In this corner, Alka’s, the furry rendition of indiana jones, must face off with a raptor. Tick battle ensues! Who will tap out first when their weak points are exposed?
I walked into a towering hall the size of a stadium, fighting the urge to disturb the tranquility of undisturbed centuries with an echoing “Holy shit!”
The place was hidden inside a solid granite mountain, with only well-concealed ventilation shafts hinting at its existence. Finding the entrance into the surrounding jungle had been no easy task, but it meant that the elements had largely spared the wonders within.
And whatever civilization had left this building behind must have been peopled entirely with figurine fanatics. The walls had been carved into rows upon rows of alcoves, in which stood statues of reptilian kings and priests long past. They gazed forbiddingly at me as I picked my way carefully down the steepest stairs I’d ever traversed. It was slow going finding my way around rubble in semi-darkness; glowing stones set along the walls lit my way weakly, doubtless charged by intermittent sunlight from some hidden aperture.
I had to shield my eyes from a glow that stabbed at them from the wall opposite – a ray of sunlight hitting something reflective exactly right. My eyes adjusted to the returning gloom as the golden minute slipped away.
And there it was. A tablet of petrified wood rested on a pedestal at the far end of the hall, shadowy lines hinting at some inscription from long-dead… priests? Scholars? Poets? The content of the long-rumored Codex Dromaeus was the subject of intense debate – speculation, is what it really amounted to – but I’d find out once I got some quality time alone with it.
I was halfway to it when I heard a light pattering sound from behind me. Footsteps, that were unmistakable. But they went tap click tap click tap click, not unlike…
I’d slept through most of my biology classes in school, but I knew enough to have my hand ready at my hip where my whip hung. A dragon like me knows his own.
Sure enough, a hunched, scaly figure slipped into the entrance as soon as I turned around.
It was a bluish-gray raptor with electric blue markings down the center of its back. It was balanced on two of the most muscular legs I’d ever seen, legs that could probably launch him halfway across the hall if he wanted. A rattling hiss purred from its throat as it looked me up and down.
I stood as still as I could. I remembered reading somewhere that these guys could only see things that were moving. That didn’t apply to any raptors I knew personally, but maybe there was something different about ancient jungle civilization ones.
There wasn’t. Blue let out a sharp bark and lunged, describing an arc that could clear the stairs.
I pulled out my whip and gave it a twirl. With a flick of my wrist, I sent it flying toward my enemy. It curled around his ankle, and I jerked my hand to the right, yanking him out of his jump.
He had tricks of his own. Instead of crashing against the wall and knocking himself out, he twisted midair and landed feet first. He had enough momentum to run along the wall for a few steps and launch himself at me from twenty feet up.
I had enough time to grudgingly concede how cool that was before he bowled me over with a double-footed kick to my torso.
It was like a boulder slamming directly into my chest. The hall tilted as Blue took me down, sending me smashing into the stone floor. The whip sailed from my hand like a hurled eel. My upper back hit the ground and drove the breath from my lungs, and my head followed suit and drove the sight from my eyes. The blindness was fleeting, but it took a few seconds for the hall to come back into focus.
My head throbbed from the impact and my horns burned at their bases from hitting the ground tip first. It kept me flat on my back, an easy mark for Blue to walk up and plant one large, clawed foot on my chest. It tapped thoughtfully at my chest, at the scales below my light beige button-down shirt. My heart was hammering so hard that I thought it would burst out and pop against the raptor’s big claw.
I had hardly had time to wonder why he didn’t just kill me when he leaned down and answered my question. “Were it not for the laws of this land, I would have slaughtered thee,” he hissed. “Know’st thou the penalty for thy trespass?”
He was speaking an archaic dialect that I’d studied but never expected to hold a conversation in. “Um… a firm handshake and a friendly farewell?”
Fire blossomed from a point on my chest as he pressed his claw down, hard. I winced.
“Thou must stand trial for thy crime, for none but the Mother of Reptiles may render the ultimate judgment. Yet neither shall I brook insolence from thee, lesser dragon,” he hissed in my ear.
“Alkas. My name is Alkas. No need to be… impolite,” I tried lamely. His language didn’t have a word for “racist.”
“Oddsteeth! Thou wouldst impugn my manners when the intrusion is thine?” He slid his claw along my chest, so sharp it slit my shirt and made my scales sing. “Thou try’st my temper, foolish Alkas,” he growled. “Would that the crime of murder carried a lesser penalty than death, that I might–”
Blue’s threat vanished in a strange vocalization that I took at first for a cough. I raised my head, confused. “Might what?”
He looked left and right, almost as if he were avoiding my eyes. Then he glared back down and bared his teeth. “Thou wilt remains underfoot, that mine fellows on patrol might assist me in thy capture.”
Well, if Blue couldn’t kill me, he’d really overplayed his hand. I slid my claws under his foot to lift it off my chest. “Look, I’m sure your friends are fine folks, but I have elsewhere to–”
Blue made that noise again, louder this time, and snarled all the meaner to hide it.
Lesser dragon, he said. Well, one of us had useful arms. It wasn’t like he could lean down and grab mine. I slipped a hand up behind his digitigrade foot and tapped at its sole with my claws.
“I-I would have thy meaning, lesser dragon!” Blue managed, that rhythmic coughing sound punctuating his words.
Holy shit. He was laughing. Motherfucker was ticklish.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, a smile coming to my face. “Just having some fun.” This was insane. There I was, a deadly weapon perched on my chest like the timer on a bomb, and that very weapon was the weak point of the guy wielding it.
I had never been closer to death in my life and never rebounded harder. Relief poured from my racing heart into my limbs.
I channeled some of that relief into a little stroke up Blue’s weak spot. If it bled, I could kill it. If he could laugh, he could roll on the floor laughing.
“How d-dare thee! Thou shalt f-face the gravest of p-punishments for this affront to–” He snapped his mouth shut against a spike of sensation. I could literally see his leg quivering.
My grin widened. “You know, if you need a moment, you could always let me go.”
“Thou shalt not escape thy judgment, cretin!” he snarled.
Stroke, stroke, stroke. “Oh, come on,” I said with a shrug. “I’ll stick around. Wouldn’t dream of running. When in the jungle…”
“Thou must think I hatched yesterday!” Blue ground his foot into my chest – uncomfortable, but not enough to actually hurt me. He took his job seriously, bless his heart.
It was a game of advance and retreat there on the cold floor of the temple. I’d needle at Blue’s weak spot, he’d grind his foot into me in a vain attempt to scratch the itch; I’d back off, and he’d back off. He must have been an honorable warrior in his lost culture, but right now he was just some ticklish asshole.
All the while I was looking around the vast hall for some kind of escape route. My whip had gone flying when Blue knocked me down, but it was about halfway between me and the Codex. I could scramble to my feet, scoop it up, and have the tablet in my bag in seconds. Then it would just be a matter of escaping. From a raptor who’d presumably spent his entire life training. And his friends, whenever they came around.
Look, I didn’t say it was a good plan.
But it was in active development. The other raptors must have had long patrol routes because I had plenty of time to notice that the further down I tickled on Blue’s foot, the more he shook and the more firmly he planted his foot on my chest. Bastard owed me a new shirt. Or maybe he didn’t. He was doing me a favor, after all.
I slipped my claws down to where his skin met his talons, and his eyes bulged like a frog squeezed. He wasn’t even talking anymore; I could practically hear his teeth grinding as I teased further and further down. I knew what I was going for, and I could honestly jump on it at any time, but the truth is that I was enjoying this. Reducing this proud warrior to a quivering mess was almost as exciting as finding a legendary codex. No wonder his civilization had fallen.
I took a deep breath and stopped tickling him. “You know, you’re right,” I said in my most sincere tone of voice. “I’ve been a jerk – coming into your hall, trying to take your artifact… if you just take your foot off, I’ll come quietly.”
Blue slowly tilted his head down to glare at me. “Thine honeyed words are laced with–”
I didn’t get to hear what mine honeyed words were laced with, because I attacked the spaces between his talons with the lightest of tickles from my claws. And holy shit, Blue smiled. I mean, he grinned like a raptor lobotomized.
“Heheheh– cease thy foolishnehehehehessssssss at once– khahhahhaha…”
Even his weak spot had a weak spot. I swirled my claws around his talons, dug them gradually deeper with each pass, and stopped and vibrated them where I thought he felt it the most. He’d given up the game completely, spreading his talons like his skeleton was trying to burst out of his gray scales, the way you’d stretch and stretch until you couldn’t.
Which of course made it easier for me to poke and stroke until he was broke.
“GAHAHAHA– Thou shalt– shalt live to regret thihihihiiiiiihiihiihihis affront tooohohhohohohhooo…!”
To whom? The other warriors? Reptile mom?
I’d never find out. I took full advantage of Blue’s weakness, rubbing mercilessly between his talons with the claws of one hand and sliding the others up and down the back of his foot.
“BAAHhahahhahahaaa! Mother of ReptihIHIHHIHIIIIIIIIIII–”
That was the last straw. His eyes were shut tight, streaming with euphoric tears, and his foot lifted at last from my chest. His whole body seized up, he overbalanced, and he fell to the floor in a heap. I actually had to scoot away from him; his laughing jaws were snapping inches from my face, and I had zero interest in making a dishonest raptor out of him.
I stumbled to my feet, patted myself down, and glanced furtively about to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Just as I’d planned, I dashed the remaining length of the hallway, grabbing my whip and pulling out my bag in one improbable motion.
The Codex Dromaeus was heavy, but I was able to lift it down, set it inside the neck of the bag, and ease it inside, throwing glances in Blue’s direction all the while.
I needn’t have worried. He was rolling around on the ground like I was still tickling him, clearly used to being taken seriously by people who didn’t wear ticklish things like fabric. I speed-walked quickly back the way I’d come, although I couldn’t resist slowing down as I passed him. With a cocky salute, I said “Thanks, Blue. It was nice talking… eth.”
His laughter echoed off the intricately carved walls, punctuated by curses completely robbed of their impact. It was a shame I couldn’t stick around – some of them I hadn’t even heard before, and there was a really entertaining paper in ancient raptor expletives.
But there was a really dangerous game in sticking around waiting for Blue’s friends to find me. I’d lucked into the perfect storm of ludicrous honor code and weird weakness, and that sort of shit worked precisely once and with one opponent.
Better to get out while the archaeology was good. Anthropology, more like, these guys hadn’t died yet.
Maybe they’d die laughing. Now there was a rich field of study.
I’d exaggerate later about turning around in the entrance, delivering some withering one-liner, and judging the length of my whip just right to tickle Blue with pinpoint accuracy from half a swimming pool away. I figured I’d earned it.