Chapter 5: Dakon-Lung

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I wiggled deeper into the bamboo until I was squashed between the stalks. If the dragon wanted me, it could just tear the bamboo down to get me. Or breathe fire or whatever dragons did.

But the dragon entered the clearing, its immense feet crunching on the gravel, and circled the altar in the middle. As it walked by me, I got a good look at the claws on its feet. Three toes. What was I supposed to look for? A five-toed green? Jia-Li had told me its name, but I'd already forgotten it.

The blue dragon circled the altar three times, clockwise. Then it reared up on its hind legs and leaped straight up in the air. Its body wove back and forth like a swimming snake, and--I kid you not--it swam up into the sky that way. No wings to speak of, just the sheer willpower to fly.

I sat in the bamboo for a while in case it came back. The bamboo leaves made a solid ceiling overhead, and I couldn't see the sky at all. After a while I fought my way out of the bamboo and crept down the gravel path, keeping close to the edge in case another dragon came along.

After a few hundred feet the bamboo thinned out, and the path ran alongside a mirror-still lake. Across the lake was one of those Chinese temple things with the stacked roof like a layer cake. Lots of fancy scrollwork and red paint.

I didn't realize how big it was until a yellow dragon stepped out of the doors and walked down the steps. A dragon-sized temple. How high were those steps, anyway?

I didn't see the black dragons until they nodded to the yellow dragon and let it pass between them. They sat on either side of the steps, partially hidden by a couple of red maple trees, and looked like statues, themselves. Man, I'd have to be more observant or I'd walk right into a dragon.

I picked my way along the lake's edge, creeping between clumps of bamboo. There was nothing on this side of the lake but bamboo forest. Once in a while a narrow path like a tunnel opened up. They made me nervous. I couldn't see more than twenty feet down those paths, and a dragon could sneak up on me and I'd never see it.

Funny how a world of dragons puts a vampire in his place. On Earth, I was an alpha predator among predators, because dragon blood made me so powerful. But on this dragon world, I was nothing. A pathetic parasite waiting to be noticed and crushed.

I glanced toward the temple, and froze. One of the black dragons was gone. I squinted. Was it hidden behind a tree? No, it was definitely gone. It's buddy still held its post, but its head was turned in my direction with uncomfortable accuracy.

Oh god, they'd seen me.

I broke into a run down the gravel path. Good thing, too, because the missing black dragon burst out of one of those tunnel paths in the bamboo a couple yards behind me. He was a lot bigger up close--his body was long and low to the ground, like a komodo dragon's, but his head was oversized and loaded with crocodile teeth. I know this because he charged after me with his jaws wide open.

It's a good thing vampires have super speed, because even in a full-on cheetah sprint, I barely stayed ahead of him.

I rounded the far end of the lake and arrived at a crossroads. I turned the opposite direction of the temple--no point adding black dragon number two to the chase--and tore uphill. The road looped back and forth as it climbed a hill. I followed the road and the dragon ran straight through the edges, crushing bamboo and small trees like an angry rhinoceros. Good grief, wouldn't he ever get tired?

I crested the hill with his hot breath on the backs of my legs and looked down into a pretty valley. It had all sorts of little houses and farmland in rectangles and circles. And there were dragons everywhere.

I almost gave myself up for lost then. I was half a mile from the portal place, this black dragon wanted to eat me, and I was running toward a town of a jillion more dragons.

The road went down a steep hill with embankments of green turf on either side. I leaped off the embankment on the right and tumbled down thirty or forty feet into some kind of field with really tall grass. Wheat or barley or something. I rolled to my feet and dashed into the grass. It reached to my chest and gave me a weird feeling of wading in shallow water.

The black dragon leaped after me, his claws tearing up the grass as he slithered down the embankment.

I burst out of the far end of the grass field and ran straight into the yellow dragon who had left the temple. My face met hard yellow scales with the force of a truck on the highway. I fell on my back and bashed my head on the ground. The yellow dragon staggered and stumbled sideways. Its head whipped around, teeth bared.

I couldn't move. The world spun and blurred, and cracks of red-hot pain seemed to rippled under my hair. I'd busted my skull. My vampire body was healing itself, but even so I needed a minute to recover. And the yellow dragon had me now.

It stepped over me and one of its clawed paws curled around me, rolling me on my face. Talons dug through my clothes into my skin.

The black dragon ran up, its footsteps vibrating the ground. It barked at the yellow dragon, who growled and trilled back. They sang-growled at each other for a minute, then the black dragon turned and walked off, shooting angry looks over his back.

I lay there, afraid to move, looking up at the fancy gold fur dangling off the yellow dragon's neck and chest. It stood there until the black dragon was gone, then bowed its head and sniffed me. It wasn't all that big, really. Its head was only the size of a horse's. Instead of the chin-beard, it had a long pony-like mane with a forelock that hung in its eyes.

It's voice started out as a rumble, rose to a trill, and formed into English. "How did you get here?"

It was a girl dragon. Of course.

She pulled her foot off me, and I scrambled to my feet, a little dizzy. "How do you know English?"

The dragon shifted positions a little and extended her right foreleg. It ended in a stump at the elbow.

The girl who'd cut the bola and pulled me into the basement! I stared into her dark-gold eyes. "Lu?"

Her head wove from side to side and her eyes rolled, checking out the fields around us. "This way." She nudged me off the road and down into the grassy field. She crouched until the grass hid her, and I knelt, too. It was itchy.

"This is Dakon-Lung, the dragon world," she breathed. "Vampires aren't allowed to live, and the guard only let you go because I promised to kill you myself." She fixed both eyes on me, and somehow I glimpsed her human face in the arrangement of her dragon features. "What are you doing here?"

I shrugged. "Jia-Li sent me here to bite some dragon. Maybe she hopes I'll get eaten instead." Somehow I doubted that Lu would kill me. Dragons seemed to come in different kinds, and she didn't have the heavy carnivore jaws like the black dragon. She reminded me more of those duckbill dinosaurs. There were her claws, though.

"Bite a dragon?" whispered Lu. "Why?"

I considered. I had a superpower--sort of--and I didn't know whose side Lu was on. Of course, Jia-Li's side probably wasn't the most honorable one, if you know what I mean.

I gazed into Lu's golden eyes. "Are you going to kill me if I tell you?"

She bent her head away from me for a moment. I had the sudden urge to stroke the smooth, pearly-yellow scales on her neck, and touch her mane. But I kept my hands to myself. The last girl I'd felt up had bitten me, and I didn't need another bite right now. Particularly from a dragon.

Lu swung her head back to me. "Jia-Li is a rogue. She was exiled to Earth after ... she did certain things. My brother and I went to check on her, and we've..." She dropped her head as if ashamed. "We've been fighting about you ever since. You're dangerous to humans, vampires and dragons alike. He wants to kill you."

"And you don't?"

"No."

I desperately wanted to ask why, but I didn't dare. "So ... if I tell you why I'm here, what'll happen?"

"You said you've come to bite a dragon. That's all I need to know." Lu gazed at me with both golden eyes. "I'll help you back to the portal. But I can't promise anything else."

I forced a smile. "Good enough."

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