Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience voting to determine the path of the story. The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
Little House Dust Dragon Dental Coma
The storms had ravaged every crop in that town and the next four and the previous four… Sorry. Hard to even think out here. Don’t know if anybody’ll find this story, but I’m pretty sure at this point that the storm can hold it. That means it’ll get spat out whenever this thing finally winds down. When it does there’ll just be a big pile of dead livestock, pulled-up fences, and a few children just as unlucky as the animals.
I should probably count myself among them. Nobody hired me to investigate and I certainly didn’t do it out of curiosity. The storm just pulled me along with it, right out of my family’s barn. I didn’t get caught in the middle, I’d surely be dead if I was, but it still battered me across the ground and the debris until I was knocked out.
There were men on the radio, the weathermen, saying they understood the storm. It was nothing but a ball of dust caused by drought. They called it just a ‘bad hot year’. I knew it was more than that, as it came by our ranch a few times before it actually struck us. You could hear it on the other side of the fields, and it wasn’t blowing like wind. It was growling. My grandpa only left the porch when somebody wheeled him inside, and any time he saw it in the distance he pointed and shouted at it like it was a coyote eyeing his hens.
“You git you hear me!? Nobody has time for you any’mo. We aint knights or kings! Go on back to your own time and blow that smoke up god’s skirt!”
“Who’re you yelling at?” I asked him as I wrapped my hands around the handles of his wheelchair.
“The dragon! Thinks he’s so clever coming all the way out here when he should be in a dern history book.”
“It’s just a dust storm,” I told him. “There’s no such thing as dragons.”
“Not anymore! Not supposed to be. That’s what he thinks is so clever about it. You tell him off if you see him again, you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you over the storm Grandpa. Let’s get some dinner so your warnings have time to sink into that old dragon.” He was right. At least I thought so. Hadn’t seen it yet. After the storm dragged me away I woke up in this strange giant hallways full of stone pillars. It looked meant for the big people of the bible. A place where Goliath could practice throwing stones a couple miles.
I heard that growl deep in the hallway, so far that I couldn’t see anything at the other end. This was where the thing slept when it wasn’t cloaked in our dust. I looked down at myself. My clothes were different, like none I’d ever seen. They were wet too, as if I’d been dragged behind a boat instead of a cloud full of desert. Particles of dust hung in the air, motionless. They weren’t quite dust bunnies, on account of the sparkle they had in them, like there was some tropical beach sand mixed into the hairs and fibers of our ranch.
Avoid the Dust Touch the Dust Collect the Dust
I was strangely drawn to it, each and every piece, as if it were the crown jewels or something. I stood there, still dripping from whatever mysterious water I’d been thrown in, and slowly reached out one finger, toward a hovering piece of it that was slowly spinning.
It was so light and soft that I couldn’t even feel it. I pushed it an inch or so out of position, putting my other hand above it to feel for a string holding it up. There was nothing, but the thing at the end of the hall, the dust dragon if my grandpa isn’t as crazy as his sleep mutterings suggest, knew what I’d done. The growl got a lot louder, enough to make me recoil.
The piece of dust drifted back into its assigned position and sparkled. They all sparkled in response to the growl: little dots of light moving in waves like those light-up sand fleas on the beach whenever the tide’s going out.
I vowed not to touch anything else, at least not until I was close enough to see what I was dealing with, but that turned out to be a difficult proposition. There was barely any space for a human to move without disturbing this network of tiny dust jewels. First I had to wring out everything I was wearing so the drips didn’t disturb anything. My shirt, which wasn’t mine I will remind you, was this green and orange tunic with a bundle feathers sticking out of a pocket on the front. I didn’t even recognize the feathers as coming from any bird I’d ever seen.
Next up was my socks. The dang things went all the way past my knees. These clothes felt old, but not dirty or in disrepair. They were like costume pieces for one of those medieval fairs. When I was done with them I only had room for one step to get myself out of the puddle I left behind. There were two more pieces of dust right there in my face, threatening to dislodge by my breath alone.
Walking wasn’t going to work. I had two options, but both of them required me to get on my belly like a tired skink and crawl. I dropped, feeling the cool stone against my cheek. I realized there was no dust upon the floor, not a single hair. In fact, one of my eyelashes gave way. I crossed my pupils and watched it go, sliding off its neighbors but refusing to fall. It drifted up and joined one of the dusty gems in its lazy circling.
That was strange, but not the most immediate concern. I had to decide whether I was crawling toward that awful growling, or the other way, which I assumed was the way we’d come from. That made me think about what kind of person I was, which I only then realized I was pretty poor at doing.
I rarely left my farm, and it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. I could’ve gone for more schooling, but it seemed like all you earned there was marks for arguing. I don’t like arguing with people. An animal either does what it’s told or acts ornery. A squash either grows or shrivels. It’s all very simple, but that wasn’t what I liked about it. I liked how it was neutral. There was no wrong way to wrong the plants. You could yell at the sky all you wanted and you’d never offend it. Just like Grandpa.
So was I the kind of person who moved toward danger, toward the monster ravaging his home in the hopes of slaying it? My clothes suggested I was. Or was I the kind to head back and tell people what I’d found?
Toward the Growl Go Back Run into Stranger
It was going to be a major moment for my sense of identity, but the choice ended up being taken from me by another strange sight. There was another person somewhere in this great empty place. Can you call ti empty if it’s full of dust? Is dust just the stuff of emptiness? Anyway…
I couldn’t see them at first, but I heard them over the distant growl. They were grunting and slapping, pulling themselves across the floor in wet clothes, just like I was. I wanted to call out to them, maybe join forces, but I didn’t know if yelling would attract the attention of the dust dragon. The only thing I could think to do was crawl in the direction of their sounds and hope to find a friendly face.
It took me close to five minutes to spot them through a few rows of the pillars. Progress was slow, as some of the dust hung so low that I couldn’t left my head. I never thought I’d wish I had the eyes of a flounder. The first thing I saw was the slap of a sleeve much larger than either of mine. Then a head pulled around the stone. She was a woman, wearing some kind of blue robe covered in silver trim. The hood hid the full length of her hair, but I could see wet blonde strands of it stuck to her cheeks.
I still didn’t want to call out, so I stuck my hands forward and waved my fingers, daring to throw in a low whistle. She stopped and turned her head. Looking right at each other I saw determination on her face. She knew at least a little more than I did. We silently decided that a meeting of the minds was necessary, starting to slap and drag toward each other.
“Who are you?” I whispered when she was just a few inches from my face.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” she said, “just what I am. Look at my clothes. I’m a wizard. I’m supposed to supply the magic.”
“Magic for what?”
“Fighting that thing! Judging by your clothes you’re a squire or something. You should be carrying a knight’s sword. Where’s your knight?”
“Uhm… I have never received or owned a knight of any kind. It’s just me. I actually have no idea what’s going on. Some dust storm dragged me off my farm, put me through a lake or an ocean or something, and dropped me off here with all this strange dust.” She rolled her eyes hard enough that I worried it would disturb our surroundings.
“Some of that dust is yours,” she told me. I only now realized her accent was very strange. Her face was odd too, like finding out there was an island of isolated people with their own facial features and skin tone and you’d just never seen them before. I know humans have done that once or twice, but I’d never done it personally. “It takes dust from every world it visits. Makes them into portals so it can go back whenever it wants and take whatever it wants.”
“Is it a dragon?”
“Every world has dragons; it’s the only thing every one has. That’s how he can move between them, but he needs dust after the first time. We need to kill him and take our dust back so no others come looking for revenge. Without a knight it’s just you and me.”
Stealthily Aggressively Intelligently
“How do we do this?” I asked.
“Well you’ll need a sword.” She snapped her fingers. A blade appeared form thin air and clattered on the stone. “You were supposed to catch it!” she hissed, but the damage was done. The growl swelled in the distance, turning into a roar that disturbed all the dust. It started bouncing around the walls, glowing brighter and brighter.
There was no reason to be quiet or low anymore, so I grabbed the sword and rose to my feet. My wizard friend came up as well, wiggling her fingers, getting ready to cast more magic I assumed. The roar was getting louder; I couldn’t even ask her any of the questions I still had. I had to make frantic guesses.
I don’t think it was the dragon that pulled me into its layer between worlds. I think it was Earth. The dust dragging along a defender to help keep the beast out. Dust is dust. The very stuff of emptiness. It cares not for time or life. It had no trouble handing me things that hadn’t existed for hundreds of years, like a squire’s clothes.
As for the water, I think it was the dust dragon’s moat, used to wash off any dust it didn’t want to keep, in case anything stronger than it wanted to pursue. That was my working theory anyway, and it didn’t have a lot of time to work, for the beast was upon us.
It was tough to see through the chaos of glowing dust, but there was a shape flying through the halls, its gliding wings wide enough to touch a pillar on each side. Its hide was gray and fuzzy, but that might’ve just been an armor of dust from all the worlds it liked to pillage. I saw eyes that looked like abandoned groundhog burrows, but its soaring filled them with glowing dust and turned them into the brightest things around.
Suddenly, I found a roar of my own. I screamed at the top of my lungs, breathing magic dust in and out, and charged straight for it. This was the kind of person I was, at least under these very specific conditions. I thought of myself as like the dust, going wherever the wind blew me, doing whatever needed to be done, be it spoon-feeding Grandma on one of her bad days, or slicing this dragon’s neck into beef roulade.
“You can do it!” my wizard shouted. “I have no choice but to believe in you!” She was like dust too, so I wasn’t offended by her honesty. The dragon was almost upon me. I saw claws of splinter wood, six to a hand. It reached out, ready to shred me, clawing until I was nothing but more dust to add to the portals.
I stopped roaring, took a deep breath, and swung my sword to meet its claws.
Magical Armor Magical Sword Magical Counter
It was much stronger than I was, knocking the blade from my hand and sending it flying. I closed my eyes, expecting it to rip right through me the way it had the fence that my father built more than a decade ago. I felt an impact, but I was merely knocked tot he ground. I opened my eyes and saw the dragon circling overhead, getting ready for another swoop.
It looked… bluish. Everything did. I stared at my hands and saw a skin of something covering my whole body. I turned and looked at the wizard. Her hands were out, fingers wiggling madly, blue magic running out of her nails like overflowing creeks and making its way to me.
“I can’t keep this armor up for long!” she shouted. “You’ve got one more shot!” I didn’t think I even had that. The dust dragon was diving and I’d lost my sword. It was ten feet away. Five. I held out my hands, ready to try choking it my final effort.
The sword flew between us, suspended on a skin of golden dust. Perhaps from my world, or the wizard’s, or both. It put itself in my hands and I gripped it as tightly as I could. I thrust it up the dragon’s descending mouth. It roared, but there was no real breath inside it. It was a hollow creature, just a bag of hunger.
The blade pierced its head and the whole monster collapsed into a pile of dirt. Dirt, not dust. This stuff could no longer pretend it was capable of flight. I stood there, dumbfounded. I didn’t even have to spit anything out, because all the residue was on that fancy magic armor. The dragon’s dry innards fell away when it did.
“Did we do it? Is it dead?”
“Yes,” the wizard said, sighing, pulling back her hood and running her hands through her hair. I saw two stripes of green, confirming her otherworldly nature. She frowned.
“What? Didn’t we win?”
“We did, but now we have to reclaim all of our world’s dust. We must categorize every single piece in this hall, and we can’t leave until there’s not a speck of our worlds unaccounted for.” I looked around at the glimmering chaos of worldly dust bunnies.
“Oh… Well. I’m sure whichever summer I get back in will be a good one.”