A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 19byTaLtos6©
***This is such a wide panorama, but we're getting to where I can finally move the stories along easier. I had planned to have you meet the baddie in this two chapters ago, but I had an idea and the chapter for that is in rewrite, so that's for a few days from now. In the meantime, allow me to take you away to a place with mountains and forests, trout-filled streams, deer aplenty, demons, ...
~smirk~ Well, yeah, this isn't some outdoorsy magazine. 0_o
Book of the Dragon Part4
Yuan had been letting down as she worked her way back to the cliff, but at this low altitude, she was fighting gusty turbulence and trying to see through the snow squall that had chosen this moment to block her way. She squinted as the wind-driven snow stung her eyes and pelted her. Eventually, she'd had to almost close her eyes completely and rely on the picture which her other sense brought to her mind. The lower that she got, the worse the buffeting became. She was a little high and fast as she dipped below the top rim of the cliff and suddenly the snow was above her.
She could see and the air was calm, and not a moment too soon. Yuan had to flare hard and she landed, changing as she scuttled a little and then with a lot of hurried work with the now-loose pack, she stepped through one of the doorways of the ancient town built under the lip of a red sandstone cliff.
She didn't look too hard, other than to make sure that she wasn't about to fall on her nose. The doorways and passages were a little low to her, but not much. She went deeper into the complex until she found a slanting wall with toeholds in it leading up to a hole above. Yuan climbed up and after a quick look, she hefted the pack and climbed the rest of the way through to set the pack down as gently as possible. She laid it down on its side carefully and opened it, but she could only see her blankets.
She was a little surprised to see that one of them was near the top of the pack, and so she pulled it out with no trouble and reached inside.
What she felt was so cold to her touch, but Yuan was at least a little happy to find that it wasn't frozen. There was a coating of rime frost on the inner surfaces of the bag and that surprised her, because it said to her that her friend had been breathing at some point.
Now she had a quandary. She didn't want to just drag the demon out, and she wouldn't just upend the pack and pour her out. She laid out her blanket so that it covered the pack and stepped to the little hole in the wall which was the window. Yuan stood there shivering a little and waiting to dry just a bit before she would put her clothes on. She remembered that they were folded in the pocket of the pack and so she pulled them out to get some of the cold out of them. All that she could do was to wait, but at least she felt that she might be able to hope. This made no sense to her, but it was better than she thought this would go.
Yuan reminded herself not to get her hopes up. There was still the likelihood that the pack only contained a body, but she felt a little hope regardless.
She wondered where she was, but she felt a little thankful to have found this. From the air, it looked to be a human settlement carved into a rock face. It was only now that she could see that it was in fact made of dried mud blocks which had been fitted together well. She was a little far from the ledge now, being inside one of the rooms right at the back of the overhang, but that was alright to her. She was that much farther from the snow that she could see a lot farther out as the squall continued, blowing clean over the cliff from behind it.
Yuan turned away from the window and reached for her clothing, pulling it on as quickly as she could. Winter, she thought, something that her mother had not mentioned at all, not a winter like this.
She shrugged. She'd see what was what in the morning. Right now, she felt weary and needed sleep more than anything. It was a little cool here but not cold, not like what it had been out there. She lay down right against the pack and covered them both with her blanket before she closed her eyes, but it only lasted a minute before they snapped open as a sense came to her.
This place looked old and uninhabited for some reason, but she knew that the second part of that wasn't correct, besides the demon in her knapsack – and she wasn't sure about whether she lived or not because she got little sense from it. She just knew something else.
She was not alone.
There was no one in the room, or down below. There was nobody even near to the passageways that she'd traveled. All the same, there was someone else in this not quite deserted town under the cliff.
Yuan awoke feeling groggy and slow. There was nothing wrong that she could see and she wasn't even cold, she just felt off a little bit. It wasn't until she tried to move that she almost groaned from the dull ache in every joint. She didn't know what this was, but something wasn't right. She looked over and reached into her pack. Cool, but not cold. Even so, there was no real sign that the demon was alive.
She got up and looked out of the window. The sky out there was overcast and it was barely snowing in tiny flakes. She hurriedly removed her clothing, as much as she hated the thought. She had to find another place and quickly. Her intestines were sending her messages with the cramps in no uncertain terms.
She saw no one as she walked out carefully and she was glad of it. It was all that she could do to hold on as she ran out into the valley a little way and found a place. After the unpleasantness which followed, she needed somewhere to wash. She'd been thankful that she'd managed to be quiet about it, but she'd had to crouch low to allow her guts to empty themselves from both ends at once, and she was a mess. The thought of using snow to wash with, ...
She found a stream and though some of it was iced over, most of the surface was open and she stepped closer, her feet telling her that she didn't like this business of winter here very much. But two things came to her attention, as sick as she felt.
There was a reason why the surface of the stream was not ice-covered yet. It was a wide stream, but here it was narrow and a little deep. That caused the water to rush past.
The other things that she noticed were the tracks in the snow.
Her eye followed them and then she saw a pair of animals mating. If she didn't feel a little like frozen death, she'd have loved to watch them, not having seen something like this before. But between her and those creatures, she saw another creature a moment later, the one who had made the tracks and he was kneeling as he watched them as well.
Billy knelt in the light snow and tall grass at the edge of the woods, watching as a good-sized and regal-looking buck enjoyed one of the females in his harem. The weather had turned colder and the early December wind blew strongly, but it was in Billy's favor, keeping his scent from the animals as they mated. The demon needed meat, and though he was a little hungry, it was not enough to make him want to try for either of the ones involved in this. He still had a little from his last kill hanging up.
There was only him, after all, and he had no real way to keep the meat cool enough for long, so he mentally scratched both of the pair off his menu. All that he could do was to hang the meat in one of the cooler sections of his 'home', but he knew that he couldn't consume as much as he'd get from either of these animals before it went bad. He was also interested in the skin of the animal, but again, it was not enough to cause him to act.
He'd been here for two and a half months now, and he'd changed some in that time. It might be said of him that he'd grown up, and while there was a little truth to that, what had happened was that Billy had more or less adjusted. He still missed Hank every day, because they'd been each other's anchors in some very real ways, but he'd learned that he could keep himself alive all alone.
He lived in a cliffside dwelling, very old, but still sound. Billy didn't know which group had made this home for him; all that he knew was that it likely was older than anything human that he'd ever seen. That didn't matter, of course. He didn't do anything to harm it, he just lived there. There was water not far off, and the whole thing was built under the overhang of a southward-facing sandstone cliff. The cliff created a dead spot in the prevalent winds, and the sunshine heated the rocks. After dark, the sandstone cooled slowly. He supposed that it was the warmest place for miles around.
When he'd first walked back here, having overflown it as he'd thought about setting down, he'd spent a fair bit of time just exploring. He couldn't believe that no one lived here. He didn't know that it had lain deserted for almost all of its existence. The builders had walked away after a two decades-long drought left them far from water, though it came back after the drought ended. A different people came much later, but not to live there. They sought to protect it, and all of the land around was made into a wilderness preserve.
Those ones were long-gone too now, and the place was remote as hell – just what a young demon wished to have for a place to live. He didn't belong and he couldn't go back. His brother was dead, and humans feared what he was. The way that Billy saw it, he'd just live here until he couldn't anymore.
But though he'd done well for the first little while, and learned that he could survive here alone, there were things which made it less than perfect.
Nothing was perfect, he thought, least of all his miserable life.
He had no one to talk to. For a time, he'd found himself speaking to his dead brother as though Hank was there with him. Sometimes it helped and sometimes it only helped for a little while before he castigated himself, growling in a quiet voice that it was long past time for him to grow up. That would work for a time, but sooner or later, Billy would have the thought that on balance, knowing what he now did and had lived through, Hank had been wrong.
It had sounded so good to them both to decide and plan to make the move and run from the Colonel. The doing of it had caused them both to have to learn so much so that it could be done. But now, ... What did he have besides emptiness and even more loneliness than ever before?
He'd been torn out of his young life and never even gotten to kiss his parents goodbye. He and Hank had spent their childhoods and young adulthoods alone by themselves. They'd tried so hard to get away, and what had it gotten Billy? He'd prefer to have to live the rest of his life putting up with the old vampire's shit if it meant that he and Hank could sleep hanging on to each other – because that way they both really slept, rather than what he did now, try to sleep and wake up every two hours wondering if he was safe, knowing all the while that it made no difference whether he awoke or not if he wasn't safe.
What was safe? Without Hank, there was no such thing. He even knew that for all of his attitude, Hank needed to hold Billy just as much to feel safe, it was just never said that way between them.
The only thing which had finally helped him was the realization that if they'd never been caught, they'd have grown up normally, and by now, something such as this wouldn't have ever been an issue to either of them. They'd have been the right creatures in the right place and by now would they'd have been a pair of brothers who loved each other, but had grown up independent and secure in themselves.
Another issue was that, living on that old base, there were plenty of things to be found out and learned. The place had been a wonderland that way. That Billy had survived this long was proof of it. He's always been interested in the outdoors. He breathed in every survival and adventure book that the base library had. But there was no intellectual stimulation in this place. It was shelter, and in that light, one got used to the old place pretty quickly after that.
The last and most unsettling thing was the fact that for the past twelve hours, he knew that he wasn't alone there. Nobody bothered him, but he knew that there was somebody else there. There were only three things which kept him there now, well, other than the fact that it was winter and he had nowhere else to go.
The place had been well thought-out when the site had been selected, since the rocks were heated by the sun and gave up that heat rather slowly.
It was closer to being like a warm autumn where the dwellings were, while everywhere else, outside of the microcosm, winter looked as though it was coming on pretty good this year.
He'd seen the footprints here and there in the dust of the ledge where he never went, and they told him that the other one who was here was human, alone as well, and most definitely smaller than he was. He doubted that the other one here, whoever it might be, had any real inkling about him and most especially just what they were living near to.
Billy was no great-sized demon. His father – if his childhood memories were to be believed – was huge, and Hank had taken after him. While Hank hadn't been huge, he was well-built. Billy was muscled too, but not to that degree.
Billy was adapting though. He'd never had the need of it until now, but he'd developed a more human-looking form in addition to his demonic one living here. That had come about because of the clothes that he'd taken from the base. It just made sense. Why live as a cold demon when you could live as a much warmer human in human clothes? These days, he made out just fine in jeans with construction boots, a red plaid flannel shirt and even a fleece-lined coat.
He had a thought that caused him to smile to himself for a moment. One of his greatest discoveries had been one of the hairdresser's shops on the base. Along with the scissors and the combs, he'd found a few instructional books, and that was how Billy had learned to cut hair.
There had been a couple of early misadventures with Hank's hair, but he'd managed to try a few things out and it stood him in good stead out here, because something that had never occurred to him was just how much of a pain in the ass his long ponytail could get to be, with the way that it felt uncomfortable and just plain bugged him when he wore the coat. It was a little better when he untied it, but the hair at the front bothered him then, always getting in his way the way that it did.
That's why he cut it off one night. When he had it at a length in the back that pleased him, he went to work on the rest, with a pair of carefully placed mirrors. There was one particular hair style that he liked and he thought that it looked really good when he'd tried it on Hank one time, though his brother didn't like it much. Billy did and that was what he strove for here.
He liked it this way a lot more and he thought that it suited him. Billy had no idea whatsoever about the 'look', and couldn't have cared less about it. He only knew that he liked the way that it looked to him and that it felt alright to him. There wasn't anyone else around to impress anyway, but he 'd have likely fit right in with the young male styles prevalent over four hundred years previously. He'd have looked just fine walking on campus, playing a guitar or just picking up a surfboard. Right after that by coincidence, he'd finalized this more human form, and that was the way that he looked then.
There was something that bothered him, and he thought that he might have the barest answer when he searched hard in his dimmest memories from before the time that he'd been brought here with Hank. He'd grown up at the old base, where it was stupid hot in the summer and sometimes cold in the winter, but never like this. He and Hank had just looked as they pretty much always had; a pair of young demon males with skin which was as smooth as any human's skin, though it was a warm shade of gray. Their eyes were black on black, the same as any demon's, he supposed, at least, that had been what he'd seen in the second of time that he'd had to look when the Colonel brought another group before sending them somewhere else.
But in the time that he'd been here, he'd developed his human-looking form and that was all good, the way that he figured it. He could blend in with them, if he ever got the chance, and he guessed that he looked like one of the lighter-colored humans. He'd decided that he liked it, and the clothes fit like that, and so he'd stayed that way for most of the time ever since. He figured that he'd go back when it was warmer.
But the next time that he'd changed back to what was natural for him, he's been astounded. While he hadn't been looking, so to speak, his body had changed markedly.
For one thing, he'd grown more mass somehow, he was sure of it. He hadn't had those shoulders before, for damn certain. Other than the inconvenience of his natural form being even farther from being able to fit into any clothes that he had, he didn't really mind. It was the rest of it that had shocked him. His long hair had grown in this shape, and that was an understatement. The skin on his shoulders and upper back wasn't smooth anymore, not with that hair growing out of it to blend into that mane.
It wasn't brown anymore. It wasn't black anymore either. It was lighter, but not uniformly so. Some of it was white and some was black, and there was a lot of gray as well, but not from age – that was its color now, a mottled looking mess to his mind. Where it had once been sleek and straight, it was now ... not that way. And there was more to this.
He'd actually chipped the old earthenware cup that he liked to drink out of. His face had changed, forming the barest of snouts and he'd banged his cup against the teeth which were a little forward of where they'd been the last time that he'd done this in that shape. And while his mouth had been moving forward a little, it had taken the bottom of his nose with it. He couldn't decide whether he now looked like a dog or a cat, for Pete's sake. His eyeballs were still black, but his irises had turned a light silver – not gray at all, and they were slightly reflective as well, though it could be controlled and dimmed. His skin carried patterns in it from dark to light and back, just like his hair.
And that was another thing. He'd never needed to shave in his life before. He still didn't, really. But he had a little tuft of hair on his chin now. It drove him nuts. It wasn't more than maybe an inch or so long, growing into a little pointed thing, but it was there and he now found himself stroking it or tugging it a little whenever he was lost in thought.
He'd have been upset over it once, but he lived here alone. Who did he have to impress?
But the answer came to him after days of thought, where he went through the motions of a single creature living alone in the winter wilderness of Colorado, doing the things which needed doing in order to stay alive. It hadn't been until he found himself wishing for a mirror so that he could see himself and how bad it must look that his memory got the nudge that it had needed...
Because a mirror-like surface had appeared before him against the wall that he'd been looking at.
That had been enough of a shock to him, because it was something that he could never have done before. But when he'd looked at his reflection ... that was when the memories came flooding back and he knew why he looked like a different sort of demon now.
Because that was what he was and had always been.
The differences were what came to males his kind when they matured, and there were reasons for every one.