It was dark. The shadows of night crept silently through the muggy air. A faint moon enrobed in swathes of blackness was sinking slowly across the darker sky. Three figures stood illuminated by the soft glow of a street lamp. Two of them stood tall and upright, fixing their gaze towards the carcass of an old bus. It was a brown, rusty colour and overgrown with ivy and weeds.
The slightly taller of the two flicked back his dark red hair to watch a moth flit through the sky. He sighed irritably and looked back to the bus.
'Are we just going to wait here until dawn?'
'You know what she's doing?'
His companion made no reply, but continued to gaze intently upon the bus as if willing something to come out. They waited in silence as the long, slow hours turned the night towards morning. As the first, weak rays of sunlight appeared, the red haired boy noticed a movement from inside the bus. He glanced at the silent figure beside him, but he stood exactly as before, giving nothing away. Eventually, a dark shape emerged from one of the glassless bus windows and came towards the company under the lamp.
The red head grinned and called out, 'Hey Jordie, what took you so long?'
The newcomer ignored him and turned to the other boy, her face angry. 'You were waiting for me? All this time? I told you to leave me alone! Can't you ever trust me to come on my own?'
He ignored her and walked away. 'Not tonight.'
The girl turned to the other boy instead. 'You were waiting too?'
He shrugged, 'Well, maybe he's got a point, it's better to stay together now that–' He stopped as Jordie walked away in annoyance.
'Hey, we're just worried about you!'
'Sid!' the other boy stopped him. 'Shut up.'
Sid gave a shrug to hide his hurt and turned away. His friend, Miles, was a short, skinny boy of about 19 with thick, black hair, and easily contrasted with Sid's fun, noisy personality. They followed the girl along the street and found themselves in murky darkness as they left the dim light of the solitary lamp. As if it had been waiting for them to go, the rain started falling. However, when the four of them turned into a narrow street where they had to walk in single file to avoid touching the walls, the tall buildings which towered up either side of them sheltered them from the direct rain only for it to trickle down the walls and on the road. Miles stopped suddenly, almost causing Jordie to walk into him. He waited, listening to sounds that apparently only he could hear as he felt the night turn and shudder in its sleep. Moments later he continued.
Sid huffed and walked on, closed in on his own moody thoughts. Not noticing when the other two in front disappeared through one of the doorways, he walked on. The sudden dig of sharp claws in his upper arm brought him back to the gloomy street.
'Stupid lizard,' he muttered and glowered at the miniature dragon who was accompanying them and turned back to go through the doorway.
Inside appeared to be a small hall with three doors leading off. Miles went straight to the middle one and carefully opened it. He nodded to the others to wait where they were.
Jordie watched in apprehension as he disappeared, silently closing the door behind him. Sid, seeing her face, tried to reassure her. 'He'll be fine. Remember, this is Miles we're talking about.'
Jordie turned to him with a sour expression. 'Of course he's fine.' she snapped. 'You think I don't know he can handle anything that's in there?'
Sid gave a short laugh. 'Oh yeah, I forgot, Miles can handle anything. 'Course he'll be fine, he can do anything.'
'I'm sorry,' she started, looking uncharacteristically guilty.' I didn't mean to-'
'Forget it.' He turned his back on her and began closely examining the stains across the walls. These red-brown patches couldn't have once been blood, could they?
He sat down, leaning his back against the dubious decoration and was soon joined by Jordie. Their dragon guardian in turn settled himself down opposite, staring intently. More like a watch dog preventing the pray escaping, Sid thought, than a protective sort of guardian. The dragon didn't want to be there keeping Sid in eyesight any more than he wanted the creature following wherever he went. He hated the snobby reptiles who filled this desolate world and presumed a superiority over even humans. They weren't just vicious but queerly intelligent too. It seemed that Miles was the only person around who knew how to talk to them and get a reasonable answer, let alone negotiate.
The door finally opened again as Miles reappeared. 'Sid, I need you to come in for a minute.'
Jordie looked at him worriedly. 'Good luck.' She frowned and added, 'and don't them eat you.'
Not sure if that last bit was a joke he nodded and picked himself up. Although dragons sometimes did kill people he was pretty certain that he'd not heard of them eating the bodies.
The building they were in was, like all its neighbours, dark, old and in a state of disrepair. It was tall and looked as if it could have originally been rather grand. Few signs of peeled paint still hung on the dirty walls, dusty cobwebs dangled in the shadows and pieces of broken furniture littered the floor. Sid peaked round the door and blinked in the obscurity. Miles grabbed his arm to pull him inside.
'Don't talk to anyone, don't look in his eyes. Act like you respect them for once and leave it to me.' Miles whispered urgently to him as they walked down a huge room. There was a hint of uneasiness in his voice.
Don't eat me, Sid thought. Or kill me.
He glanced behind at the ever present guard dragon following, then looked ahead and noticed about thirty more cruel faces clustered in the gloom.