Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 3 –

– 3 –

A long time ago a storm saw itself and in that seeing became a nithrid. It became a thing of the divine fire; it lashed the world about with itself, it shattered cities, it danced and it changed the world with its footsteps and it laughed at the doings of the svart-alfar and all humankind.

This proved to be a mistake.

Hans caught it up. He burned a cow and used the fire of a cow to bind it. He whisked a duck and used the ghost of a duck to bind it. It is bad to whisk a duck, but he did it; bad to plug in a cow, but he did it; bad, or even worse than bad, to gather lint from a sharpened goat —

He made a chain for it, anyway, bound it up, and lid it into a nithrid-hole on Hans’ farm, deep beneath the world; on Hans’ farm, under the surfaces of things.

He caught it. He immured it.

And for many years it dwelt below in misery and in chains.

Eventually Hans’ power waned and the nithrid worked itself free.

Now it is small. Now it is weak.

Free, yes —

But so very weak.

It is staggering through thorny passages. It is bleeding as it goes.

It is weak and it is chained and it is being called.

The nithrid has taken on a human shape. Each heartbeat hurts it. Each heartbeat, the storm in it — the furious, city-shattering lightning that is the nature of it — pulses against the chains Hans set around it. The ghost of a murdered duck, metal from the pearl in a human eye, cow-fire and sheep-fire and the keel of a sky-wraith’s boat — they’ve all been cunningly woven around it, and even now, even now that it has pulled free of Hans, even now that Hans is dead, the chains still hold it back.

There is a delicate pulse at its wrists. At its throat.

Its color, that should be the argent of lightning, is darkened and muted to the color of a human’s skin.

It reaches the surface, finally. It has taken it a long time.

It crawls up along a ledge, and suddenly there is a ladder. It has missed the transition between the depths of the world and the human underground; preoccupied with its pain and with the calling, it has wandered straight into the sewer without even noticing the change in state.

A thrill of excitement runs through it.

It will run up the ladder, lightning on the metal. It will burst the manhole, pop free as lightning and storm along the streets. It will light up the buildings, make them dance St. Vitus’ Dance, and chase and slaughter the men and women that it meets. It will swirl up and down and all about in great gusts of lightning and —

Its chains compress it painfully.

It huddles in on itself. It whimpers around its chest. Then, rung by rung, the nithrid begins to climb.

Mr. Gulley meets it at the top of the ladder. After a momentary hesitation, because the nithrid is caked in filth and a ratty dress, he reaches down a hand to help it up. He pulls it to the side of the street before a car hits it.

It can feel the following:

There are chains wound through Mr. Gulley, too, chains and wolf-gold, and the nithrid’s bonds are at the other end. They are tied together by the commonalities of their imprisonments. The world is still all fettered, it is still all bound down, even though Hans himself is dead; and the nithrid has been pulled up the last few miles, the last few years of its long ascent by Mr. Gulley’s tugging at their conjoined chains.

Mr. Gulley is on the phone.

The nithrid admires Mr. Gulley’s phone. It watches the signal. It touches some of the data, twirls it around its finger, until he waves irritably in its direction and it desists.

He finishes his phone call.

He puts the phone away.

Then he looks the nithrid up and down.

“You’re a deadly threat to the world,” he says. “You’re the kind of storm that could ravage everything, aren’t you? Leave it burnt and in ruins? Dance through the sky and drive the humans back to huddle in caves and transcendent fear. You are that savage beauty, called the nithrid — am I right?”

It stares at him. Then it smiles, slightly. It is a feral look.

“You are the one who called me.”

It touches his arm. It looks him up and down. It sees the wolf-gold in Mr. Gulley’s eyes.

It says: “Are you going to free me, puppy?”

Mr. Gulley shudders.

Then he laughs. It is sudden, painful. It is as if his breath hurts him as her own hurts her. “I wish I knew.”

The nithrid studies him.

“I offer you this,” he says. “I am no god to wish you free and bring down your devastation on the Earth. I wish I could want such things, but it’s not in me. I am no smith-dwarf, neither, to bind you tight and lid you in a hole beneath the Earth. I am only a man, a man with a wolf, a wolf bound to me and through me, in me and within me, and around it an awful chain. If you do not stop me, I will affix you to that chain; it will seal you to me; and I will use you to my ends. And if that bond breaks, as I’m told it will, then —”

He hesitates.

“Then I suppose I will have loosed a nithrid too onto the world.”

The nithrid breathes. It looks at him. Then its heart beats twice; a smile crosses its grim face; and it sees what he does not:

That he has been given unto her, she nithrid, not to be a burden but to be a gift.

It says: “Tell me what I must do.”

“Take a shower,” says Mr. Gulley. “Can you shower? Please tell me that a shower will not short you out, or cramp your chains, or destroy you. You smell like poo.”

“I can shower,” it says.

“Then you will go to the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth,” says Mr. Gulley, “and I will enroll you as a student there; and you will learn to walk among us, and of the murdering of wolves.”

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