Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 3 –

– 3 –

The sun sinks down to the horizon. It touches against the mountains and the sea. It would totally set them on fire and make the world into a shining bonfire of sunlight except that the world is actually extremely far away.

It’d like to set them on fire, maybe.

Not to be mean. Not because it would hurt anybody. Just because it would shine so brilliantly, burn so gloriously, you would look at that light and it would lift you, it would inspire you, it would burn through your soul and set you free.

That gleaming light — that burning in the earth, the sky, and the sea —

You’d look at it and it would make you happy, your heart would be laughing, and then it would ignite you in a firestorm, instantly flash-fry you, and leave you dead in one great charcoal pouf. You’d be like a marshmallow somebody dropped into a campfire, so smoky! and so sweet!

The sun doesn’t actually do that, though.

It’s really, really far away.

The light of that sun — a few years, and eight minutes, later — catches on the laminated badge of a janitor. He’s mopping the floors in some City Hall, in some City, somewhere in Virginia.

He’s an ordinary man, just an ordinary man, but his heart is pure.

He looks up.

He squints.

Amelia Friedman has verged suddenly onto the scene. She is rushing past him. She’s running to get a hunting license so she can legally kill a swirly, Heaven-defying sludge. She’s not paying any attention to the janitor. She doesn’t know who he is. Not until he stops her mid-step with an awful glower.

It’s like a toad’s!

She stumbles. She staggers. That glower practically knocks her over — that and running, while in heels, on a (clearly-labeled) wet floor.

She skids. She spins. She lands.

“Oh, dear,” she says.

She turns her head.

Jeremiah Clean glowers at her.

“It’s just,” Amelia explains, instantly reverting to the defeated attitude of a zero to twenty-two year old girl being glowered at by a toad — this having been her origin story — “that I wanted to make a delicious Slurpee of eternal life.”

Jeremiah Clean blinks once. His glower relaxes. He shakes his head a little, once.

“Start earlier,” he says.

“Oh,” she says. “Sorry.”

She gets to her feet. She smiles at him. “Hi.”

“It would be cleaner,” he says, “to say ‘hello.’”

“Hello,” she says. “I’m Amelia Friedman. I’m a renegade alchemist. Now I’m on the run to the law! Or at least the licensing board. To get a hunting license. To kill a swirly Heaven-defying sludge!”

Jeremiah Clean looks down at the floor. He looks up at the ceiling. Finally, he goes back to his mopping. He mops until he can stare at his own clean reflection in the floor.

“Start in the middle,” he says.

“And then,” says Amelia Friedman, roughly subdividing her life by inaccurately estimated page count, “the doctor said, ‘parasitic snake DNA,’ and . . .”

“The Slurpee,” says Jeremiah Clean.


Amelia gives him a repentant grin. “Well,” she says. “I put reverted cinnabar and a living mandrake root in an unattended Slurpee machine. I hope that’s OK.”

“Those — those are dangerous contaminants, Ms. Friedman,” says Jeremiah Clean.

“Well, there wasn’t a toad,” Amelia says. “So it’s OK. It’s OK to do things if there aren’t any toads glaring at you about them.”

“That was not good judgment.”

“That’s why I’m a renegade,” Amelia says. “My judgment’s never any good. But my genius! It defies all boundaries!”

She snaps her fingers. She points at him. “Name a boundary,” she says.

“Cleanliness,” he says. “Uncleanliness.”

“Spilled soap,” she says.

Jeremiah Clean shudders all over. He gives her a horrified look.

“See?” Amelia spins about. Then she stops because there’s just a bit too much glowering in his look. Then she continues despite deciding to stop because the floor is still quite wet. In fact she almost spins out. She recovers her balance using secrets of renegade alchemy. “Anyway,” she says. “It was quite terrifying. I did not get a delicious Slurpee of eternal life at all. I got a swirly Heaven-defying sludge. And that is everything. That is the complete story. There is no more.”

“I see.”

“I left the handle down,” Amelia confesses. He has pressed her too hard. He has broken her with his insidious interrogation! “I did not mean to. I didn’t mean not to. I had no intentions on the subject. It simply happened, like water slipping through a sieve. And down it dripped, drop by drop, bit by blue-green bit. I turned to look at it. I gaped in horror. I said, ‘No! Bad sludge!’

“But it only reared up, and took three squelchy steps, and cried, ‘I am the Eternal Earthly Glory, the Blue-Green Slurpee Sage! I shall topple Heaven and the legally appointed authorities of the United States of America! And all shall love me and despair!”

Tears trickle down Amelia’s cheeks. Jeremiah catches them with his mop before they hit the floor.

“That is an astonishing story, Ms. Friedman,” says Jeremiah Clean.

“I am astonishing,” Amelia agrees sadly. “Please stop glowering at me. You are not a toad but it brings back the most awful memories. I do intend to hunt it down and destroy it, though. Bang! Right in the . . . vitality! It may escape into the sewer the first time or two and cultivate a different color of life, but ultimately I will emerge triumphant and it shall be the Eternal Earthly Glory, the Blue-Green Slurpee Sage, that splurt down from the handle of life into the uttermost abyss of death.”

“No, Ms. Friedman,” says Jeremiah Clean. “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

“Really?” she says. She brightens.

“Your heart has led you to me,” he says.

“That,” she clarifies, “was my feet.”

“I will resolve the matter,” says Jeremiah Clean.

And so he does.

There is nothing that can stop him, not even the Eternal Earthly Glory, because his heart is pure.



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