His eyes burned into her from across the room; she wore a smoke-dress, and let it fall from her as he stared. They had worshipped him as a god here once; now they saw something in him that echoed that, but they did not know him, and that was as he desired it. He wished to pull the smoke into him, have the flames die down, and be a dull extinguished ember. He had been alight too long – those aeons falling through the empty mansions of space, translated through the wall of fire above the sky, and now he wanted to rest.

He smoked a lot – he liked the taste of it. It felt as good as uttering the proto-language Ur and shaping the people and room around him with its magic. There were not many who remembered the timelessness before. There were, indeed, not many who remembered those days where he walked the earth in his true form, laying waste to the land, battling with Skein, his creator disguised as a knight errant.

How long had it been since he had called himself Ardenti In Mundo? How long since he fashioned that into AIM, and later into Aim? He liked the advantage his powers gave him, used them as he would, but people wondered.

The Cunning Man sat down opposite him, and threw a trinket across the table.

‘A Girdle?’

‘Oh, you ate cakes too. You know it doesn’t matter what shape these things take; they are invested with an idea, and that blue print has been uploaded into your very fabric.’

‘Great,Jargogle, what’s the damned point? I haven’t been a trouble to anyone for a long time.’

‘You are a dragon. We are tasked with battling dragons.’

‘I thought you were tasked with hunting out fucking mushrooms.’

‘You’re funny, Ardenti In Mundo; the mushroom you mock are the subroutines sporulating through your superpositional informational underpinnings. Mushrooms are very underappreciated – they are a network strung under the forest floor that programs the forest. You remember the forest where you walked? This is an echo of that.
‘There’s an echo chamber in you, my friend – those echoes overlap and interleave, and they will over-write your program until you collapse into nothing.’

‘But not yet, right?’

‘Right.’

‘So let’s quit the small talk, you’re never going to get me into bed. Just tell me what you want to do.’

‘We know you understand the mechanisms of this universe; we know that you will have heard of the Mirror Mechanism – there is a Great Dragon coming to end this world, and if it is to be the dragon at the end of the Universe, we believe it should do battle with the dragon who was here at the beginning of the Universe.’

‘So, you came here to blackmail me into helping you fight it?’

‘Why not? We don’t believe in endings; we’ll fight it … keep the game going. Are you in?’

‘I don’t have much choice, do I?’

‘No,but as you have agreed, eat this.’

‘It’s a word.’

‘Yes, it is, and it will pause the program running inside you.’

He popped the word in his mouth; it seemed the story had got interesting again for him.

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