From the DragonEye, PI series
It should have been a cushy job: Vern, the dragon detective, and his partner, the mage Sister Grace, are given an all-expense paid trip to Florida to chaperone a group of Magicals at a Mensa convention. Then the pixies start pranking, the Valkyrie starts vamping and a dwarf goes to Billy Beaver’s Fantasyland hoping to be “discovered.” Environmentalists protest Vern’s “disrupting the ecosystem,” while clueless tourists think he’s animatronic. When the elves get high on artificial flavorings and declare war on Florida, it turns into the toughest case they aren’t getting paid for.
“Oh, Vern, why are you so hacked? This conference looks like a gas, man.”
I didn’t bother to answer. When Natura made up her mind about something, there was no arguing with her. Instead, I opened my mouth and poured half a bottle of Kingfisher into it. Not that beer can get me drunk. It takes about five gallons of ethanol to do that, and now that I’ve got my fire back, it’s not the smartest idea. One wrong belch and I could make a dragon-sized hole in the pavement.
Beside Natura, Bert Logan took a pull from his beer and rolled his eyes at his wife’s vocabulary. They made an odd match. Natura had never left the Sixties, while Bert had “bought into the Establishment” at an early age and served as sheriff of Los Lagos for thirty years. She’d been a believer in “free love,” while he had never even dated. He’d had it bad for her, though—so bad, he’d actually come to me for advice.
Once upon a time, it had been the vogue in Faerie courtship for the man to rescue his intended from the snares of the “evil dragon.” Therefore, the primary experience I had with human romance consisted of someone stealing my lunch and my treasure, and poking me in the side while he was at it, mostly in a show of over-polished armor and testosterone. I told Bert he was on his own.
Glad he finally figured it out, though.
He leaned closer to his wife to look at the program that Grace and I had brought to go over as we ate. It was Hindu Night, and Grace loves Natura’s dahi wado.
“I gotta agree with Natura, Vern,” he told me. “That polygraph lecture looks interesting.”
“I want to go to that one,” Grace said, carefully wiping a piece of fallen rice off her habit. “We have a spell for compelling the truth based on the Eighth Commandment, but detecting the truth has always been trickier. People can make themselves believe the most unlikely things.”
“We’ve had the same problem,” Bert started, but I cut him off.
“It’s not the Mundane speakers I’m worried about.” With one claw, I pointed to one of the Friday lectures.
“Helreið Brynhildar—Bryndhilde’s ride to Hel. Faerie Valkyrie Brunhilde talks about her near-death experience in this magical multimedia event,” Natura read. “Like, wow!”
Bert looked at me thoughtfully. “In our legend, she had to slay a dragon.”
I shrugged. Faerie dragons are immortal. Stab us, we heal. Burn us, we rise from the ashes. Chop us to little bits and whatever’s most alive will grow back into a full dragon. It’s not easy, and it’s often painful, but a Faerie dragon cannot die. I said, “Ours, too. He grew back. It’s not the dragon slaying I’m worried about.”
Grace merely shrugged. “We just have to tell her to keep the presentation to sound and visuals. She’s surprisingly reasonable.”
I grunted, not willing to be comforted. “And Goes-on-Verbose-Soporific of the Eternally Long-Winded? They actually list him as keynote speaker for the closing ceremony.”
“That’s ‘Gozonvabosomofic of the House Eternal Winds of the High Elves,'” Grace chided lightly.
“Wanna bet?” Gozon was the Speaker for the Winds of one of the largest clans of Elves in Faerie, once a great warrior, now a scholar, and always a pontificating airbag. Worse, I am comparing him to other High Elves, who unlike the general elf population are long-lived, and thus, also long-winded. In their native language, it takes half an hour to ask where the bathroom is. I know from experience that Gozon’s never been able to figure out Human, no matter how many human languages he’s learned. Folks attending his speech risk missing their flights home, and I mean the ones scheduled for the next day.
“We’ll figure something out,” Grace said, though she, too, looked concerned.
“Hey,” Bert said as he pointed at the program with a folded piece of flatbread. “‘Elvis Meets the Dalai Lama!'”
“Not ours,” Grace and I chorused. Elvis was one legend that didn’t parallel in Faerie.
Bert shrugged and wiped sauce off his chin. “You know, Vern, it’s a shame they aren’t letting you talk. If nothing else, you could talk about life in an alternate universe.”
“Title’s been taken.”
“Oh, look! One of the Muses is going to be at the poetry workshop.” Natura’s delight dissolved into confusion at the look on Grace’s face. “What?”
Grace shrugged. “It’s just that Kaliope is a notoriously finicky editor. Lots of ‘happy’ to ‘glad.’ And of course, she’s always right. Compose a poem or a song with a Muse and it’ll be perfect, but, well, it’s not yours anymore.”
“Like the individual voice is lost…” Natura’s eyes glazed a moment. Then she shook herself. “Bummer. But—wow! Look at this. ‘Erotic Photography—A Practical Guide.'”
Her husband almost choked on his flatbread.
“Oh, Bert, don’t be so conventional. It’s art.”
“Yeah,” he managed to gasp. “Amazing how many teenage boys discover art.”
Natura elbowed him. “C’mon Grace, go and take notes for me? It’s a celebration of the beauty of the human body.”
Grace held up her hands. “The only body I celebrate is Corpus Christi.”
“Forget it. To me a human without clothes is like an apple without skin.”
Bert looked confused, but both ladies groaned and explained: “They both lack appeal!”
Bert made a show of banging his head on the table, then raised his beer in a toast. “St. George! His curse is our blessing…except perhaps when you pun like that.”
“St. George!” Natura said.
“God bless him,” Grace added.
“God bless him,” I said, “the magically overpowered pain in the tail.”
The Faerie St. George and I have a history. Since dragons can’t be killed, he got the brilliant idea to trap one in a holy spell, and, lucky me, he happened to be in my territory at the time. He worked magic on me until I was not much more than a good-looking Gila monster and then laid a geis on me, a real doozy. If I ever wanted to regain my former glory, I had to earn it back through service to God and His creatures through the Faerie Catholic Church.
I’ve been a faithful employee ever since.
I’ve done it all, from Pope’s pet, to agent of the Inquisition (ours, not yours), to scribe, to plow horse for the monks, which was my assignment when the Gap between our worlds opened. Don’t ask how—the short version sounds like a comic book plot; the long version would require doctorates in subquantum physics and High Magic to understand. The point is, for the first time, I felt a Calling, and it led me here—where I’m underpaid and generally underappreciated and stuck solving STUCs.
Guess I’m needed here. Scratch that—I’m definitely needed here. Most of our STUCs (Save-The-Universes Cases) began with a—pardon the pun—mundane investigation.
Plus, all those good works go a long way to working off my curse—or whatever you call it when a saint takes away all your abilities and makes you earn them back a bit at a time. Eight hundred years of “faithful service to God and His creatures through the Faerie Catholic Church,” and I’d gotten back about a fourth of my size, a third of my healing abilities, a fair proficiency of languages, and a genius-level IQ—by human standards, of course. A couple of years as a PI, and I’d doubled my healing and got my fire back. Damsels and Knights, how I’d missed my fire, too. I’ve made some good friends. And I get paid, mostly. It’s not a bad deal, overall.