Author : Scott Hallford

They called him Dragon. I never understood why until I saw one of his “shows”—the little gatherings in the dark alley behind the pub. Some folks traveled over from Warshire or Bromley to see the muscled lad, a man no older than twenty-five, who breathed fire and swallowed flame. Of course, I didn’t believe it myself at first, which is what prompted me to attend. True to gossip, Dragon belched fire as the show ended. Certainly not something you see every day, but worth a second viewing. Or third.

In fact, my obsession began during the third show. Breathing fire, while a local phenomenon, has captivated audiences around the world. But usually, there’s a trick to it—powder or liquid breathed from the mouth, or a chemical reagent to reacts with carbon dioxide. So far as I could tell, Dragon used one method only: Breathe, exhale.

By the fifth showing, I’d started reporting early (by use of the pub’s rooftop, no less) to watch Dragon prepare. They say that spying on a magician can ruin the show, but Dragon arrived five minutes before the crowd started to gather and leaned against the wall, waiting. The show, like all other shows, ended with a long breath and blast of flame, the plume bursting into the night, rising above the pub’s slanted roof.

I followed him home that night, keeping to the shadows as best I could. Dragon accepted no donation thrown at him. The coins in the alley at the end of the show were left there, and simple logic begged a question: Where does a man who accepts no wages for his work live?

He crossed the river east of town, walked to a lone hilltop cottage where a single lantern sat burning on the windowsill, entered and shut the door. Soon, an old man wearing a tinkerer’s apron hurried to the window and doused the lamp. Odd, a showman like that taking shelter with an old man. I started to turn away when I saw a distinct set of glowing eyes staring out the window. Odd, that. Quite odd.

By the seventh showing, I discovered a pattern. Every night, Dragon arrived at a specific time, performed the same routine and returned to the cottage, taking the same path. The crowd had begun to notice it, too and at the ninth showing had grown bored with every trick but Dragon’s finale. A round of complaints rode up at the end of the show, and a some young bloke—most disgruntled—hurled a mug of liquor at Dragon just as he breathed fire. The liquor, protected by the mug, failed to ignite until it crashed against Dragon’s skull and soaked him. The crowd scattered, screaming, as the flames burned his flesh away, revealing a slick metal frame, once sheathed in skin.

Dragon, sensing no pain, sent his final flaming plume into the sky and started the long journey home, following the same routine (as robots often do).

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