Magicalypse - The Hick Dragon
There was a glimpse of blue on the second floor of the tower. Here I was, hoping all this was just a big prank, but this little clue confirmed the whole state of emergency. Scales gliding on metal...
“What do we know about blue dragons?” I asked while staring up at the tower.
“They're blue,” said a deep voice from around my hip height.
Typical dwarven humor. Heavy, down to earth, yet practical since he actually did answer the question : we don't know shit about these beasts. I had asked just in case someone had just released some 'Weaknesses of Dragons 101' that morning. Seems like it had not.
“Thanks, Mathias. Any idea if it gets nasty?”
That dear Mathias, always ready to follow orders without thinking twice. Except his attitude was more about general carelessness than discipline. He seemed calm and composed, but he did enjoy flinging his axe around, I knew that from experience. Mathias was just wise enough to shup up instead of leading us in more trouble than we needed. He likes trouble. I don’t, and I’m the boss, so...
The two other mercenaries that I would lead in this reptile-infested suicide mission finally arrived on the scene. The first one was a smart looking guy with dark skin. We shaked hands like nothing much had happened since the last time we saw each other, because it was the evening before, and nothing had really happened. Although with that crazy magician nuker, anything could have.
Then I casted a quick glance to the second arrival, a tall, blond, good looking expert in tactical support. I nodded, said “Tagyen”. He did the same while calling me “Boss”, and that was that.
The team was ready. That tower couldn't be an ideal battleground for these guys, but all together with Mathias as a Pillar and me, Rune Pardon, we were the usual suspects, and I trusted all of my subordinates.
Of course, the mission itself was unusual to say the least and we were actually late. As there was no need for introduction or small talk, especially since I was unsure anyone would come back alive anyway, I started walking toward the closest entrance to the tower, trying to look more composed than I actually was. They followed.
“Ok guys, you know as much as I do, so I guess we will need to improvise a bit. It would be nice to gather as much info on that blue dragon before we stand under its nose. Or muzzle, or snout, whatever. If hell breaks loose, then... Well, let's say we'll use the Troll formation. Just think, bigger and blue. With wings. Probably. Any questions?”
“Lots,” said the nuker behind me. “Any answers?”
“None,” I replied wistfully.
Fooling around helped gather some courage. That's an everyday routine for a small team of hired adventurers that's been around a bit. But today, the fun was right in the middle of the city, and people were watching us. Some crowd had gathered during the preparation - at a safe distance, enforced by the city's police, mind you –, despite the higher ups trying to keep the whole dragon thing hushed up. Well, you couldn't close a major tourist attraction without some rumors flying around...
And then, we were there.
As millions of people before me, I set my foot on the first step of the stairs leading into the Eiffel Tower's metallic entrails. You wouldn't pay a visit to a dragon using an elevator, would you?
“Did you know that this famous parisian icon was built in 1889 of the old era for some exhibition and was supposed to be taken apart after?”
“Who cares? Should you be thinking of a strategy?”
Geez, my generation was such a fountain of knowledge... None of my friends or colleagues had any interest for the pre-Magicalypse era and everyday's life before a shitload of ethereal forces hit the Earth. Theses days, supernatural events were better understood, and humanity was tightening its grip on magic, which was now getting associated with other stuff than chaos and death.
That really excited my peers much more than the stories from bygone days. Studying magic in some way or another helped gain power in today's society, so I couldn't blame them, but me, well... It just wasn't my thing. Not that I lived in the past ! I used magic whenever it's needed, but I own my job as a leader to my useless nerdy knowledge from a time it existed only in people's dreams. Quite a bit ot fantasy trivia became everyday's occurrence real suddenly some decades ago, and me being a geek gave us a strategic advantage more than once.
Was it too much to ask to be able to share my passion with someone else occasionally ? Talking about the technology from way back to the early XXI century, when you could travel around the earth by train or by plane. About the huge population held in check by intricates politics... A world order that somehow assured global peace and stability, mostly. It was a time of reason and logic, though a cruel one sometimes, not a chaotic life where rules changed every damn day because of some magical hiccup. Well, it gets better nowadays.
Setting foot on a deserted first floor reminded me to focus on the mission. If only we went up as tourist to enjoy the view, but the most we could do was catching breath before resuming ascension. Mathias took some time to check his massive shotgun, the barrel of which sprouted two sharps steel blades, doubling it as some kind of battleaxe. A perfect close combat weapon, but don't ask me how it didn't shatter from all the deflagrations and shocks it endured. Dwarf craftsmanship... Not that anyone other than Dwarfs could build something like a shotgun axe. It's just that only Dwarfs would.
Also, guns were precious artifacts, not to mention the price of ammo – actually manufactured using magic -. Because of this, melee weapon were much more common. Some liked a mix of both, but Matthias shotgun was something a bit extreme. I used a gun myself, but I relied more on a nice fencing foil, a light, precise and deadly pointy stick, and so very far from pre-Magicalypse Heroic Fantasy clichés.
Even our tactical support, the sniper I called Tagyen, carried a short blunt weapon around. You wouldn't see him mawl an orc, or even a gobelin, with his precious rifle. And certainly not a dragon. He also kept a bow and some arrows handy since he usually fought from a distance.
That's what he was carrying right now, probably because it was easier to aim and shoot in this crampy Eiffel Tower. He also had the habit to hide a few grenades on his person, in case of big trouble. Not enough ‘trouble’ ever showed up until now for him to go berserk with explosive, but today's challenge could make it happen, if Tagyen felt like it.
He didn't like being too showy. Quite the opposite. As an half-human, half-troll, he tried to keep himself under the radar. Except for his impressive stature and strength, nothing really betrayed his "bad blood". He was a good looking guy, sensitive, intelligent, with many more easily envied personality traits. Quite frankly, he could have been in my shoes as a leader, if not for a natural lack of self confidence I exploited on a regular basis to keep him on check.
“Maybe we should be more stealthy, and try to get there faster too. Do you think we could ambush it?” said the 'Mitroll' quietly, always trying to vomit his common sense at any chance.
“Dragons are clever and perceptive creatures, Tagyen. Why bother?” I answered. “It's probably been waiting for us to show up since we started climbing up. Just keep an eye on traps or minions and suchlike.”
Not only did that shut him up, but I might have been right. Well, that's what I thought, based on my knowledge of dragons from the general geeky imagination of my past brethrens. Books, roleplaying games, movies, video games... Every kind of documentation was useful. With some fantasy facts checking, you could get a good idea of what to expect from nowadays surrounding.
I always wondered if the current state of the world had been brought by the chaotic energy that swept our planet, or if it just made a bunch of local fantasies into a reality. In the latter case, what of science fiction stuff like aliens and such? Did the world really become some manichean nightmare, with bad monsters on one side, and us as romantic heroes on the other? Enough philosophizing around. In these action-packed days of survival, thinkers were pretty much locked away "for their own good", even in a major - and yet pretty safe - City State like Paris, one that was claiming to spread it's 'culture' worldwide.
Well, if action was what we needed, we could always count on Mehdi, my nuker friend. Nuker is a generic name for a fighting mage, but when it came to this guy...
Mehdi the smooth talker, the ever rebellious kid that never went back to his parents in Morocco. They sent their son to Paris to make a respectful mage out of him and he went and became a mercenary specialized in every destructive magic out there. Nevertheless, Mehdi was now a brilliant third year student in applied elemenstasis at l'University du Louvre, no need to be ashamed of that. Always dressed 'casual chic' as if ready to party at some nightclub in the next five minutes, he was also a practical mind and an easy going fellow. Friendly enough for help me forget my usual aversion for the Magicalypse's children.
I turned to him with a dragon still on my mind.
“Say Mehdi, you good with protection, shields, stuff like that?”
“You know I rather protect myself by getting rid of enemies in the quickest way possible.”
“Right, but in this case... Let's say being a blue dragon as something to do with cold attacks, like ice thingies shooting at us or whatever, you'll be able to warm us a bit?”
Mehdi made a face that betrayed some of the sadistic stuff going on in his nuker mind. I quickly added :
“Anything that won't melt our bones, the Eiffel Tower and half of Paris?”
“Not my area of expertise,” replied Mehdi while still smiling his deliberately stress-inducing grin. “But I suppose I could oppose elemental forces to whatever the dragon could launch at us, and see where it goes from there”.
“Hang a second here,” interrupted Tagyen. “Didn't you say the dragon was listening, Rune? Is it wise to talk about...”
“Then it knows as much as we do about how we're going to proceed ! It's all about unpredictability, okay? I call this chaostrategy.”
And the funniest thing was that Tagyen was the kind of guy to seriously consider this utter bullshit. Really!
Mathias was patiently rolling himself a joint, sitting on the stair that led to the second floor. I knew he wouldn't smoke it on duty, we agreed on this a long time ago, but being pot-ready for debriefing probably gave him a good reason to come back alive from mission.
I adjusted my Kevlar vest, a nice familial relic that saved my ass more than once in the past. You couldn't find this stuff anymore. The technology was lost during the Magicalypse, like so many others… Some of which had been replaced by magic. I wondered if it would be any help against a dragon, though. Ah yes... The blue dragon. It was time to move on.
Climbing to the second floor went slowly. Partly because it was not a bad idea to preserve as much as stamina before what could be the fight of a lifetime, but also because no one was particularly in a hurry to have said lifetime being dramatically shortened in said fight.
However, we did go forward, which eventually led us to our destination, as it was most often the case, providing you didn't get lost. And it was not entirely impossible, but quite improbable to get lost on the Eiffel Tower staircase.
Anyway, despite my obvious effort to stall, we got there. Ding, second floor, bedding, lingerie, dragons... I could already sense Tagyen behind me as he was scouting for a possible sniping spot, needlessly : the distance was too close, for his gun as much as for our sake, because the dragon was right there in front of us.
The first hint that something was wrong was that the damn beast was facing the other way, looking outside at whatever. It was leaning its massive body against the railings, and while I was expecting something more impressive, you could say we were going up against a bad, bad motherfucker. And a blue one indeed. Hypnotic iridescent glints showed on the metallic scales as the sun was striking its slowly moving body. Pretty much everyone down there could see it now, that was for certain.
By all means, it was your typical Heroic Fantasy dragon, with muscular arms, larger hind legs and of course two powerful wings of bluish leather – shame on me for picturing beautiful boots -. Somehow, a youthful aura emanated from the dragon, and also a feeling of vulnerability. Better not count on it, I though. But still, I wondered if it was an human mutated back at the time of the Magicalypse, or if it was born a dragon some time after.
But seriously, what was this creature looking for? I was pretty sure now that the dragon had simply not noticed our little squad. I briefly spotted something in one of its claw too. Some kind of book? This was just too surreal...
“Is it ignoring us?” whispered Mehdi, who was probably baffled that anyone, least a dragon, would ignore him.
His hands were tensed up from the desire of casting spells, and that whisper was the kind that's meant to be heard from afar.
And it did. The dragon paused briefly, raised its head as if surprised, and slowly turned its bulky frame toward us. Quite professionally, we swiftly positioned ourselves in the “Troll formation”, whatever it was worth now, as two blue eyes settled upon us. I easily pictured that nightmare picking its teeth with my fencing sword pretty soon...
Suddenly, the big reptilian head shook, sending some kind of shiver down its long undulating neck that ended in a massive jolt from the torso. The dragon opened its wings widely and launched a few inches from the platform. I prepared to evade some breath of ice or fire, but none came. Neither acid, or gases, or whatever. It just flew a second, folded back its wings and landed heavily with a nasty sound of claws scraping metal.
“Geez you scared me there!” thundered the blue dragon, looking as if on the verge of cardiac arrest.
“It's all relative” said a famous scientist from the pre-Magicalypse era. Witnessing a dragon talk, for example, was a fascinating experience, as these creatures did not have lips like humans do. Nevertheless could they articulate sentences like anybody else. A dragon simply opened its jaws and speech came out of it, as if a guy hidden inside was talking in its place. That would weird anyone out. But very much less so than having one of this beast jump out of its skin like a snake shedding on a trampoline, before complaining we gave it the fright of its life.
Tagyen was the first to end the embarrassed silence :
“Clever and perceptive indeed,” he said, while slowly lowering his bow – but not loosening the arrow so much -.
Not reacting to that unusually cutting remark from the half-troll, I tried to look less threatening myself, while remaining watchful. So far, the dragon hadn't shown any ill intent, but it still could probably fry (or freeze) us all anytime, and in a bored way, if it felt like it.
“Sorry, we didn't mean to surprise you,” I tried, very carefully.
A pause. I was still alive. Good.
“Thing is... We are sent by the city state of Paris to... To inquire about the fact of you being here, like, on the Eiffel Tower.”
The dragon tilted his head on one side and scrutinized each of us, with one pupil like a razor blade, then opened its mouth once again to speak in that weird way.
“You are the ones who should explain what your are doing in my home in the first place.”
“Well, yes. The Eiffel Tower belongs to me now. I would have thought the city hall informed by now. Let me show you...”
The dragon turned around and moved along the platform to a huge wooden chest we couldn't see before. A flick of a claw was enough to open it and it put away the publication it was holding until now, and I finally saw that it was a tourist guidebook. So we just walked on a mythical beast sightseeing blissfully?
To tell the truth, Paris was a beautiful city. It actually didn't take much damage during the Magicalypse, while everywhere else, the population, the infrastructures... well, pretty much every damn things on this planet was going through cataclysmic magical mutations, sending cartesian thinking down the drain on the way. The 'City of Light' thus remained a touristic destination for anyone who could afford the trip with the magical portals that linked Paris to other enclaves and city-states. The one on Place de l'Etoile was pretty decent, but it didn't allow monsters to go through on a national museums binge. So I guessed flying in was a good option too.
The dragon was now delicately holding some thick document bound in leather (not blue). It... Well, now that the creature had spoken in a somewhat civilized manner, I had trouble referring to him, as it. He held the papers to me with the face of a chess player moving a pawn for checkmate. I sheathed my sword and grabbed what looked, after few seconds of perusing, like a bill of sale.
“I bought the Eiffel Tower from the Parisian Heritage Institute from the minister in person when he came to the Larzac Plateau, where I lived. All my treasure went into it ! And he promised me the mayor would be told about the contract when I got here. Maybe I should have paid him a visit first, but I was so excited. I'm passionate about Paris, you see, and when I learned that the city was selling its monuments to...”
“It's a forgery.”
“Beg you pardon ?”
“This document is a fake,” I explained. “There is no way you bought the Eiffel Tower, it never was on sale on the first place. You've been scammed.”
Humanity has always dreamed of dragon, picturing their wrath with visions of blood and fire, or fancying them sleeping for centuries at a time, hidden in unknown part of the world ; sometimes as loyal friends of some chosen man or woman. Even as facetious and all powerful being ready to punish or reward depending on the answer to some tricky riddle. Quite rarely did anyone describe them as shocked, confused, dumbfounded and more lost than a kid alone at the frozen food department. That blue dragon was one embarrassing sight to behold at that moment.
Oh well, there is no way we wouldn't take advantage of this situation.
“Before the Magicalypse, France was a land of asylum and the City State of Paris will stay faithful to its traditions of fraternity and tolerance, that we need more than ever to live through this difficult times...”
Blah blah blah, Paris mayor Hervé Darmont's speech would soon be over and would conclude a day of much awesomeness, if I dared say so myself.
After my report of the situation at the Eiffel Tower to the Ministry of the Interior, and the presentation of my little idea for a diplomatic settlement, the administration started grinding politics like crazy to resolve matters as quickly as possible. Even the negotiation with Siegfried the blue dragon - 'Siegfried Icesteel', believe it or not – happened in a record time since, aside for showing again his now obvious candour, he was in a pretty tight spot. No treasure left, no home, no resources, nothing to do than go back on the Larzac plateau where, he said, “the goats were good, but the neighborhood was full of hicks.” Apparently, the place was a hippy area a few decades before the Magicalypse. Maybe it hadn't changed that much. Anyway Siegfried the docile dragon wanted to stay in Paris, and never did we see the mayor relocate someone so efficiently.
The new home for Siegfried was my idea, and damn fine idea it was : Parnasse Peak offered the best view on the city, a lot of space to move around and good privacy. That place used to be some kind of office building made of steel and glass. Like many other modern, or somewhat recent, structures, it mutated violently during the magicalypse.
Sticking out of an unfathomable depth – no one ever tried to seriously get down there – the peak was now a beautiful obsidian tower surrounded by a massive ramparts. Years ago, people were conveniently tossing all their waste down the hole, until it started to come back up and attack them. It was then encircled by a thick wall then, and only a few mages kept on studying the building, without really hoping to find anything than more bodies of pre-magicalypseans, encysted deep in glass at the time when the chaos erupted, and forever rooted in front of their computers like mosquitoes in amber.
All of this was definitely not explained to the dragon, who found the deal quite reasonable : at the service of the town hall for an indefinite time, converted in a tourist attraction most of the week, made a celebrity by Paris Première and M6, the two officials TV channels of Paris... Hell, carried along in the media hype, even I had to keep a low profile to avoid more publicity than I needed!
It was a matter of balance between boosting my business and the risk of getting tailed by paparazzis during my next raid against an orc siege in the suburbs. Speaking of which, in all his niceness, Siegfried was still a bloody dragon whose potential in combat and air support made him a pawn, or maybe a knight, in the pocket of the ministry of defence. His freezing breath – note that I was right about his abilities – would be used for more than maintaining the ice rink on the Town Hall's main square, that's for sure.
The mediatic show was ending now, without some mage having to weave a spell to keep the mayor's ass warm, since it was getting kind of cold and windy up there on the Parnasse Peak. Parisian's Elite was now leaving the place using levitating platforms, another luxury to impress the crowd that had gathered on the ground, next to the abyss, to see... To see what exactly ? They would have a better view on the net, those idiots. Some of them climbed the ramparts too. I could do without the irony of having a few deaths after all that state-of-the-art diplomacy.
Oh well, not my responsibility anymore. It was time to hit some party at the town hall, where the free food was sure to help me overcome that troublesome new-found attention.
Stepping on the platform, I realized it wasn't that much of luxury after all, since no other means of transportation could take you up on the Peak. Enjoying the rare view, I contemplated Paris like the dragon did before, as magical lights already started to illuminate the streets despite the sunset running pretty late on this summer evening.
I checked further off, beyond the “Periph”, which used to be some highway that encircled the city ; it got mutated into a deep moat, filled with the Seine river and inhabited by all kind of nasty creatures. One of the best defence against the suburb, where I often risked my life to earn it. It was a no man's land where only the nomadic projects moved around and traded food against the City State’s protection. The rest was all about orcs, beasts, fear, chaos and magic...
As we went down, I did caught a glimpse of a body encased not too deep inside the obsidian tower. Did the people working there in the past were dreaming of swordfights and fireball? Did they yearned adventure in a savage world, before dying in that black glass casket?
Maybe they did...
If only they knew.