Dragon In The Fire

streaks of light from dark figure

He’s sitting flat on the ground. His head is empty. His allies have fled, blown towards safety on the magnetic wind he made for them, and he hasn’t felt this alone in months.

Honey and machine-oil stench precede the division of mindless once-men chittering in frequencies he no longer hears– his hand comes up to finger the bloodied side of his head where ragged flaps of his scalp still cling.

His hand reloading his guns is slippery with blood, smearing the gunmetal. The transport vehicle lies at a crazy angle, half of its turret blown clean off– where are your extermination frequencies now, stupid American? and half of someone who was his comrade hanging out of the part still attached. There’s no button to push.

The insanely over-complicated bugs, modified at horrendous expense and trouble, and so very fragile in the field– they are winning, in the same way ants and wasps and termites always win– by throwing more and more of themselves at their goal, without qualms or thoughts of the waste, the expense. The poppy fields down the slope are the same color as this battlefield, green ichor and red blood. This field will grow beautiful crops next year, blooms redder than blood, pods oozing their bounty for hurt or healing.

gold and purple poppy seedpods
Seedpods

He turns his weapon towards the glittering beetle-things and pulls the trigger as soon as the first rank comes within range. The bullets thump into the carapaces and explode, destroying their hydraulics if not killing them outright.

Something that looks like a mantis unfurls itself, rising tall amongst the shorter bugs. Drin swears, scrabbles, swings his gun towards the thing, knowing it’s beyond his range– the folded claws open up and fire launches itself at him.The blast catches him along his right side, and he’s grateful that he’d swung the gun wide and to the left– but then the pain hits, and he can’t remember what to do with the thing, watching his own body sear and self-destruct. If he screams, he can’t hear it. If he could call the bees back he would, to his everlasting shame.

In all of the unbearable noise something louder makes itself known. Something rhythmic, a helicopter. Overhead. Drin sees the halo of its propellers, and something silver tumbling out of the side hatch. His eyes are not a part of his body, which is made of pain and nothing else, but his eyes, separate from that, track the unfurling streamers and ethereally glittering tail of a Naga. It’s beautiful.

Fire rains down from the sky, washing the bugs away in jets of billowing filthy smoke. The Naga lands, seconds later. Drin knows he’s screaming when it scoops him up, arms equally tight around his unharmed left side and his flayed right, and drags him up into the sky.

It doesn’t speak. It doesn’t spare him any agony, doesn’t try to soften the swing and bounce of the harness that is dragging it back up to the chopper.

bee bas-relief on silver floral figures, cigarette case
bee cigarette case

It looks right into his face, with those intelligent gold-coin eyes and the sharp planes of its golden face, and he knows that all of its considerable odd abilities are focused on him.

Such a very human face, for what it really is. So heartbreakingly, achingly human, peering down into his screeching, black-edged agony.

He knows, a breath before it moves, what it is going to do. When its mouth opens wide, he just closes his eyes. He doesn’t even feel the fangs sink in, he doesn’t know where.

He just feels it shake him violently, pulling free, and then he pulls a breath into his seared lungs.

His body flashes cold, and then he loses the feeling in his legs, and then his hands are dead, and then praise God in all Her Infinite Mercy, the Naga’s venom is shutting down his burnt body, the charred ribs cracking in its strong grip, and he’s spiraling out into darkness, emptying away like glittering sand from an open palm.

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