Chapter Five

Rest and Recouperation

A/N: This chapter goes on for fucking ever. XD I'm all like, Jesus, why don't I just shut the fuck up? It also has the highest concentration of Black Knight jokes per chapter. Which, as Marilyn points out, gets really old. XD

But it's really important for Marilyn's character development. And I love the end. 3 So bear with me.


To Griffin's utter surprise, he was not in pain.

He vaguely remembered an explosion that at the time had redefined the word 'painful' and therefore had assumed before he had woken up enough to test it that he would be in complete agony at the time when his nerves worked again. But there was nothing, a feeling of numbness, keeping him completely motionless on what appeared to be a large, old-fashioned, slightly musty-smelling bed.

"Some hero," Marilyn Shepards repeated, pouting. "When he called you 'Knight,' I was expecting something more... gallant."

Griffin tried not to laugh, and it didn't take a lot of effort; laughing seemed way beyond his capabilities at the moment. He could barely move his mouth enough to spit out, "What, you've never seen 'Black Knight'?"

Marilyn's frown grew deeper. "No," she snapped, crossing her arms under her breasts. She seemed like the type to really hate being laughed at, based on her expression. "And I wasn't talking about that, anyway. I was referring to the fact that you're stretched out on your back under the healing spell of the same lizard you were supposed to slay."

Healing? The dragon was healing him?

Dragons could heal people? How did they manage that; magic experimented with by various elves and the occasional dwarf had proved that increasing the speed of the body's natural healing by pouring the external energy of magic into their tissue caused more damage than good.

More importantly than how; why was the monster healing him?

He tried to ask Marilyn but he could barely move. She looked disgusted.

"Don't even try talking. You're that Mason guy, the dealer, right? Griffin Mason?"

He managed to nod. Her frown had already grown to the point where it couldn't deepen further but somehow she managed to accentuate her increased dissatisfaction anyway. "And Daddy sent you looking for me. Not a centaur agent or a helicopter or an army, but one kid from the district. Let me guess, it's because you're a genius, right?"

He managed another nod.

"Daddy reads too much Tolkein. Sneak in with your pretty shiney ring and outwit him, then. If it's any help, I don't think he's good with riddles. What goes up the hill on four legs...?"

That was about all Griffin could take, physically and socially. He felt his conciousness slip back to where ever it had been before and he fell into darkness.


While Mason was asleep, Marilyn combed out her hair again- it grew faster down here, for some reason, and judging by the curly bush on top of Griffin's hair it wasn't just her's- and then sat gingerly on the edge of the so-called 'knight's bed, looking down at him in distaste. She wasn't racist or anything, it wasn't that, it was just that Griffin was such a... diminuitive hero. And a dealer. And smart-ass, based on his only comment from their conversation.

"And Daddy trusts me with him," she complained to the huge mirror facing them. Looking at her reflection, her lip raised slightly in disgust; she'd been down here in this stupid cave for days and she really needed a bath, and a change of clothes. "I wonder if the lizard has a bath around here." Talking aloud was stupid but it helped to hear her own voice. She had almost forgotten her terror of the dragon, until she'd gotten into the Main Hall and saw the massive claw-marks from many, many different passages.

Only running her fingers through the oil on her scalp was enough to spur her forward, catching the attention of a passing salamander. "Excuse me," she whispered, forcing her trembling fingers around a thin and frail arm. The lizard-man squeaked and backed up a pace, blinking huge eyes at her. It was the first time she'd heard one of them make a sound and it surprised her enough that she forgot to be terrified of it.

"Do you know where the dragon is?" she asked it, carefully speaking slowly in case it didn't quite understand her words. She tried to pantomime 'dragon' but it was a complex word and she didn't do a very good job of it. Somehow, however, the salamander either understood her flexed hand's rapid wing-like motions or knew the language; either way it nodded, briskly, several times, it's wide mouth opening in what looked like a sharp-toothed grin.

"Can you take me to him?" Judging it not likely to run away, she slowly loosened her grip on its short arm and let it back a pace away from her. It was a little too pungent for her, anyway, the fiery brimstone scent almost overpowering in close contact. It lingered on her hands.

The salamander nodded again, and began lumbering in a new direction. Marilyn walked quietly behind it, trying not to get ahead of it; it took two strides for each one of her's because of the odd bend of its legs. They went the way of the Main Hall until they came to the giant mirror- there was something different about the salamander in the mirror but Marilyn couldn't pick it out- when they turned right and took a very small tunnel Marilyn hadn't noticed before. The dragon had to have changed form before going in here, which was strangely comforting. Following the scratch of the lizard-man's claws on the stone because it was too dark away from the lamps to see her hand in front of her nose, she inched forward, swallowing her clausterphobia. Twice, turns in the tunnel made her run into rock and caused brief fits of panic before she realized she was not, in fact, trapped in.

When the tunnel began to widen again, Marilyn breathed a sigh of relief- until she saw where they were. A massive, perfectly round cavern, completely bare but tall enough for two dragons sitting one on top of the other. It was lit by a large, red-flame lamp hanging from the tall ceiling, and from it at least twelve tunnels stretched. Each was marked with a separate rune, not in english or centaur or any other writing Marilyn had ever seen, but carved clearly into the stone and stained back. The salamander, without pausing, took a tunnel five over from the one they had emerged from, and Marilyn, pausing for a moment to commit the mark by their door to memory, followed it into another tunnel, not as narrow or as dark as before, mostly for the glow behind and the fainter, redder glow before them.

The room beyond the tunnel was massive enough to put the Main Hall to shame. This one was in a triangle-shape, but unlike the circular room it looked natural, without the superficial perfection the other room had boasted. The dragon was curled up around itself, glittering red and gold in an omnipresent glow that seemed attatched to the rock walls, the round, crystal globes mounted on golden staffs placed in a semi-circle around him, and his scales themselves. His massive head was lowered to the stone but his eyes were wide open, glowing blue, and every once in a while his great talons would twitch like a dreaming dog's feet. Marilyn hadn't taken much more of the scene in before her guide rose to his taloned toes, stretched out his lizard head, opened his massive mouth, and let out a long, cackling keen.

The dragon's eyes stopped glowing, and then all glow stopped, throwing the room into complete darkness but for the outline of the tunnel behind them.

They stood in shadow for a moment, then the dragon gave a quiet growl and three lamps on the wall roared to life. The sound, soft though it was, sent nasty shivers down Marilyn's spine and she wondered if this might have been a bad idea. She backed a pace closer to the tunnel when the dragon stretched out and stood up, looming over her, glaring down at her.

The monster, however, seemed to sense her fear and in another moment his human form stood before them, looking annoyed. Marilyn realized her mouth was still open in a silent scream and she closed it with a snap. "I'm sorry," she whispered, wondering what it was she'd interrupted.

"I was meditating." The dragon didn't seem too angry, just irratated. "What do you want?"

What did she want again? "I... wanted to know if you had a bath, somewhere in here," she said, the words tumbling out in a fearful rush. "I think... I mean, I do need...."

The other rolled his eyes skyward, making an impatient sound in the back of his throat. "And you couldn't have asked the salamanders where the bath was?" he asked, irrated.

She couldn't? "I didn't think... they spoke english," she replied lamely.

"He took you here, didn't he?" As if to prove his point, the dragon turned to the lizard in front of him and said, "Go." It bowed and scurried into the rock, vanishing into the solid wall.

There was either something about the inhabitants or something about the walls. Marilyn didn't even really notice as another seemingly-solid being walked straight into stone. "Anyway," she said, her host's seeming calm making her braver, "I need a change of clothes, too."

The dragon stared at her. "You have clothes," he said.

"They're dirty. I need to wash them, and unless you expect me to walk around here naked until they're finished soaking...."

"Why not? The only member of your species is asleep."

"Well, anyway." She wasn't sure she could phrase this sort of need to a human male, much less a dragon. "I need... variety."

The dragon blinked. "Variety?"

"In the things I wear." He looked blank. It was the first time she'd ever seen him looking entirely at a loss. "I can't just wear the same dirty clothes day after day. They wear out, they get stained, and I get tired of them."

For a moment, he just stared at her, then he shook his head in confused resignation. "Very well," he sighed. "I'll get you a change of clothes. Don't expect much in the way of style, though."

Damn. She'd forgotten, for a moment, that dragons wouldn't know very much about good taste. "If you let me go with you..."

"Not a chance."


"Alright." She shifted from one foot to the other while he studied her some more, looking a little irratated at being pulled from his meditation and being forced to go shopping for a human female, then cleared her throat. "About that bath..."

"Of course." He led the way to the tunnel, but let her precede him into it. As they walked towards the light of the round cavern the lamps behind them shut off as one. Then they popped back out into the tall room, and Marilyn searched for the exit tunnel, scanning the runes on the wall.

"They're in the dragon language?" They sure didn't look like the elf runes she'd seen; those were more angular, many-pointed, and dwarves tended towards simple runes, like a number of lines.

"Dragons don't have a written language." The dragon's smile was wistful, though Marilyn didn't think it was because of his lack of a native writing. "They're gryphon."

"Where do these go?" she asked him, only half expecting an answer.

"Mind your business, will you?" The dragon seemed perfectly able to read the sigals; he led the way once more as they approached the narrow tunnel leading to the Main Hall.

"Aren't you supposed to say, 'that is no concern of your's, human'?" she asked, eyebrows furrowed, pausing in the center of the room. "You almost slipped in your clichè responces, you know." She half-smiled as he turned on her, despite the surge it caused in her stomach. He had terrifying eyes. "Which one's your hoard?"

He smiled, then, a quiet, almost devious smile. "That one," he replied, pointing to one three to the right. "That one's my arcane library, that one contains my magical artifacts, that one is my dark chapel to the dragon-god Gor, that one is the birdcage room for singing maidens, that one is the wi-fi spot..."

"Are you serious?" Marilyn asked, choking. "You have a wi-fi spot?"

Once again her host rolled his brilliant eyes. "Of course not," he growled. "I was joking. The tunnel was not a passageway to Middle Earth, you know; I don't have a hoard, I don't need a library, I don't worship and as of yet, you have the privaledge of being my first maiden." He entered the tunnel, ducking slightly to get inside. Marilyn wondered if it was clausterphobic for a creature who spent his life flying.

"Lucky me," she replied dryly.

"Not my first human, though," he continued, sounding speculative. "That's why there are all the guest rooms; before the europeans came to America I had quite a few human friends among the Americans here."

"Friends?" She hurried in after him, closing her eyes so it wouldn't seem so dark. "That can't be easy, being friends with people who'll die a million times over before you."

"You get used to it." By the sudden stone-like quality to his voice, you never got used to it. The cloaked emotion in his voice sent tremors down Marilyn's spine.

She struggled her way around a curve before asking the next question, that beat against her brain in a flurry of anxiety. "The humans you were friends with, you didn't... I mean, they were all... you know..."

There was a long pause, then, "Platonic?" Marilyn nodded. "By all means, no; I was here, a month's flight from my kindred, and in such situations dragons with perfectly acceptable human forms are famous for being... promiscuous, around humans." His smile, containing all the fanged charm he could weild in dragon form, was obvious even in the darkness. "But I never kept hostages, is the point. Until you."

Marilyn tried to imagine falling in love a thousand times over and watching the subject die every time, feeling the pain she'd never been forced to feel once again and again and again. She swallowed hard and managed another dry, "Lucky me."

They emerged into the Main Hall in silence, the dragon leading the way away from the mirror, towards the false wall. Another tunnel, much larger and well-lit than they had just taken, curved into the stone and Marilyn could see a staircase leading down in the shadows. "The bathing rooms are just down there," the dragon said, waving his hand in a broad gesture taking in the tunnel and the staircase. "I will return in an hour and put your change of clothes at the top of the stair; if you need me after that I'll be watching over the Knight. Enjoy yourself."

"Thank you." She wasn't used to thanking people but it felt adequate in the situation. Her host, who had kidnapped her and had every intention of using her for some unknown purpose, was actually far more civil than he had need to be.

He waved as he walked away, and Marilyn strode into the tunnel, taking the steps down. It was a long decent, the stairwell curling slightly inward before it receded into a slightly downward-sloping tunnel that slowly grew rougher, from the magic-smoothed stone to rough rock. The ground changed from marble to rock to sand, and the bathing room spread before her, lit with a dozen blazing lamps in a circle around the crystal water.

Where the bedrooms and the dragon's rooms had been smoothed out with magic, furnished and tamed, in the bathing rooms the natural beauty of the caves had been preserved, from the massive stalactites jutting from the ceiling to the swirling, amorphous rock formations in the walls, to the three shapeless pools of clear water. The ground seemed to be the only thing changed about the cavern, smoothed out and covered in soft sand. The three baths, one looking deeper than her head, spreading over half the cavern, twelve feet wide and ten long, one, seperated from the large one by a white sandbar, a mere five feet by five and almost circular, looking deep enough to come up to her waist, and one, about the circumfrence of a human bath, barely deep enough to splash at her knees, took up a lot of space but there was enough room on dry sand for Marilyn to take off her clothes and stack them neatly away from where they might get wet. The sand was pleasantly warm, and she poured a handful into her sneakers, hoping that the grains might soak up some of the odor that wearing them almost nonstop had influxed in them. Then she tied up her hair, braced herself for the cave-water, and stepped in.

She was surprised, at first, by the warm water. Fire-magic. Duh. Then she submerged herself completely in the crystaline liquid and began to clean herself as thoroughly as she could without soap or shampoo, rubbing at her skin with the palm of her hand.


Going to human cities was always a drawn-out affair. For one thing, there was the act of actually getting there, and deciding where one was going to land. Too close and you might be spotted, your location given away; too far away and it would take hours to trudge there on human feet. Luckily, after only two indecisive voyages during which he circled where the air was frigid and his breath came out in puffs of fog looking for the perfect gray area, he discovered a bus route carrying tourists and hunters to and from the mountains, had checked out the timing and had learned how to time his landing perfectly- half a mile from the bus stop fifteen minutes before the bus came, before people were milling in the rural area and he had a chance of being spotted.

In a muffled thunderclap, the dragon landed, his taloned feet splayed. He paused for a second, scenting the air around him, but there was no one but a handful of sparrows anywhere around him. Then he stood, a blonde human, dressed in a simple outfit of jeans and a gray sweatshirt.

The bus was a few minutes late, but dragons lived thousands of years and so he didn't mind so much as the others at the bus stop. A middle-aged centaur with a rifle slung on his back and no apprent catch, two humans with black binoculars and a teenage faun with a golden earring milled uncomfortably around their hidden dragon companion, five different people from four different worlds, even races put aside. When the bus finally stopped, letting its precious cargo of two dwarf and one human tourist with massive sunglasses sheilding their eyes out into the fresh air and taking about new passengers, the five of them broke apart and sat in different, secluded parts of the nearly-bare bus.

He knew his way around Ely pretty well, when one allowed that he hardly ever came here. He had, after all, watched it develop, from a nice valley for resting and getting ready to continue the near-endless pursuit of buffalo that made up the Native American life, to a growing little old-west town filled with mostly English and Spanish, and a few French, settlers, to a flourishing new-world city with less than a quarter of its history preserved in the old buildings and railroads they left erected over the century they had stood. The dragon surveyed it briskly, took note of the many changes since his last visit and the tens of thousands since his first, and began to search for an ideal place to buy clothing for a teenage girl living in a cave.

By the time he finally found a store that was ideal for a teenage girl, at least, if not applicable to the living-in-a-cave part, he was anxious to leave and return to his lair. As a general rule he loved leaving the place for short periods of time, sometimes as long as a few days or a week or two or even a month, but not when a bitchy Maiden and an unconcious Knight holding the fate of something that was, if not the world, at least sufficiently close, were trapped up there without surpervision.

I hope we didn't wind up with an overly-amorous Knight, he thought to himself, deftly sliding his hand in and out of a chattering tourist's pocket as he circled around in front of the store. If he ravishes my Maiden I'll kill him.

Two very small men, skin slightly green-tinted, with dark hair and earthtone clothing, talked quietly in Irish accents over a pile of dwarf-sized clothing. The shop-keeper, a dusk-skinned drow with long white hair braided down her back, glowered at them with white-pupiled eyes. "Buy it or get out," she snarled when one of them pantomimed shoving the garment up his shirt. The dragon didn't blame her. Leprechauns were notorious theives, sneaking around and shoplifting whatever they chose rather than forking over a cent of their precious drug money. Nearly half of them were horrible potato-addicts, scarfing down french fries and hash browns voraciously to feed their enormous dependancy, which started when the Irish had first started importing the roots and had refused to stop for their under-represented countrymen.

The two glowered at her, and, under her hard gaze, walked quietly out the door before they resumed a bitter discussion. "Imigrants," the drow growled in disgust, then, as if noticing him for the first time, turned enthusiastically to the dragon. "Good evening!" she exclamed brightly. "Can I help you?"

This was where it helped to be a realistic actor. Most dragons posessed the ability, however much they preferred to be overly dramatic. "I'm looking for a present for my girlfriend," he managed, biting his tongue to keep from showing the expression the absurd statement would have caused. It was hard. This dragon, unlike most, was a very, very poor actor.

"Are you alright?"

"Of course."

The drow lifted one white eyebrow, then seemed to shake it off and led him into the women's department. "How old is she?"

"Excuse me?"

The shop keeper sighed. "Your girlfriend. How old?"

How old was she? That had never come up before. Well, she couldn't be more than forty-six because that was how old her father was... Humans didn't come into full sexuality until fifteen or sixteen, so she couldn't be more than thirty or so, and humans usually mated around... twenty or so... so... "Twenty-five?"

The drow's expression grew more perplexed. "You don't know?"

"I never asked. It's considered rude."

The woman shook her head and shuffled through a rack of green shirts. "What size is she?"

Size? "Small." He'd flown across the country holding her and had barely noticed the weight.

"I mean, numerically. Human fifteen? Human seventeen? She is human, isn't she?" This was hard. If the shop keeper had been human the dragon could have just smiled shyly and thrown a lock of hair out of his face and he'd have had the woman in the palm of his hand. Drows, though- drows didn't swoon. Drows stabbed people while they slept.

He pushed through the shirts and looked for one that looked about the right size to fit Marilyn. "This one," he announced when he thought he had it. "Size..."

"On the tag, sir."

"Eleven. Size eleven." He brought it down and held it loosely in his hand. "I need to find her trou- that is, jeans." The constant changing of human vocabulary was dizzying.

"Right over there, sir. I'd say she wears an eight or nine, human."

"Thank you." Another ten minutes- the array of selection for a basically constant item was nearly as overwhelming as it was pointless, competition and choice aside. He finally decided on the lucky pair and handed over the stolen credit card. By the time they canceled the bill he'd be long gone and who'd expect a dragon to buy lady's clothes?

He took the bus back to the mountains, wandered a quarter mile away from the road and changed, working the twine handles of the bags over his teeth and taking to the skies again. the bag hit unpleasantly against his jaw, and while it was tiny it was also annoying and a little distracting. He was relieved when he'd landed on his ledge- a human carrying a bag of clothing in his mouth- and had pushed his way into the cave to dump the bag on the floor and pause for a moment, connecting to the veins of energy criss-crossing the caverns. He let the magic of the mountain, which had over the years become his magic, too, enter him and flow past his mind, a sixth elongated sense. Marilyn was still downstairs, Mason was still in his room, the salamanders and ghosts were still flitting around the lair like they always did. Breathing a sigh of relief- he had half expected his absense to release chaos in the caves though he should have known better; him not being there did not make the humans any less trapped, the ghosts wouldn't dare piss him off by helping them escape and the salamanders had already been told, explicitly, that helping the humans escape was bad. Still, he liked to be around to manage things personally.

As promised, he left the bag of clothes at the top of the stairs to the bathing rooms, burned the stolen wallet but for the fifty-six dollars of cash that had been in it, and made his way up to the guest bedrooms, to watch over the Knight.


The tiger didn't dance this time. It just sat there, in all its purple glory, tail wrapped around it's dark violet paws. Griffin watched it, made uneasy by it's bright blue stare, and tried to mantle before he remembered he couldn't do that. So he just watched it. It had been more interesting the one dream.

It did talk, though, this time. "Drink and dance and laugh and lie; love the reeling midnight through, for tomorrow we shall die!" It stopped here and vanished, leaving Griffin alone and the ending unsaid.

"But alas, we never do," Griffin completed for it.

"We never what?" The tiger's- the tiger's?- voice was right next to his ears, so Griffin opened his eyes and blinked at the faint lamp light that almost blinded him. He shut his eyes tightly and groaned weak protest- now he hurt, now he was wiped out, and now he felt bleary and out of it and completely disconnected, like he was going to float away at any second. He tried to roll away from the light but it was ubiquitous, omnipresent, seeping into his eyes and setting his brain on fire.

Then warm hands closed around his shoulders and steadied him, stabalized him, held him on the earth, and a gentle voice repeated his name again and again. "Griffin. Griffin. Griffin."

For a long moment he let himself be held down, let his eyes adjust, let the quiet voice embrace him and keep him calm. Then he remembered, remembered where he was and who he mostly likely was with. His eyes flew open, meeting brillant blue eyes surrounded by a shock of golden hair and the most beautiful face that he had ever seen.


"Dragon." The irony of the responce, it seemed, was lost on neither of them. The dragon smiled, and it made his face, which had seemed perfect before, even more so now. Griffin swallowed and looked away, refusing to look at the bastard. Dragon. Male dragon.

He swallowed, then struggled to sit up; the dragon looked like he was going to try and either help him or stop him but held back. "How did you know my name?"

The blonde looked momentarily surprised, then shrugged. "The Maiden. Marilyn."

Oh. Duh.

Griffin blinked, struggling to remember the details of his dream, but all he was left with was the general sense, and that didn't make any sense. His dreams never made sense. "You know," he said sleepily, leaning back into the pillows and sneaking a look at the dragon's fine-boned face, "I was supposed to kill you."

Apparently, some of the pain that throbbed through his body shone through his voice because the too-warm hands were placed again on his shoulders, slowly spreading heat through his body and numbing the pain. Not the way he had felt when he had first woken up, when Marilyn had been there and he couldn't move, but simply a dulled floating. Like Nocacane, mixed with a little laughing gas for good measure. "I know," the dragon said, his voice barely more than a whisper, his face hovering right over Griffin's. The heat lingered even after the hands withdrew. "I had something I wanted you to do, too, though."

"So you saved me."


Griffin groaned and turned over, facing away from the dragon and his brilliant eyes and the heat in his hands. Maybe if he stared at the wall for long enough he'd wake up and this whole thing would have been a dream.

No luck.

"What exactly do you need for me to do?"

There was a brief hesitation. "It's a little early to tell you that. You're not in good condition." Girffin snorted derisively, fist clenching around the antique-looking blankets on the bed. Another pause, and the dragon sounded uncertain. "It's... sort of a spell. Not precisely a spell. More of a... an event, if you will."

Griffin snorted, fists still clenched. "Good. I'm not much good at spells."

The dragon's laugh was a quiet, almost hoarse chuckle. "Aren't you? How are you at ceremonies?"



"Then probably fine. Do I have a choice in the matter?" He wrestled to sit up and twisted to look the dragon in the eye.

Without blinking, the lizard-turned-human appeared to think, then grinned. "Not really," he replied calmly.

Fucking great.

His sigh was more frustrated than exasperated, but what had he been expecting? "So, what?" he asked, stretching out, the numbness wearing slowly away and leaving a strange, buzzing feeling in place of the pain. There was a surprisingly small burn on his right shoulder from the grenade and a line of three scars that had probably come from the dragon's claws when he was caught from mid-air. "You need a maiden, an ex-convict and a dragon to pull off your stunt? And what do you want to accomplish?"

Slightly-clawed fingers ran down his side; shivering, Griffin pulled voraciously away. "Can't this wait until later?" the other asked.

"Not if you want my help."

"You need rest."

"I need answers."

"Sleep." And then, as if his soul could not bear disobeying such a strong force of personality, he was gone again.


When he next became aware of voices, he decided against opening his eyes. Anger churned in his gut; he'd come here to kill the fucking dragon and drag the maiden away and he was being dominated by the lizard and cared for by the First Daughter. He resented being put to sleep like a dying dog and resented more being dragged into this cave to lie around for days at a time. Opening his eyes didn't seem worth it.

Sounds like machismo, he thought, ironically, and then winced as a loud voice right by his ear announced, "I know you're awake, Mason."

Green eyes and brown hair swam into focus, hovering inches from his face. "Oh, fuck," he growled dryly. "It's the dragon."

Marilyn Shepards, always horrible at taking jokes at her own expence, fumed, but at least there was no physical retaliation. Griffin was in no shape to fight back and didn't want to add 'beat up by a girl' to his list of things that recently broke his manly pride.

"So that's the Knight?" A new voice, behind Marilyn, made both of them jump, but the girl didn't seem particularly surprised to see the white-tinted, transparent, obviously dead man standing behind her.

"Don't sneak up on me, Skink," she growled, fear making her voice quaver slightly. Griffin stared for a second, unable to breathe, before he realized that if the First Daughter wasn't hysterically scared of the ghost it was probably less than harmless. "Yeah," Marilyn continued, "this is Griffin Mason. Dragon calls him a knight, but from all I heard about him he's an arrogant twit who calls himself a genius then pleads guilty when he's taken to trial and gets himself fifteen years in prison instead of trying to outsmart anyone, like he's above-"

"Pleased to meet you," Griffin said, once again struggling to sit up; it was easier this time, probably the dragon's healing taking effect. Attempts to stand up might be somewhere in the future.

"And I you," the ghost replied, extending a four-fingered hand but not seeming offended when Griffin refused to take it. "You seem less scared of me than most people are."

Griffin shrugged. The last time he'd woken up that would have been hard, now it was almost as easy as normal. "Well, no offense, but- you're dead."

The ghost clapped his pale hands. "None taken, my friend- in fact, I'd come to that exact conclusion, if, admittably, a little earlier." He turned to Marilyn and whispered, "He is a genius."

The dubbed knight groaned. "Everyone here's a smartass."

"Admittably," Skink replied.

"You should meet the salamanders," Marilyn replied, and both she and the ghost snorted at a joke Griffin didn't understand.

"Anyway," Skink continued, straightening and smoothing out non-existant wrinkles in his ghost shirt, "I was sent here to see if the Knight Griffin was feeling any better."

"I'm not a knight," Griffin protested.

"I'm not a princess," Marilyn agreed, as if that explained everything.

"I'm not a deceased sixteenth-century inventor killed by one of the earliest forms of the bayonet while I attempted to patent the lastest and improved version of the astrolabe in order for more in-depth exploration of this world and the ocean to the west of it." Skink pulled a ghost-pipe out of his ghost-pocket and began to stuff it with tobacco from another jacket pocket that Griffin was willing to bet never ran out of ghost-leaves.

There was a long pause. "Well, that's helpful," Marilyn said dryly.

"The point is," the ghost continued, reaching into the rock and returning his shimmering arm with a spark of fire on the fingertip, which he shoved into the mouth of the pipe, "I really am, my Princess."

Griffin groaned. "I am, in no way of thinking, a knight."

"Haven't you ever seen the movie, 'Black Knight'?"

Both human faces turned to Skink with equal expressions of shock.

"What?" He pulled the tip of the pipe from his mouth and puffs of ghost-smoke, an exceedingly and almost exaggeratedly ethereal experience, drifted from his mouth. "I'm not locked in here, you know. There's a movie theater just down the street, in Ely, so long as I'm quiet I can go and watch and no one's anything the wiser. I'm not completely out of pop culture; were I, my English would be so old that neither of you would be able to understand a word I was saying."

The shock didn't leave either face. "Doesn't seem like your type of movie, though," Marilyn managed after a second.

Skink shrugged uncomfortably. "I'm not beyond humor," he replied, almost sheepishly. "And anyway, I was comparing it to Cervante's take on the Middle Ages, seeing how the two compared." He shook the pipe slightly and took another breath of it. "I'm afraid Don Quioxte won in both collumns, though- humor and accuracy. A very poor movie. Not badly choreographed, but everything else was just..."

Marilyn coughed. "Can we please have some relevance?" she snapped, like they had something important to talk about. "Griffin's plight is amusingly like the Black Knight's. I've got it."

The ghost shrugged. "I was just saying that you are, in spirit, if not in precise definition, a princess; that is, you are the daughter of the leader of a country, and entitled to certain privileges and fame that would not come had your father been, oh, an inventor (even a brilliant one) if not any actual influence in the running of your country."

"And me?" Griffin watched the fuming darken Marilyn's face and had to agree with Skink; she was, at least, a princess in attitude. "How would you define 'knight' in such a way that I would apply?" Not chivalrous. Not self-sacrificing. Not the Fabio-esque, horse-back warriors of the monarchs of England, charging into a dragon's lair and demanding their future wife from between the monster's claws.

Again, the ghost shrugged. "One hired by the leader of a country to preform a daring, dangerous enterprize. One not paid in money but by honor- which, before you say anything, I beg you to consider."

He opened his mouth to respond- and then remembered exactly why he had come here. Remebered coming here for the pure reason that he wanted the challenge of fighting a dragon.

Which he supposed was close enough to honor to qualify him. Damn.

"And now, with your roles all spelled out, I am to ask the Knight Griffin how he is feeling, and beg the Maiden Marilyn, if her knight is feeling up to it, to walk him to the bathing rooms and then report to the Lord Dragon."

Griffin stretched, and staggered to his feet. Marilyn took a step forward to help him but he waved her off, catching his balance himself. "Yeah," he said, after a second. "I'm good." He felt nasty, anyway; blood caked along his skin and dirt clung to his clothing and his arms. He needed a bath, even a bath within a dragon's mountain, in cave-water and rock. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and stared with sudden surprise at the face that stared, open-mouthed, back at him. "What the hell?"

Marilyn sighed. "Hair grows faster in here," she explained, running her fingers through her own brown length. "Mine'd be down to my knees if one of the ghosts hadn't lent me a pair of scissors a while back." She eyed his four-inch tall bush and held back a laugh at his horrified expression, running his hand through the bushy, tangled mess. "I don't know that they would work with your's, though."

After a second, he pulled away from his reflection but kept his fingers jammed into his new bush. He had an afro. He looked down at his fingernails and saw that they, too, were longer than they'd ever been before. He suddenly knew with a surge of certainty that he did not want to look at Marilyn's legs. A magic mountain. Fucking great.


Skink didn't have to guide her; Marilyn ran down the narrow, clausterphobic tunnel that led to the dragon's rooms, then just looked at all the other entrances in the round room to see which one had a light at the end. He lifted his mammoth head as she enterred, blue eyes blinking. The room was rough-cut, not perfectly smooth like most of the others, with round, red-glowing crystals instead of the old-looking lamps and mounds- mountains- of silk-covered pillows, most torn in at least one place by curved claws and sharp scales, their absurd spectrum of colors clashing with one another and the red form on top of them.

Welcome, Maiden.

She swallowed and avoided the intent eyes of the monster. "If you would," she managed, choking on her fear and her embarrassment that she was still scared of it. But everytime she saw it she remembered the glassy carnage in the shiney children's books her mother had read to her.

Of course. In a moment, the blonde human cloak of the dragon stood before her, overwhelmed by the dragon's soft-looking nest. "Thank you for coming here. You got the Knight up?"

"Yeah." She reached over and picked up an ochre-colored pillow, turning it around in her hands. "I expected a nest lined with gold."

"Actually," the dragon replied, reclining into his mountain and beconning for her to sit across from him, "that's a gryphon sterotype. Dragons are supposed to sleep on bloodied stones with their ugly heads sticking out of their lairs."

Marilyn ran her fingers down the clumsy stitches in the pillow she held as she sat carefully down on a cotton blue one. "Did you fix these?"

The dragon-turned-human shrugged. "The salamanders only have three fingers and can't hold needles, and the ghosts always manage to screw it up royally- there are some real stitches, and some end up ghostly, and it all falls apart in a second."

It was probably more surprising than anything Marilyn had encountered since coming up here. "You sew?" she asked, increduously.

Her host snorted. "Hmm," he replied. After a second, he said, "Not particularly well."

The human smiled a little in responce, then tossed the pillow back to the pile. "Well, I just came to tell you that Griffin got up, he's feeling better, he's downstairs right now." She didn't know what else, if more than the bathing room, constituted 'downstairs' but she suspected the dragon knew what she meant.

"Thank you," her host replied, and sounded like he meant it. "You know, for a human girl whom I abducted and dragged to this cave for purposes I still cannot tell you, you're very cooperative."

She shrugged. "There's nothing else to do here," she replied. "And you won't take me home."


She shrugged, but paused at the enterance of the tunnel and said, without turning around- she suspected the dragon had changed back into a dragon, now, and she didn't want to see- "You know, for a dastardly, thick-headed, reptillian monster who lifted me from my home and trapped me in a bloody cave with salamander slaves and psychotic ghosts..."

Amusement filtered through the dragon's telepathic 'voice.' Yes?

"You sew pretty well."