I slid myself into the seat opposite Mohmar, why he kept picking this cheap takeaway shop as a place to meet I'll never know. He was finishing off his kebab, given what I'd been doing earlier in the day, the thinly sliced meat covered in chilli sauce wasn't what I wanted to look at.
I stared out the window and watched a double-decker bus go past.
“You wanted to ask me about dragons?”, he said to me not looking up from the remains of his meal.
“Yeah, dragons”, I tried to take even more interest in what was happening outside the window, normal folks going about normal business never needing to have the sort of insane conversation I was having. But talking to Mohmar was the only way I could get the information I needed.
“You know birds are dinosaurs”, he said to me seemingly out of the blue, “that's what dinosaurs turned into after the extinction event. Feathers are just modified scales.”
“Sure”, I replied, “but I'm not talking dinosaurs, I'm talking thaumavores – big honking dragons.”
“Yeah, but think on it for a minute. Dragons feed on magic, that's what 'thaumavore' means. When the amount of free magic in the world started falling they couldn't get enough to eat.”
I shrugged, “If you say so”.
“Think of it like this – you know Barnaby, the river troll who lives under Westminster bridge? He just looks like a big smelly homeless guy right, don't look unusual at all? Well, imagine picking him up and sticking him in a place where the ambient level of magic is higher, say Stonehenge. Put him there and he'll get bigger and greener and those warts'll turn into horns and before you know it he'll be a troll again”.
I tried to picture Barnaby in his true form. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
“You've got to think of it like this”, he continued picking absentmindedly at a bit of salad, “without a certain level of magic in the world the dark creatures, the thaumavores, start to lose their defences, so they changed into things that made it easier to hide.”
“I'm still trying to see what this has to do with dragons”, I asked.
“OK, so here in the fallen world the levels of magic went down. Dragons are very much like special dinosaurs, so what do you think they turned into?”
“Birds?”, I couldn't really fault his logic but in the circles we both walked in, logic couldn't be relied on.
“Correct”, he smiled and looked me straight in the eyes, “But, what specific type of bird do you think they turned into?”
“I've no idea. Storks?”, I looked out the window again and hoped he'd get to the point.
“Well, you are looking for a type of bird that likes gold – dragons liked to sit on hoards of gold, right? And you are looking for a type of bird that has some serious mythology behind them, something approaching fear or respect.”
“Go on”, but I suddenly had a feeling I knew where this was going.
“Look at the magpie”, he said waving his hands in the air, “Known to steal expensive jewellery, all the better to build their hoard, and if you meet one in the street you are supposed to salute it, thereby showing it respect and avoiding bad luck. They mate for life, just like dragons, and they are one of the species of birds that can talk if you let them. They are also the only bird that can recognise itself in a mirror. And that's pretty rare even amongst you mammals.”
I let the insult slide, “So, if I'm hunting dragons, I should be hunting magpies? How do I find a quiescent dragon amongst all the magpies of London?”
“Look to the Parliament of Crows”, he said getting up from his seat and making his way to the door, “I reckon they'll have an idea who the top predator is”.
I sat and stared at the empty plate, grateful that Tower Hill is only a few tube stops away.
Yes, yes, I read too much SF/Fantasy and play too many RPGs. I don't apologise, I like my fantasy as an escape from the reality I deal with normally.