Snek is a Good Boy
Part Twenty-Two: Unexpected Interactions
[A/N: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Somewhere in North Africa
Snek is glad that Master has used magic to protect hat and keep it on head. Is nice hat, and Snek would feel bad if he lost it. Wind is very strong, but not as strong as Snek, and fire is warm. Lots of sand flying everywhere.
He sees man at middle of fire-sand storm, walking. Is moving toward town with people in it. There is hos-pit-al with many sick people, cannot be moved. Walking storm man will hurt many people if he keeps going.
Snek slithers up to walking storm man. "Sshould not hurt people," he says. "Iss bad thing to do."
Walking storm man looks at Snek and opens mouth to speak but eyes and mouth are glowing like Master's hands do sometimes. Walking storm man roars instead of saying words.
Snek understands many words, but does not understand roar.
Snek does not know if walking storm man can understand him. Walking storm man is not angry or bad man, just causing lots of damage. Snek decides to take walking storm man to Master. Master can fix anything. If walking storm man has wispy thing inside like other pa-ra-hu-mans, Master can add to collection.
Snek likes helping Master add to collections.
Snek rears up and opens mouth. Walking storm man does not realise until too late. Snek puts walking storm man into no-eat place in throat.
Fire-sand storm stops. Town is safe. Snek is happy. He has helped people. Helping people means he is a good boy.
Snek is about to open wriggle-hole to Master's castle when he hears gold princess girl calling to him. Gold princess girl helped save Mouse when turkey bird lady made Mouse into not-Mouse. Snek likes gold princess girl.
Snek decides to take detour. He opens wriggle-hole to where gold princess girl is, and goes through.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Initially, Amy had thought it was, but now she was starting to have second thoughts.
Dressed in jeans and a jacket, she was currently being conveyed bridal style through the Brockton Bay evening sky by her sister. The sun had only recently slipped below the western hills; so recently that when they'd first gotten up to this altitude, they'd been briefly bathed in its dying rays again. Now they were flying northeast toward an uncertain destination.
"Sure it is." Vicky grinned at her. "Mom would fly off the handle if Snek came to the house. She probably wouldn't try to hurt him—or even be able to—but it would be a kind of embarrassing introduction to the family all the same."
Amy could totally see that. "Yeah, it would. So, what's your excuse going to be when she finds out we didn't actually duck out for burgers?"
Vicky sniffed loftily. "You're assuming she'll find out."
"I always find it safer to assume that. That way, all my surprises are pleasant ones."
"Wow, aren't we getting cynical in our old age?"
Amy rolled her eyes. "You're two months older than me."
"Potayto, potahto. Here should be okay." Vicky angled downward toward a medium-high office building. It wasn't anywhere near as tall as the Medhall building (hadn't that been a surprise to one and all) or the PRT headquarters, but it had a nice flat area that they landed in the middle of.
"Okay," said Amy, after Vicky let her down on her feet. "Is this Snek's home away from home?"
"Nope. I just wanted a nice big area for him to turn up in." Vicky drew a deep breath and raised her voice a little. "Hey, Snek? It's me, Vicky. You know, gold princess girl. I helped you save Mouse Protector. I've got someone who wants to meet you."
"Gold Princess Girl?" Amy snorted with amusement. "You told him to call you that?" It sounded like the kind of name they'd give Vicky in a dubbed unauthorised foreign-language cartoon about New Wave.
"No," Vicky said primly.
She opened her mouth to keep talking, but then a circular hole opened in the night air, with daylight pouring through from the other side, and suddenly Snek was right there. The hole closed just after his tail cleared the opening, but Amy's breath was taken away by how fast he came through. For a sixty-foot overgrown python, he was remarkably fast on his … well belly scales, she guessed.
"Eep." Seeing Snek on TV was one thing, but having him appear in the scaly flesh right in front of her was quite another. Also, he was huge. If he lay flat, he'd still come up to her waist. And he wasn't laying flat.
"Hi, Snek," Vicky said cheerfully, as though she wasn't addressing a gigantic snake. "This is my sister Amy. She's the superhero Panacea. I thought you might like to meet her."
Snek's pre-existing smile seemed to expand at Vicky's greeting. "Hello, gold princcesss girl. Hello, frizzy-hair girl. Iss good to meet new friendss." He turned his head sideways and peered at her with an immense eye, the vertical pupil fringed with gold. "Riley ssayss ssuper heroess help people. Iss good to be a ssuper hero."
Frizzy-hair girl? Amy was momentarily taken aback. He could've called me Amy or even Panacea, but frizzy-hair girl? "Oh, uh, it's good to meet you too, Snek. I like your hat." She'd known he wore a hat, but the news never explained where he'd gotten it from.
Snek positively beamed. "Thank you, frizzy-hair girl. Iss nicce hat. Wass given by nicce hat lady."
"It is a very nice hat." Vicky grinned. "So, I was thinking. Amy's a healer. Do you think Riley and your Master would like to meet her?"
Tilting his head to one side, Snek seemed to think about that. "Ssnek wass taking walking sstorm man to Masster to fix. Gold princcesss girl and frizzy-hair girl can come along, meet Masster and Riley."
"Uh … 'walking storm man'?" Amy frowned. "Who's that?"
For a creature that had exactly nothing to offer in the shoulder department, Snek managed an extremely passable shrug. "Walking sstorm man iss walking sstorm man. Walkss, makess sstorm. Fire, ssmoke, ssand. Ssnek iss taking to Masster. Masster can fix anything."
"Wait. Wait just a second." Vicky held up a finger. "Did you just capture Ash Beast?"
"Ssnek doess not know Assh Beasst. Hass walking storm man in not-eat placce. Iss taking to Masster. Gold princcesss girl and frizzy-hair girl want to come?"
"Not-eat place?" There were too many new concepts being thrown at Amy. She had less and less idea of what was going on with each passing moment. "Do I even want to know?"
"Mouse Protector explained it to me, kind of." Vicky was already astride Snek's neck. "It's his way of transporting things and people who don't want to come along. C'mon, you'll miss the bus."
Amy Dallon had never been about leaping in feet first. Even her powers required her to diagnose the problem before taking action. Everyone else in New Wave had powers that gave them a good chance of ignoring the consequences of just going ahead and doing it.
By rights, she knew, she should refuse the call to adventure. I'm not really a superhero. I'm a healer. I fix up people who get hurt doing stupid stuff.
And yet …
She looked at Vicky and Snek, the latter of whom was giving her an encouraging smile. How was it that something so big and nominally scary could actually be encouraging?
When am I going to get this chance again?
Oh, fuck it. Let's see where this goes.
She darted forward and scrambled up onto Snek's neck. Settling down behind Vicky, she put her arms around Vicky's waist, her brain whirling anew with the brief revelation she'd gotten into Snek's physiology when she put her hands on him for the first time. Holy shit, what is this thing?
While her power could normally decipher even the most complicated biological systems in mere moments, looking at Snek gave her the feeling of a high-school physics student trying to decipher the inner workings of an operating nuclear reactor from first principles. There was a lot going on, and she could understand perhaps one percent of it.
"Gold princcesss girl, frizzy-hair girl, hold on."
Amy was already holding on. Now she held on more.
Another portal opened in front of them, and Snek went from zero to holy shit! in less than a second as they whipped through it.
The boss-man was on top of a ladder, fitting a new crystal into his latest apparatus—Riley wasn't totally certain what it was going to do, but she was sure it would be interesting—when Snek's habitual donk-donk-donk sounded at the door to the laboratory. "Come in, Snek," the Master of the Castle called out. "And kindly bring your guests with you."
The door opened, and Snek slithered in. Riley looked with interest to see who he'd brought along this time. Mouse Protector was always fun to talk to, and Glory Girl had been nice too. Maybe it was both of them; that would be cool.
"Oh, hey," she said with a wave. She was pleased to see she'd been half right, as Glory Girl (this time not in costume) was seated at the front. Behind her was someone Riley couldn't see too well. "Who'd you bring along?"
"Ssnek hass brought gold princcesss girl, frizzy-hair girl, and walking sstorm man," Snek explained in his own inimitable way. "Frizzy-hair girl iss new friend."
"And we will be decanting the walking storm in just a few moments," the boss-man said as he descended the ladder. "His infection is more pervasive than most. Greetings once more, Victoria Dallon. Welcome to my domain, Amelia Dallon. I am the Master of the Castle, and this is my apprentice, Riley. You have already met Snek. Riley, do we have foodstuffs for our guests?"
"Actually, we do." Riley caught Glory Girl's eye. "Some of those rolls you liked the last time you were here. Be right back, boss."
She hustled out of the room to where she knew a tray of the rolls in question would be cooling. It was in fact halfway across the Castle in the kitchens, but Riley had been taught the trick of slapping the doorframe at just the right spot, so she could step out of a different doorway to where she needed to be. It was a total cheat, but compared against the rest of what the Master of the Castle did on a daily basis, it didn't even move the needle on the 'weird-stuff' meter.
She returned in a minute or so, with the rolls in question along with a pitcher of sweet fruit juice and four goblets. By this time, the boss-man had Snek's mouth open and the 'walking storm man', who appeared to be a humanoid form surrounded by a howling firestorm, was hovering before him. The storm, of course, was limited to the confines of a standard containment bubble. Nobody wanted all the delicate apparatuses around the room to be damaged or destroyed, and the boss-man would get downright irritated if his collection of monster cores had to be placed back in order.
"Ah, Riley, just in time." The boss-man gestured at one of the work-benches. "A heavy-duty jar, and the extraction tongs, if you will?"
"Sure thing, boss. Hey, hold this a second? Thanks." Riley handed the tray over to Glory Girl, then went to the bench and collected both the jar and the silver filigree tongs. Returning to where the Master of the Castle stood, she handed him the tongs, then muttered the unlocking incantation and took the lid off the heavy jar. The weight of it wasn't just from the lead in the crystal, she knew; there were enchantments woven into it that made it nigh-impervious to the most eldritch of energies.
She had to remind herself that Glory Girl had only been here once before, and had barely seen the Master at work at all, and Panacea—she'd recognised the name at once, of course—had never so much as met him before. While the way he removed the thing from the young man's head with the tongs was still interesting and impressive, it wasn't the same source of wonder that it had been the first few times she'd seen it accomplished. To Panacea, on the other hand, he may as well have been repelling an Outer Threat or reassembling part of the Castle after Snek's wriggle-hole 'incident' (she hadn't been there for that, but she'd heard the story).
She held the jar steady for the boss-man until the wispy, smoky flame had been dropped within, then dropped the lid back into place. The enchantment took hold once more, making it impossible to be removed unless an authorised living being visualised or spoke the correct unlocking phrase.
"Thank you, Riley." The boss-man dispelled the bubble, summoned simple clothing around the now-harmless man, and moved him to the preparation table; all with a simple gesture. "And thank you also, Snek."
Snek smiled. "Ssnek hass done well?"
"Yes, you've done very well." The boss-man smiled and lightly booped the giant snake's nose. "You're a good boy." Taking the jar from Riley, he took it over to the shelves where more of the same stood in rows. "I presume you have questions, Panacea?"
"In total honesty, I wouldn't know where to begin." Panacea shook her head, looking more than a little dazed. "Who are you, and what is this place?"
"As I said, I am the Master of the Castle." The boss-man spread his hands. "This is my Castle, and this is my world. However, as I also said not so long ago to another visitor from your Earth, I do not confine myself to just one world. I go where I see the need to go, and do what I see the need to do."
"He really does," Riley piped up. "There's things out there that make Endbringers look like high school bullies trying to take your lunch money. So, he lets Snek take care of the small fry."
"Monssterss are tassty," Snek interjected. "Esspeccially the sspiccy oness."
Panacea seemed to still be having trouble coming to terms with it all. Riley got the impression that she'd agreed to come along on this excursion without fully understanding what she was getting herself into. "So, uh, how about I take you to meet the dragons? I mean, if you don't need me right now, boss?"
"Certainly." The boss-man gestured at the alert ball; Riley could see the faintest red tinge creeping through the enchanted crystal. "But I shall be needing you in an hour. You as well, Snek, so go and rest."
"Yess, Masster." The giant snake rubbed his head against the side of Riley's leg as he turned his massive body around. She reciprocated with a skritch behind the head, just where he liked it.
"So," she said as he opened the door and slithered out. "Have either of you ever actually wanted to ride a dragon?"
Dragons are real. Dragons are actually real. Vicky had told Amy this, but even she hadn't seen them herself, except for the tiny ones. Now, standing on the rocky ledge—more of a slice out of the side of the mountain—Amy was coming to terms with the truth of the matter. Dragons were real, and they were huge.
When offered a ride on the back of the one called Finesse, she had declined. Not because she bought into Carol's ranting on the subject, but because unless it was a member of her family, she preferred to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground, thank you very much. However, Vicky had lifted off the ground, intriguing the dragons greatly. When she invited the dragons to go flying with her, they'd immediately taken her up on it.
So now she was watching as Vicky played tag with creatures sporting wingspans that would easily dwarf that of a 747, as well as others barely the length of her arm, while Riley rode the back of the dragon called Cirrus and laughed every time her mount pulled a barrel roll or a loop. Haha, yeah, nope. Solid, hard pass.
And then there was the softest flutter of wings, and a gentle weight landed on her shoulder. Already suspecting what it was—she'd seen the hearth-dragons playing with Riley before they all took off for their aerial sport—she looked around. And came face to muzzle with the most concerned expression she'd ever seen on the face of anything that wasn't human.
The tiny dragon, sporting scales that were a glossy sunset red fading through purplish blue to true black, opened its mouth and gave an inquiring chirp. Amy could almost hear it asking, are you okay?
"Well, hi there," she said quietly, not wanting to startle it. "Aren't you a pretty one?"
It chirped agreeably and preened, much as the larger dragons had done when Vicky was heaping extravagant compliments on them. She got the distinct impression that it had understood what she meant, if not the exact words. One wing flexed up and out, as if to show off the delicate scaled patterns to her.
Reaching up, she gently rubbed its head, moving slowly and carefully. She didn't think it would attack her, but she'd dealt with enough aftermaths of supposedly friendly dogs going berserk because people ignored the signals. In this case, the excess caution seemed unwarranted; it arched its back and pressed its head into her palm. The chirp this time was more definite: yes, please, more of that.
She grinned, partly because of the enjoyment it was clearly displaying, and partly because she could actually read its biology. Unlike Snek, hearth-dragons could be mostly understood, even though some parts of their metabolism seemed to work on something other than standard physics. It was probably magic, she decided; there seemed to be a lot of that going around at the moment.
Finding a chunk of rock that looked like it had been smoothed down for the purpose, she sat down and then let it step onto her hand so she could hold it in her lap. It seemed to like that, especially when she used her new knowledge of its physiology to find the spots it enjoyed being scratched the most. Stretching its spine into odd configurations, it settled into her arms, almost purring as she gave it all the attention it seemed to want.
The more it chirped at her and she answered, the more comfortable she became with it. They weren't quite conversing, but she could usually figure out its meaning, and reply in kind. Oddly enough, the dark mood that had come over her, the irrational guilt for not enjoying the trip to Snek's world nearly as much as Vicky evidently was, had somehow drained away. Sitting on the shaped rock, leaning back against another one, she soaked up the sunlight and petted the hearth-dragon on her lap.
She didn't move when Vicky came flying back in to land on the rock ledge, because she was enjoying the location and the company too much to want to jump up right away. However, when Riley's dragon mount alighted, along with the other dragons, she stood up reluctantly and went to meet them, still cradling her newfound friend. The other hearth-dragons swooped and swirled around her, chirping and calling to the one in her arms, to which it replied with another series of definitive chirps and squawks that Amy easily deciphered as, she's mine, I saw her first, go away. Perhaps it wasn't that snarky, but it sounded that way to her, and she smirked as she came up to Riley and Vicky.
||Oh-ho,|| Riley's dragon mount said, directly into their heads (which was apparently the way they spoke). ||Someone's made a new friend.||
||Aww,|| his mate (or so Amy assumed) cooed. ||Aren't they just too cute?||
Somehow, Amy was just fine with being thought of as 'cute' by actual real dragons. After all, if elephants thought humans were cute (she'd read that once somewhere) then why not dragons, too? It was certainly preferable to being thought of as 'tasty'.
"They definitely are," Riley agreed. "She really likes you."
"Yeah." Amy rubbed her cheek along the side of the hearth-dragon's muzzle. It chirped happily, and reciprocated the gesture. "And I like her too. Everything else around here is amazing and magical and wondrous, but I was feeling out of place, no offense intended, until she came and landed on my shoulder. Now, everything's just fine."
"Yeah, well, she's kinda been out of place here too, ever since she was hatched." Riley sighed. "The boss says we don't often get Twilight colouration; it's a pretty rare strain. The others treat her okay, they don't bully her or anything, but they tend to have fun in their own groups, and she doesn't have a group to have fun with. We've been putting out feelers for Twilights of her age in other communities or Dragonmarks, but no luck so far."
"Well, that sucks." Amy ran her hand over the hearth-dragon's head, and it chirped in agreement. "I'll definitely be coming back to visit you, every chance I get."
||Visit?|| Cirrus' mental tone was no longer amused or indulgent. ||That won't do. That won't do at all.||
"What?" Amy looked up, startled. "Why can't I come visit her?"
||Because you are bonded with her now, child,|| Finesse explained. ||If you separate from her, she will fall into despair, as will you. Stay away too long in your own world and she may die of a broken heart.||
Cirrus put the finisher on the explanation. ||Wherever you go, she must go with you. At least until the bond has matured enough for both of you to withstand the pangs of separation.||
"What?" Horrified, Amy stared at the hearth-dragon in her arms. "I don't want her to die! Why didn't anyone tell me that just petting them could cause this to happen?"
"Because it normally doesn't happen this fast," Riley said. "Usually, it takes a week or so. We only get this sort of thing happening when the people and the hearth-dragons are horribly lonely. As the boss would put it, they fill the void in each other's hearts."
"Well, crap." Vicky facepalmed. "How are we going to explain this to Mom?"
"I dunno," Amy declared, tightening her grip on her new best friend, "but there's no way in hell anyone's taking her away from me."
The hearth-dragon chirped defiantly in agreement.
End of Part Twenty-Two