Dragons of the Cuyahoga Excerpt

PROLOGUE

I didn’t witness it but I imagine it happening like this. . .

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The name he is given in English is Aloeus. He weighs over fifteen tons. A hundred feet from nose to tail and a wingspan half again that long. Muscles ripple under leathery black skin with every wing beat, as each sweep hauls his serpentine bulk into the sky.

Aloeus is unconcerned about the fact that his soaring is impossible by the rules of earthy physics. His flight is as much through the forces that pour though the Portal as it is through the mundane air. More than any other creature, Aloeus is a creature of those forces. His mind is knit by strands of magic, and magic— as much as muscle and sinew— hold his wings against the biting wind tearing across the sky three thousand feet above the city of Cleveland.

He sees those forces as he soars above the city. Where a human being would only see sky and clouds, a brilliantly lit skyline, and the roiling clouds by the lake-shore— the constant vortex marking the Portal itself— Aloeus saw in a spectrum that humans could barely imagine, mush less perceive. The Portal is a font of mystical power, visible to Aloeus’ eye, and to the mind behind that eye. Glowing, pulsing tendrils of power twist and whip out from the Portal, pouring through the streets like rivers of manna, flowing into the sky like an inverted waterfall.

Aloeus breathes the power like air, feels wisps of it glide through his mind, tugs against it with his wings.

The power has its limits, but Aloeus cannot see them this close to the heart of it all, the Portal. The irregular edges of the magical flood are far from here, just short of Canada to the north, just short of Pennsylvania to the east, halfway to Columbus to the south, Sandusky to the west, and perhaps about three miles up. If Aloeus could see the edges of the manna enveloping northeast Ohio, he would not be flying this fast. Here, though, practically on top of the Portal, Aloeus is immersed in the forces that keep him alive.

The forces that keep him practically immortal.

While it would be disastrous for him to leave the sea of magic that pools around the Portal, there’s no danger of that here. While the turbulent flood of magic ebbs and flows around him, like the air, or water beneath the surface of the ocean, it is always there. It may be more or less dense and spots might temporarily deaden, but unlike the fickle edges far from the Portal, the magic never fades this close to the source. He would have to fly three miles straight up for that to become a danger.

These facts are fundamental in Aloeus’ world. Very basic assumptions that he takes so much for granted that he isn’t aware— or, perhaps does not want to be aware— that they are assumptions.

Of all the creatures in the world, magical or not, Aloeus should know better.

Unconcerned, Aloeus tears through the night sky, black as a thunderhead, and as powerful as a tsunami. The citizens who care to look up in the cloudless sky see him only as a tiny eclipse of a star or two. A few people, working very late nights or very early mornings in some of the skyscrapers around Public Square, looked west in time to see Aloeus’ demonic silhouette against a swollen setting moon.

As to what his last thoughts are, no one can know and I don’t care to guess. He doesn’t see it coming, if he did, he might be able to do something, maneuver, avoid it. . .

Around him, the impossible happens. A dead spot in the manna sea. Aloeus doesn’t even have time to understand the enormity of what is happening. As the magic disappears, his mind dies. Aloeus’ brain, the meat circuitry that regulates his physical body, is not complex enough to house his mind. The thinking part of Aloeus, his identity, lived in the manna that, until moments ago, had lived in every cell of its body.

His conscious mind is dead.

However, he is not unconscious. The higher functions are gone, the eyes that saw as much by magic as by light are now half blind, but like any brute animal, Aloeus can feel pain.

He wears a body impossible by what human beings would consider the normal rules of biology and physics. Now, suddenly, he exists in a world where aerodynamics, the square-cube law, and the tensile strength of muscle and sinew all mean something.

The wind becomes a wall, tearing wings back, ripping joints out of their sockets, splintering delicate bone, shredding skin. The long serpentine neck snaps back, vertebrae separate and fracture, as a head the size of a human body slams into his back above the base of his tail.

His body tumbles in a spinning downward dive as overtaxed lungs separate from the chest wall and his heart busts open with the pressure of his blood.

No longer a shadow gliding across the sky, he is a plummeting missile. More people see him now, they can hear the whistle of air sliding by his body. There is the slight, horrible, chance that— as his body falls out of the dead spot and back into the manna sea— the thinking part of his brain might awaken enough to understand.

Then he hits.

Aloeus, one of the most private of creatures, suffers the most public of deaths. Fifteen tons of dragon slams into a gravel mine on the western shore of the Cuyahoga River within sight of downtown Cleveland.

The body hits at such a velocity and such an angle that it keeps moving. Bones turn to jelly and flesh tears away as it skids across the ground. Gore marks gantries two hundred feet up and fifty yards away. The body tears into a docked cargo ship, twisting bulkheads and steel as it tumbles off the far side and plunges into the river, finally, to rest.

And, before the last post-mortem tremors leave Aloeus’ epic corpse, the dominoes have started to fall.