Chapter no 51 – The Dragon

Tress of the Emerald Sea

THE SPORE SEAS AREN’T that deep, relatively speaking. Compared, for example, to the depth of the Lilting Abyss on Threnody, the spore seas are practically ponds.

But when you have to hike to the bottom—all the while being cuffed and shoved by an impatient pirate with a terminal disease—a few hundred yards can feel far, far longer. Nonetheless, it did beat the traditional method of reaching the bottom of an ocean.

Crow carried a lantern, and the way the light glistened off the crimson tunnel made it seem as if they were climbing down the dragon’s own gullet. Tress wondered what would happen if the stiff walls were exposed to water. Would spikes grow out of them, or did the dragon’s strange power prevent the aether from expressing itself? It says more than I could ever explain

about the changes in Tress that she briefly considered licking the wall, just to see.

Eventually the tunnel leveled out, then opened into a vast chamber—also made completely out of solidified spores. Tress had been expecting to reach the bottom and find out what was down there. Was it stone, soil, or merely

piles and piles of aether spines sunken from thousands of years of rain? She supposed she would have a lifetime down here to learn.

That was when the true weight of it all hit her. She’d spend her life down here. She had failed Charlie. Equally bad, and somehow more terrifying in the moment, she might never see the moons again. The prospect of never

again seeing the sky, never again feeling the sunlight, never being bathed in the Verdant Moon’s glow…it made her knees grow weak.

Crow shoved her forward anyway, causing Tress to stumble into the vast crimson chamber, then fall to her knees. She choked back her emotions, as tears could be fatal if those spores could indeed express their aethers. But

she couldn’t help curling up, trembling. For a time, she was insensate to Crow’s cursing, even her none-too-gentle kicks.

It was all so very much to carry. The weight of the day’s emotions stacked upon Tress in a heap, heavy as the ocean itself. Had it only been earlier that afternoon when she’d felt vibrant, relieved, and triumphant as she was pulled up through the rain?

Could a day contain too many moments? Yes, the hours and minutes had been the same today as every day, but each of the moments inside had been fat, like a wineskin filled to bursting. Tress felt as if she were going to leak it all out, vomit emotion all over the place—there wasn’t enough Tress to

contain it.

You still have everything you need…

Did he mean the flare gun? Crow was carrying that, wasn’t she? But Tress could not best Crow in a physical contest; she had conclusive empirical

evidence of that.

“On your feet, girl,” Crow said, hauling her up, then shoving her forward.

The chamber ahead of them appeared empty, save for enormous spore

columns wrapped in black ribbons of cloth. Braziers burned at the corners— revealing a large corridor leading away to the right—but they didn’t

completely dispel the chamber’s darkness. Indeed, shadow dominated, as if the lights existed only by its forbearance.

“Dragon?” Crow called, her voice echoing. “I have come, as stipulated, with the proper sacrifice! Show yourself!”

The word “dragon” has filtered its way into nearly every society I’ve visited, but unlike the name “Doug,” this wasn’t the result of natural linguistics. Rather, the dragons have made certain that they are known and

remembered—a feat often accomplished by interacting with said societies during their formative years.

Like a child learning her name, cultures learn to respect and fear the dragons. It’s a matter of convenience, really. Though the vast majority of the people in the cosmere will never meet a dragon—let alone see one in their natural form—dragons do like to interact with mortals. Like a grandmother tucking away that bit of string that wrapped her package, the dragons want to know they have a certain number of easily influenced cultures around, for the proverbial rainy day.

All of this is to explain that when Tress and Crow saw the shadow moving down the large hall to the right, they kind of knew what to expect. Indeed, it had a sinuous neck, a reptilian body, and two vast wings, formed as if to block out the sky.

Other details were unexpected. For instance, the mane of silvery hair that adorned the dragon’s head, continuing down under the neck and chin as a beard. Or the metallic silver ridges that split the dragon’s otherwise onyx hide, outlining his features. This silver ran down the sides of all six limbs, up the sides of the neck, and formed two burnished horns, accompanied by a line of spikes down the back—more subdued, the subjects to the regal majesty of those horns.

There were other mortals in the dragon’s house, though they were not allowed in the entry hall when supplicants arrived. Xisis did not want his servants to be tainted by things like reminders of the world outside. They had important work to do, after all: serving him and his research into the complex ecosystem at the bottom of the spore seas.

It is commonly presumed that dragons collect hoards of wealth, and I’ve often wondered if that tale began because of the otherworldly metal left behind on their corpses. I’ve never known a dragon to be fond of riches.

Ideas though…those they do hoard, and in this area they are misers fit for legend.

The dragon did not make the ground shake, despite his enormous size. (He was easily as tall as four humans standing on one another’s shoulders.) Indeed, he seemed to glide as he approached, flowing around columns,

entering the shadows at the center of the room. Firelight reflected off his dragonsteel, making it seem like liquid metal as he loomed over the two women. Tress gasped; even Crow cringed back.

When Xisis didn’t speak, Crow found her courage—it had only gotten a step or two away—and spoke. “Dragon Xisis, I have come to initiate your

ancient pact of promise.” She gestured to Tress. “To this end, I have brought you this slave to work in your domain.”

The dragon leaned down, his breath like burned hickory wood, and eyed Tress. She looked into those eyes, which were a shimmering mother-of-pearl, and thought she saw into infinity. Then, reflected, she saw herself.

And Crow.

You have everything you need…

Tress’s courage had never gotten away, though it had been pounded flat by all the other emotions. As it began to shine through, a certain whimsy struck Tress. Crow had nothing to lose…but Tress had everything to lose. And in that moment, she bet it all on a desperate ploy.

“Dragon Xisis,” Tress said, her voice ragged, “I have come to initiate your ancient pact of promise. To this end, I have brought you this slave to work in your domain.” Then Tress gestured to Crow.


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