Leaving the premiere, he felt the familiar grip of fear—as though a white dragon had taken his heart in its claws.
It was a juvenile dragon, only a hundred and five years old, by all appearances in only its sixth or seventh molting. It had come from the Moldana region of the Urtuuk wastelands, judging from the aquiline swoop of its nasal cavities and the tell-tale Moldanian wheeze that has always emanated not just from the villagers but also the dragons and larger reptiles of that place. To call it white would be an exaggeration; its flesh was a sallow cream, and only its crest was reminiscent of the untouched snows atop Mount Kavo or the eggs littered in the gullies of the North Javanese aviary near Tsitsi. Some would surely claim to see runs of white in the veins along its bony ridges, but this would be merely an affection in the viewer—the blood of an Urtuuk white was also the color of fresh-spun cream, though less so than would be in the case in a mature adult male (a specimen of the race aged three hundred years or more). This was a female, distinct from others of her gender only by a pointillist coloration in her left iris, pink and lavender and gold on green. Her majestic musculature was covered by the usual half-inch of impenetrable plating, an inscrutable interlocking of perfectly symmetrical scales which the Moldanians called “dragonhide” and his own Marqessi more elegantly denominated
cloudvellin. Her wingspan was seventeen feet and nine inches, give or take a millivent, and from tail to nostril she measured nearly thirty feet if she was a hexyard. Her name was Uli, which in her own unpronounceable tongue meant “little frozen river” and in his own language, the guttural hork of the Marq-Land, ironically meant “white lady.” The irony here was her demeanor, not at all ladylike but habitually ribald and dispossessed, fraternizing with the mountain lions of the Grimfold as though these were the equals of her race, and cleaning her teeth with gully rats as though these had not long been sacred totems of her kind. Her own people colloquially called her Uli-glin-go, meaning “little frozen river in which many drown quietly,” less a reference to her temperament and more a comment on the quality of her dragonfire, which was pungent and thin. Her fire burned at less than a thousand degrees pinto, which meant she could not ascend to Mount Kavo on her two hundredth name-day, but would have to wait until thirty moons thereafter. In color her dragonfire ranged from a silky blue to an indeterminate red-green, the latter particularly prized by Urtuuki painters but, many of her kind said, laughably fey for the most ancient race in the Moldana. Indeed, since 231 R.Y. Uli-glin-go had frightened not so much as a single tomcat in the Kavo Valley, so prodigious was her grin and so infrequent her ire. Her hind legs were also peculiarly slender, and would fetch only twenty gold pieces in the markets of the Marq-Land rather than the usual eighty for a dragon of her hue, age, and gender. While her other extremities, particularly her dorsal claws, were adequate exemplars and well within the normative range for her demographic, in truth her paws were not so nimble or strong as those of Greeg, the largest of her friends among the Kavan mountain lions. Greeg measured fifteen feet from jaw to tufted tail, and stood ten feet and four millivents from the ground. Uli and Greeg had often shared company since the tribal conflicts of the 230s, when the shaman of the Tsitsi-va stabbed the healer of the Tsitsi-na at a joint encampment in the shadow of Mount Kavo. In the ensuing troubles, Uli permitted herself to be ridden by Clova of the Tsitsi-na, while Greeg was paid three hundred gold pieces to guard the Tsitsi-va shrine at Yoo River from encroachment. During the inevitable skirmish that followed, two blues and a red of her race were destroyed, with three silvers injured beyond the full repair of any Tsitsi-na sorcerer. The entirety of Greeg’s pride was reduced to cinder. In the windblown remnants of his people, Greeg prepared himself to die—but when the shadow of Uli fell upon him, the only instinct the Old gods and the New had given him leave to retain was the interminable hunger of the lovelorn. And though he stood ten feet high in the pearly foam of the Yoo, and she with wings spread and claws flexing was the very vision of an avenging angel, Greeg did then what all lovelorn in all Ages have done: he