Okay I have been overtaken by a dose of serious busy - so a snippet of the new WIP (the last one is done but resting). This is part of the sequel to Dragon's Ring.
Curse the dwarves and their tricksy magics. He was supposed to be the practical joker. She'd wanted Díleas to understand. And she wore a very powerful piece of enchanted jewellery, which bound the magics of earth, stone, wood, fire and worked metals to her will.
Not surprising really that her power worked on sheepdogs. They were clever and loyal anyway, or so he'd been told.
"It won't be elegant," he said, "but then there won't be other dogs out here to see you. He took the section of dragon leather from his pouch and rent it into four pieces, and then made a neat row of talon-punctures around the edge, before transforming his own shape. Humans form was one of those he knew best, and it allowed him to wield a needle well. It was of course a matter of appearances, and useful disguise. He was far to heavy and too strong for a human -- but hands were easier to sew with than clawed talons. A piece of thong threaded through the holes and Díleas had four baggy boots.
Díleas looked critically at the things on his feet. Sniffed them.
"Dragon hide," said Fionn. "I wouldn't show them any dragons you happen to meet, but otherwise they'll do. And really, scarlet boots match the baubles on your collar."
Díleas cocked an ear at him. Fionn wasn't ready to bet the dog didn't grasp sarcasm, so he merely said, "Well, let's go. The only thing we're likely to meet are demondim, and they like red anyway."
They didn't like dragons, but were suitably afraid of them, so that was the form Fionn assumed, as the two of them walked into the badlands. It reeked of sulphur and burning, and Fionn knew the ground could collapse under their feet, dropping them down hundreds of cubits to white-hot ash-pits. Vast coal measures had been pierced by ferocious vulcanism, and deep down, somewhere, it burned still. Fionn's blinked his eyes to allow himself to see other spectra, patterns of energy, that might allow him to spot such instability before it killed Díleas. But the dog seemed aware and moved with a slow caution that he hadn't up on the bridge.
It was, as befitted a fire-creature world, hot and waterless. Fionn noticed that Díleas was panting. He'd have to learn to carry water for the dog, or to somehow carry the dog while he flew, because there were worse places than this, in the vast ring of planes that Fionn had once maintained the stability of. He was a planomancer, made by First for this task, and there was plenty of work waiting for him.
Right now, it could wait.
And simply because he'd said to Díleas that they would nothing here but demondim, right now he could hear noises that were very unlike those beloved of the creatures of fire. A jangle of bells, and, clearly, a bark. And human voices.
Díleas, panting, could hear them too. Dogs could hear more keenly than humans, but not than Dragons.
Fionn changed his form again, becoming human in appearance. A dragon would almost certainly be an unwelcome sight. He could, and possibly should, leave the demons to their nasty games. But he had some sympathy for humans these days. She'd taught him that. He would help, simply for her sake. They moved toward the voices and sounds.
The caravan of carts was moving, slowly, along a causeway of blue-black hexagonal blocks. Probably the safest place around here, reflected Fionn, although you had consider just what had flattened the top of the columnar dolerite dyke into a narrow straight road across the ash-fields and lava-lands. Bells tinkled from every horse's harness strap. Whoever they were, they were not ignorant of demondim and their dislikes, or quite the helpless lost travellers Fionn had expected. The fire creatures liked to mislead and torment those. But whoever had made those bells knew a thing or two about the demondim. They'd been made either to very precise mathematical formulae, or been shaved very carefully into making an octave.
"Go on, Díleas. We might as well see just who they are and what they're up to and cadge you a drink, panting dog," said Fionn, prodding him with a toe.
Díleas dropped his head and looked warily... not at the advancing carts but at the trail in front of them. He gave a soft growl. So Fionn looked closer. It was a well concealed little trap, the clinker-plates hiding the thing's lair. The Silago wasn't a particularly intelligent predator, but it didn't need to be. All it did was to make a bit of a trail and lie and wait. Eventually something -- if there was anything -- would choose the easiest trail and walk into its maw, just as he nearly had. Half-rock half-animal, it didn't need eat more than once every few years anyway. Fionn found a piece of glassy rock and tossed it at the clinker plates. They collapsed inwards and a segmented creature with long snapping jaws reared out, lashing about, looking for prey.
Fionn stepped back, Díleas had already neatly moved up against his side. And then the tossing head sprouted an arrow shaft. And a second. Fionn paused, wondering if he should take refuge behind a rock-spike. Any bow that could push an arrow hard enough to penetrate a Silago might even get an arrow into him.
The dark-skinned whitehaired man on the lead cart -- with his recurved bow in hand, arrow on the string, and perky-eared dog growling from the seat beside him -- was smiling though. A suspicious smile, but better than fear or anger, while he held that bow. And there were plainly others, because of that second arrow. "You ain't one of the Beng, stranger" he said, "Because they don't like dogs and they don't walk on the ground. And they don't like our bells or garlic. The question is who or what are you?"
Finn touched his hat. "Finn. I'm a gleeman. A travelling singer and jester. I juggle a bit too."
The man didn't put the bow down. "Not many inns or villages around here. Where are you from, Gleeman? Alba? Annvn? Vanaheim? The Blessed Isles or... Lyonesse?"
Fionn was an expert on tone. Lyonesse was probably not a good place to be from. He'd been there. He'd been everywhere, once-upon-a-time.
In front of him the Silago still thrashed about. "None of those, recently," he said cheerfully. "A place called Tasmarin. Back there."
"Didn't know there were any gates back that way."
"It's rather new, and I don't think it's going to see much traffic, judging by this charming countryside," said Fionn waving at the ash-lands. "Tasmarin is quite full of dragons too." The Silago was threshing rather more weakly now. Fionn could simply have jumped over it, but not if he wished them to believe he was human. He slowly, calmly reached into his pouch, took out three balls and began to juggle, one handed. He'd found it very good for distraction and misleading before. And those little balls were made of Osmium, both a lot harder and heavier than observers might guess. Fionn could throw them fast enough to knock an armoured knight out of the saddle. "To tell the truth I am a little lost. And my dog could use a drink."
The cart-man smiled again. "I think we could probably sell you some water. And the road should see you to Annvn, if you stick to it. You'll have to wait until the Beng-child is dead, though. They usually put themselves in the middle of the only safe path. It's surprising you got this far." His tone said that alone was reason for not putting aside his bow, just yet.
Fionn shrugged, not stopping his juggling. It was good for hypnosis too. "The dog is good at finding safe ways."
"I like his foot-wear," said the cart-man.
"Worn by all the best dogs in the capitols of many great lands. It also keeps his feet from being cut up. Purely as a secondary thing, you understand," said Fionn He pointed to the Silago. "It's dying, whatever it is." There was no point in admitting to knowing too much.