wasn’t long for the world. His river of life was drying up, but not quite gone. Something in his veins still trickled. In a few places along his torso that trickling left his body. She had no way to patch him up. Stopping his death had never been on her list of things to do and she wondered why. What did it say about her (a question she couldn’t shut out of her mind) that she thought only of what she could get from him when she set out. Her list of things to accomplish was rather short when she was deciding to set out. It contained only one item: go.
Diane looked down over the slowly breathing body and to the trail that it broke in clawing his way to this point. She could see that he was exhausted and, by the low moaning whimpers as he inhaled and exhaled, that he was in pain. But not for the same reasons as she.
Diane’s arthritic and sedentary lifestyle was not at all prepared for the effort she made to bring herself to him. It hurt when she inhaled and exhaled for the same it always did, the ache between her bones, especially in her lower back. In her lower back it hurt when she walked. It hurt when she sat. It hurt when Omegal, the creature that raised her, wisher her sweet dreams. And her back as well as her hips and knees and ankles all cried now in agony when on a normal day her bones only muttered in annoyance.
The aching had everything to do with the long hike Diane felt the need to undertake in the middle of the night.
This one like her in front of her, he was in his state because falling–or felled–from the sky would surely be the thing that will cause him to die. Even if she had brought aide, she was realizing, it would have been a feeble and failed effort.
When her eyes moved finally to the fore end of him, she studied the bloody rift upon his face. Likely, she surmised, the gash was the work of a tree on his way to the ground. And then a thought she couldn’t pronounce rumbled through her mind. The shape of that cut; familiar.
This cut, something inside her told her, was the last page of a novel. She didn’t yet know the story in the pages between but she knew that this bloody cut was the last line of a long tale and, just a week before, while toiling away in her tiny shop, Diane had seen the first page fly up to her counter.
Interrupting her thought dreams, he dropped his intended purchase upon the counter and, as always, she quickly noticed the mark. Perhaps she was primed to notice the mark that day in particular because of the Automotan she had to step around that morning while crossing the square. It would likely have caught her eye regardless.
The scar drew upward along his angled brow, beginning at nearly his nose, it went around his eye to just below the end of his ear, giving the right side of his face a heaviness that is not what puts most creatures on edge when in his company. It is the story behind the scar that crushes the voices of those who might dare to speak to Peraspera.
Diane had been distracted by the machine she trudged past in the square that morning. It had stopped dead the day before, an automaton of certain note. The popular convention was that it must have ran out of fire. Her mind had been querolsomely stepping around the truth that these same machines are what chased her kind out of these woods after their second attempt at an invasion. Regardless of the rusting state, they’re still preventing the next attempt. Most believe, anyway.
Like most things, Diane wasn’t usually phased by the physical feature on the face in front of her, nor he who possessed it across her counter, even though she knew, the story went, that her own kind carved it. She was finally at a point in her life where she was OK with him. Not at peace with Peraspera, no. But no longer did she furiously hate the thing that failed to uphold his end of the bargain. OK with herself, maybe. Just almost did she forgive herself for being of the beats that tortured these smaller creatures.
Diane liked that the scar set Peraspera apart, even if it wasn’t, as the stories say, what made him a solitary creature. Diane quite liked the defining mark. It made Peraspera unmistakable and not just amongst the other owls. Unmistakable is, of course, something Diane understands well being the only dragon left alive in this part of the world.
The repaired path of punctured skin parsing out Peraspera’s face, the break in feathers, was always the first thing she saw when she saw this bird. She saw the Mark in her mind whenever she tried to imagine flying. It must look like what a river looks like when seen from above, breaking apart the trees. That she didn’t own any square of sky the way he did and that it was his fault that she never learned the skyward way hurt her in nuances she had no way of knowing.
But why she couldn’t look past the repaired skin had more to do with the question of why the great Peraspera was showing his face that day. Diane was disappointed but also incredibly relieved. She was hoping that another of the machines would be done and gone to waste. But this clockmaker would have no trouble repairing it being the creature who built it. However, with the last of the clockmakers there to relight the machine no creature would be bothering her about purchasing fire.
Diane and Perasper were the only two creatures left in The Eastern wild with the ability to make fire. Diane being the only dragon, that is, until one is mysteriously cut from the sky later that week. The dragon whose lips puzzled her. The dragon whose physical predicament puzzled her
All of the other creatures in the shop grew alert when the great owl fluttered to the counter, placing his bag of worms down. Diane was mostly amused at the eyes all around the shop she could see half hiding their own eyeing of her. She knew they were all looking for a story they could trade later.
Diane simply moved her aching arm over to the bag and looked at the price. She opened her log to the page for the owls and, after taking a short break to stretch out her claw, dipped it in ink and wrote the numbers down.
After a short yawn she said, “This is the point where I am to ask if you would like to know your balance.”
“Is there an issue with payments?” Peraspera said.
“Being that your kind are my main suppliers, there really isn’t a way you can go into debt,” Diane said.
“Well, then,” Peraspera said, “my mind doesn’t need yet another set of numbers occupying it. Thank you.”
Diane glances down at the ledger under the heading of OWL. Line after line, with dates sometimes a week apart, sometimes a few months, it reads only “Peraspera: bag of worms.”
Not another owl comes in her shop, nor any different deal is struck with their kind.
She jotted the numbers down as she said, “I’ll assume that is your version of a simple no.”
Diane looks up from her ledger and nods to him in a way that said good day with a minimal amount of politeness.
He picks up his bag in his beak and walks out of the shop.
The other creatures go back to selecting without an ounce of real gossip.
Her bones may be a blinding orchestra of agony but her ears are clean and sharp. She can hear the doe by the dried plums whispering to her child, “She was supposed to be his daughter.”
“Excuse me,” Diane said not loudly but sharply. Life in the room stopped. None of the creatures dared even look Diane’s way. “Is there something you are looking for?”
After a long pause under the black eyes of a staring dragon that reached four times her own height, the doe managed a meak “No.”
Diane looked down at her counter and the open ledger with all of Peraspera’s purchases. She is surprised at what she had just done. Frightening a smaller creature just let to lose some anger is trait of the dragon lore she had always detested, though, of course, never experienced.
She had always said she didn’t care, that she knew she would never have wanted to be raised by the owl and didn’t hold it against him leaving her with the wolf. If asked she would say just that and explain that she wasn’t given the acuity to be a clockmaker.
The weight of that memory was too much for her tired, aching legs. Those legs gave out, sending her rump to the forest floor.
Diane is back in the moment now, looking onto the dragon. His scales are dry and coarse. Hard and unyielding. They do not move as her scales do, in unison like the feathers on the duck. She can hear them clicking like the rocks that roll down the hillside as he moves his head about and just short of looking into his eyes it occurs to her that he is moving, that he has still some life left, that she might have the chance for words with him after all.
The turning of his head is taking an eternity and puffs of smoke the size of the bear leak from his nostrils. Diane thinks on the smoke that had been seen out of the west, growing closer in recent seasons. All the creatures who remembered the second invasion swore that that particular kind of smoke was from the Daymaker, the only kind term ever used to describe the dragon.
Seeing that smoke coming over the mountain Diane had yearned to go to it and learn the Dragon tongue, to meet her own kind.
But the walk would have killed her. And the fact that she never learned to fly was a horrible embarrassment that she had no idea how to explain.
She couldn’t now explain why it was she was actually standing there. Why in the rat’s hell did she leave her home, Omegal’s windless, if not warm, cave, to come find a dying monster. Diane couldn’t tell herself the reason.
His head moved another quarter turn, nearing her and Diane’s heart broke into a sprint that her stilled body couldn’t respond to, sending rapids of blood to cascade through her veins. She nearly fainted.
But then his neck gave out and his jaw smashed to the ground, denting into the dirt.
Diane saw this as her chance and popped up to leave but a pain shot up through her spine, taking all of the feeling from her limbs and she dropped back down.
The dragon didn’t respond.
“I’ll just sit for another minute,” she whispered to herself, while in the back of her mind she was screaming, run.
She couldn’t run though; arthritis argued her appendages into anguish.
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