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  • Writer's pictureJ. J. Sherman

Lagnogard Awaits


Lagnogard, balancing on her scaly tail atop one of the many sandstones jutting from the beach, stretched out each of her stubby green claws as wide as she could to play with the dog. The dog’s eyes kept steadfast on the fireball bouncing from hand to hand. Her dad had called the tan, sleek thing a “Mastabull,” whatever that was. His name was funny, too. Scureeb was one of those new-fangled breeds, but this one seemed to be too eager to please to be able to do the job. They had been waiting for a long time: Lagnogard tossing the ball to herself, and Scureeb intently staring. And drooling. She was careful not to swipe her ever-moving tail close to his mouth. His teeth were impossibly sharp, and he was too immature to know not to playfully nip his owner. Her dragon’s scales protected her, but she knew that those dagger-teeth could penetrate even her armor. A long slob stretched from his tongue to the ground. The eyes, coal black mixed with deadlights, never left the fireball.

The girl’s lips creased into a grin despite herself. A gal and her dog. Except, of course, she was no mere gal. And the dog was no dog. 

Time to test this little hound, she thought.

“So, Scureeb, is that your name?”

Scureeb gave no response, save for a happy drool and tail wag. The drool dropped onto a stone, which hissed and spat as acid dissolved the rock.

“Dad doesn’t think I can handle my first one alone, does he?” she said, perhaps to the dog. Perhaps to nobody at all. 

This time, along with the drool and tail wag, the dog jumped at the ball as she tossed it from one claw to another. He was ready to play.

Glaring over the expanse of lake that surrounded them on three sides and stretched endlessly, Lagnogard lifted the ball of fire high into the air. The dog’s deadlight eyes honed in, saliva dripping freely and haunches tightened in anticipation of the throw.

The ball sailed for an eternity – although such a concept was relative in this place – and finally settled into the lake with a faint splash beyond a mere human’s capacity to detect the point of immersion. She was afraid for the dog, as she had hurled the ball much further than she had meant. The dog was gone as soon as it took flight.

“Scureeb, don’t– ” Lagnogard yelled. She knew the dog heard her but didn’t respond, so intent was he on fetching the fireball. He would need training, after this first job was over. Much training.

He yelped as he entered the lake and was quickly lost awash the flickering of fire at the surface.

“That’ll teach him,” Lagnogard muttered, her grin expanding into something predatory and animalistic that contorted her face like only those of her kind could do. Then again, Dragonkind was ancient and almost extinct. She was the last of her kind, she and her dad. 

Then, thinking of her dad, she finished her sentence only in thought, fearful that he was overhearing her insolence. Even this far away from the city, she could not be sure he was out of earshot. That’ll teach Dad to send me some inferior breed of dog. She knew the special hounds weren’t available. Even if they had been available, her dad had said that this dog would help for her first delivery from Hornac. 

The moments for the dog’s return passed slowly, and he did not return, so her thought slid into regret. The waves swept the beach around her in deafening torrents, and the fire crackled all around. Still no dog.

So much time had passed, Lagnogard thought she heard the faint strokes of Hornac rowing in the distance. She stretched out a well-tuned, pointed ear, but Hornac had not yet come.

I’m so ready for my first! Come on, Hornac.

She was not ready to admit, though, that it was her dad for whom she wanted to prove she could do this job. It still bummed her that he thought so little of her ability that he would send a dog to help!

Slowly, she became aware that her furry companion was pulling himself ashore from the murky waves lapping onto the beach. The drenched creature dragged itself to its master, and dropped the ball at her feet. Flicking out a twisted, overstretched tongue, he quenched a final flame from his back. 

Reaching down to pick up the ball, Lagnogard gingerly rubbed the tight muscles of the dog’s back. She grinned, and the dog’s tail thumped the sand so hard it created a deep tail-shaped hole. Its deadlight-eyes once more trained onto the ball, and fresh saliva flowed.

Perhaps the swim hadn’t worn the dog out, after all. Lagnogard lowered the ball to the dog. Like a vice the dog’s jaws gripped around it, and despite her tugs she could not wrench it from the creature’s mouth. All mouth and leg muscles this dog was, and more powerful than she had at first given him credit. Much more powerful. While she waited for Scureeb to release its grip, she thought about why her dad had given her this creature.

Lagnogard padded over to the landlocked side of the peninsula and peered over the cliff to an expanse of mountain below. The mountain descended almost infinitely, and – again beyond the capacity of human sight – the girl admired her father’s golden city far below.

Time for the final test for Scureeb. Lagnogard raised the fireball high and threw it off the cliff’s edge toward the great city below. The dog, never hesitating, jumped off at the highest point and sailed after it. For a second time, the girl lost sight of the dog in the tall licks of mountainside fire. 

No way the dog could survive that. Even the best hounds of this world can’t fly!

And yet, before what was known as minutes in the human-realm had passed, the dog eased itself back again from the cliff edge, ball gripped tightly between powerful jaws. It dropped the prize at the girl’s feet and thumped its tail. Despite the dog’s size, Lagnogard was impressed – he was tough, loyal, and indeed worthy. “All right, Scureeb,” the girl said. “Think I’ll keep you.” Scureeb slobbered all over the girl’s outstretched claw in approval. 


 

Scureeb, stiffening and growling, sensed the new soul well before Lagnogard could see the boat. Hornac, the figure dressed entirely in shroud, poled the ancient boat along the flaming water. Hornac’s sole passenger looked as hideous as she’d ever seen of a human. The man, initially sitting, stood when he spotted Lagnogard and the dog. He was dark, all angles and muscles, and actually towered over Hornac when he stood. 

The boat – really not more than a raft – docked and Hornac pointed his pole to direct the man onto the beach. Without a word, Hornac poled away.

Up close, Lagnogard could see the death-wound. A bloody hole was torn through the man’s chest, and a thick crust of dried blood was smeared throughout the chest hair. She felt nothing for the human, though, except the excitement that he’d be her first soul. 

The man did not cower. Instead, when he saw Scureeb he ran up to it and kicked at it. The dog was faster and dodged the clumsy kick. With lightning speed, Scureeb turned and caught the man’s leg and pulled him down. Sand and fire spun around them. Lagnogard raised a claw to assist and then remembered what her dad had instructed.

Do nothing to assist. Your job is to supervise. 

She balanced with her tail on a nearby rock and watched. Scureeb had shifted his attack to grip the man’s throat. The man and dog struggled. Teeth clamped the throat, while the man’s hands gripped either side of the dog’s jowls. They scuffled, the man flipping on top of the dog, then the dog reversing the position over the man. Slowly, the man positioned an arm around the dog’s midsection, with his other arm in between the jaws to loosen the dog’s deathgrip.

Picking up Scureeb, the man stood.

Lagnogard wanted more than anything else to help but was stayed by her dad’s remembered instructions: It is the dog’s fight. The punishment must fit the crime.

The man walked Scureeb over to the cliff. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest, green gobs of sweat slid down her face. She could do nothing but watch helplessly as her new best friend Scureeb flew over the cliff and howled all the way down.

Thick red liquid came from her eyes, and she wiped it away. She’d never cried before but knew somehow that was what these were: tears.

Instructions or no instructions, I need to do what’s right. I need to punish.

She stood. And he turned to face her. In the human face that turned to confront her she saw an evil, tormented soul.

He smiled, and it made her scales crawl with disgust. When he spoke it was as if he were talking through chunks of soot. “Been dealing with hounds like that my whole life. Fought ‘em against each other. It’s why I was shot. Made too much money at it. S’pose it’s why I’m here.” He paused, stuck a thumb out behind him to the cliff. “But you’ll have to do better than that.”

Lagnogard stepped toward him, then stopped. And grinned herself. The man before her couldn’t possibly hear what she did coming back up the mountainside. The howls in pursuit would have been frightening if she didn’t know what they were. It was Scureeb. He was coming back – and bringing friends.


 


J. J. Sherman was born a Yankee, raised a Rebel, and nurtured into a writer of suspense and dark fiction. His stories read differently. Off-beat characters slide through the pages. The story might turn strange, maybe even wicked, and craziness will always ensue. His successful publications include the novel Scorching Secrets and short-story collection, Unmasking at Midnight. He has also published short stories in Hadrosaur Tales, Eldritch Embraces, and a dozen more magazines. When he is not teaching pharmacy, he strums his guitar with clumsy fingers, jumps off two-story rocks, and transcribes the stories swirling in his head. If only a medicine could be invented to cure that.

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