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Behemoth

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The dragon gave Kopil a long, slow look, wisdom and a thousand fiery deaths lurking in the shafts of amber and gold. The dragon cramped, short arms pressed closed to her sides, talon resting gently on the ground when they could have ripped through the concrete, through a thousand realities and possibly even through the sun. The dragon was tapping an offbeat pattern with her tail, enough vibrations that Kopil could feel it through his bones though most seemed to ignore it. It set his teeth on edge, not helped by the dragon opening her mouth – Kopil didn't tense, it had been decades since the last dragon attack, notwithstanding his own little misadventure two decades ago – and yawned. She kept her eyes on Kopil, amused.

Then the dragon turned away, staring absentmindedly at the red streak at the horizon, ignoring the hustle and bustle of hundreds of humans, zombies and others running and yelling about.

Kopil ground his teeth for several moments, almost to the moment where he should have tasted blood. Then he rocked back on his heels, arms crossed over his chest. His bag was at his feet, shiny leather almost wet and alive looking under the yellow lights. The zombies were still loading the bags of the other passengers, shambling between passengers who ignored them, despite the fact that dragon was supposed have left Lex Dresediel when the moon was still high and stars streaked the sky.

Standing a careful three yards away, Caleb sighed heavily and looked down at his watch. Even at the corner of his vision, Kopil could tell it was some over gilded and over worked contraption from the Old World. Caleb leaned against a wall, eyelids falling shut like a heavy door, his face ashen even under the glaring lights. They had nodded at each other, hours ago, when the promise of leaving this forsaken place had seemed like a possibility and not a twisted fever dream of a deranged mind. Otherwise Caleb had remained in his corner and Kopil had ranged as he pleased, scaring children and gradually making himself a nuisance.

But that had been hours ago. Kopil squinted at the sky, stars blasted out of the night as tendrils of the sun leapt over the horizon. They should have been a third of the way to Alt Coulumb by now, he thought darkly, embers in his eye sockets lighting up. But there had been some mechanical fault – how that was possible with a dragon, Kopil did not know, despite repeatedly asking – and the dragon was still lazily lying on the tarmac, grey smoke rising out of one nostril.

There was a child screaming, a high, incessant shrill sound, rattling over the shuttered food outlets. The stark yellow light showed the grime in sharp relief. A man was complaining to a bored looking attendant that he was going to be late and he was never going to make his connecting dragon now and what was the attendant going to do about it and what was that? I saw you smirk!

“Maybe we should have walked,” Caleb said, not opening his eyes, “Or a made demonic pact. They probably would have been equally painful.”

Kopil snorted. “In those shoes?” He said, gesturing to Caleb's fancily worked leather shoes. “You wouldn't last an hour walking through the desert.”

Caleb gave him an amused look. “They've taken me through hellish boardroom battles,” Caleb said lightly. “And with some of my investors, you don't want to leave them unsatisfied.”

Kopil shrugged, great red robe rippling. Caleb paused, looking him over. The moment stretched, Kopil silent, and then Caleb looked away again.

“They're hideous,” Kopil said, finally. “And useless.”

“Oh they show precisely the sort of image I want to project,” Caleb said carefully. “A vain fellow, more interested in his possessions and looking pretty,” at that Caleb tilted his head, light shining along the line of his cheekbone, Kopil did not look away, “Than what's actually been said.” He threw his head back and laughed, a middle aged couple giving him a disapproving stare. “I wouldn't be able to cinch the deals I do if people didn't underestimate me,” Caleb said, straightening his jacket. It remained wrinkled and limp. “How else do you think I managed that deal in Alt Selene with the local tributary gods?”

“I'm a giant skeleton who has slayed dozens of gods,” Kopil said dryly. “I have to have a different approach.” I would have killed them all, Kopil thought, let the river darken to red. He screwed his mouth up and shook his head. He'd probably be breaking by-laws these days. Unlawful littering or something of the like.

“Different approaches for different people, different times,” Caleb said, tongue sliding across his teeth, white against red, as he flashed Kopil a dangerous grin.

The air stirred between them and Kopil remembered that Caleb was a gambler, cards flashing between his hands, money flung from those fingers.

The announcement that they were boarding was almost a disappointment.

Kopil strode past Caleb, red robe whipping behind his legs. People parted like a sea before him, until he was standing in front of a disinterested looking attendant who barely gave him a second glance, eyes on his ticket. Kopil was mildly impressed, taking nose of her name – Charmaine, not a Quechal name, but there were less and less of those names these days – for later reference.

He settled in his seat – business class, economy was not made for a Deathless King and also because he really enjoyed the extra leg room – and waited while the rest of the flight boarded the dragon. When Caleb sat next to him, placing his battered bag under his seat, Kopil didn't twitch.

“Looks like we'll be sitting next to each for the next twelve hours,” Caleb said, closing his eyes and stretching out his feet, the edge of his anklebone showing through his wafer thin socks.

Kopil tapped a steady staccato against the armrest between them. Tap, tap, Caleb quirking an eyebrow at him in amusement, tap tap.

Caleb's eyes opened slightly as they went through the safety instructions. On case of dragon explosion – you're fucked, Kopil thought idly, watching as Caleb rolled up his shirtsleeves, exposing brown skin, wrist bones stark. Unless you had enough soul stuff stored away for a dozen lives, to rescue you thousands of feet up in air and keep your mind sane. Something Kopil hadn't considered for a few decades now. He assumed his bones would find a way back to him, eventually.

Under the low light, Caleb's scars almost seemed like normal scars. But there was always something about them that bothered Kopil. Hadn't he killed so many of the Quechal gods to make then irrelevant? Shouldn't they be dull against his skin? Their sacredness seemed profane.

“So,” Caleb said, bending down and reaching into his bag. Kopil could hear the steady heartbeat of the dragon underneath his feet. “Did you want to play cards?” It was a new packet, the seal broken with a snap, Caleb's hands quickly sliding over the cards. Kopil's eyes followed the symbols.

“For money?”

He knew who Caleb banked with. He knew the balance of Caleb's account. He hadn't even needed to ask hard.

Caleb considered Kopil for several moments before his lips drew back in a sly smile. “Maybe we should play for something more important.” He was still shuffling the deck of cards, fingernails nicely manicured, the smooth paper flipping swiftly past the callouses on his fingers. He could dazzle you like that and take you for everything you were worth.

If you weren't careful.

“Oh?” Kopil said and the continents weren't shifting, the stars weren't aligning, what god was powerful enough for that these days, so close to Lex Dresediel.

“A vote at the Alt Selene conference in the spring,” Caleb said, cards flicking faster through his fingers.

Kopil grinned.