dragon challenge header

not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment


by Chalcopyrite

Chatsworth House

Lance shaded his eyes and looked back over Chatsworth House. He still didn't quite get what the photographer thought he was up to, some babble about juxtaposition of the new and the old, but since a pretty laid-back photo-shoot at a gorgeous English estate was far from the worst way to spend a day "off" between shows, he wasn't complaining. They'd spent some time pretending to be highly choreographed wood nymphs or something, and then been turned loose.

JC had promptly wandered off with a notebook and a glazed expression, Joey had said something about the Wolfman and wandered off in the other direction, Justin had muttered about his mom wanting to know about the camellias, and Chris had disappeared entirely while Lance wasn't looking.

There was certainly plenty of space to disappear in. The house stretched for several hundred yards, but even at that size it was dwarfed by the gardens. Lawns with trees and flowers sloped down from the house, until they started sloping up again, this time without the flowers, and with extra sheep. It was amazing, really, what could be done with vast quantities of money and several hundred years. Lance kind of wished he'd read up more about Chatsworth before they came; there was clearly serious planning involved, and he appreciated that sort of thing.

He turned back around and kept walking. Someone had said something about a maze, and that sounded like a good place to look for Chris.

The path joined several more, spreading out into a viewing area for the wide stream of water flowing down from a small stone building way up the hill on the left. Lance dug the rudimentary map they'd been given out of his pocket and unfolded it. Based on the name, this had to be the Grand Cascade, easily twenty feet wide, and built in a long stretch of shallow steps that ended in this narrow pool before, presumably, being pumped back up. The water sounded nice — a musical sort of chuckling — and Lance let his eyes wander backwards up the steps to the top, and the small figure next to the building there.


Cascade waterfall at Chatsworth

As he got closer, he could see that Chris was peering at the ground next to the reservoir pool.

"Chris, what are you doing?"

Chris didn't even look up. "Hey, Bass. I'm looking for treasure."

Lance grinned. "You figure this is the best place to look?"

Now Chris did straighten up. "Sure! I mean, look at this!" He waved his hands to encompass the whole building, narrowly missing one of the crouched stone animals spouting water into the pool. "Perfect spot!"

"If there was treasure to look for."

"Well, see," Chris went back to poking at the ground with his toe, "The way I figure it, the sixth duke was a vampire."


"No, seriously, there's a sign about how some staircase was built by the first duke in 1690-something, and then four years later the sixth duke changed it, and then the next one they're talking about is the ninth duke in 1912. And the sixth duke keeps being mentioned doing stuff. So I figure first the sixth duke killed off the competition, and then he hung around for a really long time. So, vampire." Chris made a small triumphant noise and started pulling at a stone next to the base of the water-spouting-animal's pedestal.

"Or someone could have gotten the sign wrong."

"Pssht. Such a doubter, Lance. So the sixth duke guy must have had a lot of loot, and he had to stash it someplace, right? And … I just found it!" Chris said, as the stone came loose. "There's something shiny in here."

"Careful, it could be broken glass." Lance bent over next to Chris to see better.

"Don't think so." Chris reached into the shallow space under the stone and brought out the things that had caught the light. "They're way too sparkly for glass — looks more like something J would wear." He stepped back and held them out to Lance.

Lance scooped them into his hand, careful of sharp edges. "Huh. Maybe they're not glass." He turned his hand this way and that in the sunlight, and brushed some of the loose earth off the sparkly bits. "They look like they were cut. Didn't someone here collect mineral specimens? They could be Herkimer diamonds or something."

"Maybe they're real diamonds," Chris suggested.

Lance looked up at him and arched an eyebrow. "You don't find diamonds in walls, Chris."

Chris raised an eyebrow right back and gestured at the contents of Lance's hand. "And yet," he said significantly. He turned back to the small hole. "Hang on, there's something else in here."

He rummaged again, and pulled out his find.

They looked at it.

"So, Chris," Lance said. "Your vampire duke also collected matchbox cars?"

"Hey, he was a vampire." Chris scowled. "Who knows what he could have done!"

"Right," Lance said. "I'll keep an eye out for the time machine."

"Ha ha," Chris said. "Hey, look out!"

"Huh?" Lance didn't even have time to look up before he was knocked over by a jet of water.

"What the hell?" he said, sitting up.

The creature on top of the pedestal unfolded like bad stop-motion animation, and pulled its head back before delivering another blast of water.

"Okay, that's not good," Chris said from somewhere behind Lance.

Lance struggled to his feet. "I think maybe we should go."

"Yeah, I think so too," Chris said, and they backed away from the fountain.

The stone creature hopped down off its pedestal into the pool and turned to face them, flapping what Lance realized were stubby wings. Sure, it was only a couple of feet long, but "Chris, it's a dragon."

"Yeah, I think maybe we should go faster," Chris said. "Move!" He yanked on Lance's arm, and Lance followed to avoid being pulled over.

Chatsworth didn't seem like a running sort of place, but Lance figured this counted as an exception. Fortunately it was downhill towards the house and cover, but every time Lance risked a look back, the dragon seemed to be gaining, coasting down the slopes of the cascade and flapping its wings to give it a boost down the steps. Every so often it let fly another jet of water, barely missing them.

They were almost to the bottom of the cascade and the dragon was still coming.

A thought in the back of Lance's head stood up and waved its arms for attention. "We have its hoard!" he yelled.

"Its what?"

"The diamonds, Chris. It wants the diamonds back!"

"So give them back, idiot!"

Oh yeah. Lance skidded to a halt and tossed the diamonds into the cascade just in front of the dragon. The dragon paused and ducked its head do check them out, but then it just kept coming. "Never mind! Keep running!"

"In case I forget while I'm being agonizingly shredded by a bad dream come alive, it's been an honor and pleasure, Bass," Chris panted.

"Wait, Chris! The car! Give the car back too!"

Chris looked down at his own hand, clenched around the battered toy. "Oh, right." He swerved a few steps closer to the cascade and threw the car in. The dragon statue — golem, gargoyle, whatever — pulled up immediately and grabbed the car, crouching down in the water and making a really disturbing crooning noise, like rocks trying to sing a lullaby.

Lance and Chris watched it for a minute.

"Okay, that was weird," Chris said quietly.

"Yes it was," Lance agreed. "I need a drink, how about you?"

"Maybe two," Chris said. They backed away a few steps, then turned to walk back towards the house.

Lance stopped dead in the middle of the gravel. "Chris?" he said. "Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?"

Hound sculptures at Chatsworth

Ahead of them, just cresting the rise of the slope behind the big house, were what looked like four hunting dogs, made out of bronze. As Lance watched, a fifth one joined them.

"Oh, crap," Chris muttered.

"I think we should go this way." Lance caught Chris' arm and tugged him backwards, uphill at an angle away from the cascade where the dragon was still crooning to its car. Chris started to move, but Lance tugged on his arm again. "Slowly," he said.

"I dunno about you, Bass, but I kind of want to get away from the freaky moving dog statues."

"Chris, you've had dogs," Lance hissed. "If we move fast, they're going to chase us. If we go slow, maybe they won't bother."

The first bronze hound stopped abruptly in the middle of the path, sniffing at the gravel. Then it threw its head back and bayed with a noise like giant, rusty hinges.

"Now can we run?" Chris said.

"Yeah," Lance said. "Now we can run."

He yanked Chris up the hill after him, making for the trees and bushes edging the lawn. Chris tried not to notice that they were getting closer to the top of the fountain again. He checked behind them.

"I think these move faster than the dragon," he gasped out. The lead hound made a hideous noise like twisting metal, and Chris found a little bit more oomph to run even faster.

"Yeah, well, they have actual legs," Lance said, and pulled ahead again. He turned onto a narrow path that led through the shrubbery and Chris followed him.

"Is there a plan here?" Chris asked. "Because I don't think we're going to be able to just outrun them." He looked ahead and saw a flash of reflected light. "Hey, a greenhouse! We can hide out in there."

"We won't make it," Lane panted. "Here!" He grabbed Chris' arm and jerked him sideways, off the path and over to the base of a huge beech tree. Chris looked up.

Large tree at Chatsworth

"I'm not so sure about this."

"You want to take your chances with the freaky statues?" Lance held out his hands in a saddle. "C'mon, up!"

Chris looked back over his shoulder. The hound statues weren't in sight yet, but he could hear them coming, clanks and crashes and squeaky yips. No, he really didn't want to take his chances. He set one foot in Lance's hands and jumped upwards as Lance shoved, scrambling up to get a grip on the lowest branch.

He found a seat that seemed secure and looked down. "Lance, what are you going to do?"

Lance looked determined. "I'll manage." The first of the hounds burst out of the greenery behind him and he managed by pretty much levitating up the trunk, coming to rest on a branch facing Chris, with his back to the trunk of the tree.

"Awesome," Chris said. "What now?"

"Hell if I know," Lance said, and looked down. "Wait until they get bored?"

"They've been hanging around being statues for years." Chris said. "We could be here a while."

"Yeah, there is that," Lance said. "But look, eventually someone's going to come looking for us."

"Unless they decide they don't need us," Chris said gloomily. "They could re-design the shows around three people, save money on food and stuff, just have one bus. You know JC frets about how much the tours cost." He looked over at Lance. "No, wait, that's you. You engineered this whole thing to reduce the cost of the tour, didn't you?"

"Yup." Lance looked down at the dogs milling below. "It's all part of my cunning plan. You know, from a detached viewpoint, those things are pretty cool. I mean, whoever made them went to a lot of trouble to get details right."

"Yeah, like all the teeth," Chris said, as one of the dogs below stood up against the trunk of the tree. "Whoa! Down! Good dog!"

"I wonder how they're moving. I can't see any joints or anything."

"The statues came alive and you're worrying about mechanics?" Chris asked. "Who cares how they move? They just do!"

"It could be a cool idea to use sometime," Lance said, still looking down.

"You put live statues into a stage show and I will kick your ass, Bass," Chris said. "Right before I have nightmares for a week. Can we focus on how to get away now?"

"Hmm. Yeah," Lance said, and sat up, looking around himself on the branch. He leaned sideways and broke off a dead twig. He bounced it in his hand for a moment, then tossed it down, a few yards away from the base of the tree and behind most of the dogs. The twig was too light to do more than rustle a few leaves, but one dog broke away from the milling pack to investigate. It nosed around for a few seconds, then came back to the others and started sniffing around the base of the tree again.

"That was useful," Chris said.

"You have a better idea?" Lance asked. "I'm gathering information."

"They don't eat trees, only boybanders." Chris nodded seriously. "Good to know."

"Hush, Chris." Lance's admonition was absent-minded. "You know, if someone comes to get us, the dogs may end up chasing them instead. We'd be able to get away then."

"Great plan, except for we don't know who's going to come looking for us, or how fast they can run. And I don't know about you, but I'm against sacrificing random people even if it would cut costs."

"It actually wouldn't." Lance craned his neck to see what the dogs were up to on the other side of the tree. "Insurance would go up."

Chris blinked. "Is there a box to tick for that on the forms or something?"

Lance looked up and glared. "No, I have not put particular thought into the effect on insurance premiums of tour members being devoured by artwork. It's just an unforeseen hazard."

"Well as long as it's unforeseen," Chris muttered, and shifted on the branch. There really wasn't any way to get comfortable on one of these things.

A yelp from below almost made him lose his grip; he flailed for a minute until Lance caught his wrist and steadied him. Beneath them, the dogs' milling had acquired new purpose; one scented the air, then went crashing off through the bushes. A moment later, it started yelling about something. To Chris, it sounded like "help, I'm running from an axe murderer," but it must have meant something different to the rest of the hounds, because they all charged after the first one and joined in. The cacophony circled around, grew more distant, then cut off.

"Huh," Lance said.

"What the hell was that?"

"A giant tin rabbit or something, maybe. I'm not going to question too hard."

"Yeah, cause that makes sense," Chris muttered, but he was halfway up a tree after being chased by sculptures, so really, sense was a relative thing. "You think they're really gone?"

"Feel free to check."

Chris tightened his grip. "No, you know, I'm kind of liking this branch. I'm good."

"Yeah, it's kinda homey," Lance agreed. "But I think we should get out of here before they come back."

"I can see the merits of that plan," Chris said, not letting go even a bit. "You first."

Lance rolled his eyes. "Wuss." He looked around for a handhold, but froze when the sound of footsteps on the path drifted up to them.

"Hey, guys! Where'd you go?" Justin crunched into view, looking around at the bushes.

"Up here," Chris called, and had the satisfaction of seeing Justin startle and almost drop the phone he was holding.

Justin tipped his head back to look at them. "What are you doing up there?"

"It's complicated," Chris said. "There was this dragon, and then these dogs were chasing us…" he waved one hand, trying not to fall off the branch.

"No, for serious," Justin said.

"I am serious! Back me up here, Lance!"

Justin cackled like an idiot. "It's okay, you can admit it," he said. "Chris and Lansten, up a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-ow!" He rubbed at his forehead where Lance had bopped him with another thrown twig. "That hurt, yo."

"See?" Lance said to Chris. "Gathering useful information." He leaned over the side of the branch. "Just help us get down. This was a lot easier on the way up."

"Sure," Justin said. "Um, do you need a rope or something? Maybe I should go get one of the crew guys."

"No!" Chris yelped. The last thing he wanted was everyone seeing him hiding halfway up a tree. Lance was fine, everyone already knew Lance had no shame. But Chris, Chris had dignity.

"You sure?" Justin was starting to grin. "'Cause I could. They could take pictures to make sure they're doing it right and everything."

"Justin." Lance's voice was slow honeyed whiskey. "Do you remember that night with the tequila and the live squid and the Village People cover band?"

Justin looked shifty. "No?"

"That's too bad," Lance said. "But it's okay, because I do. How about you go get that rope?"

"Rope, right," Justin said, and left. He came back a few minutes later with rope and Tiny, and Tiny did some magic trick that somehow made the rope into a thing to climb down. Chris didn't think about it too hard, just shut his eyes and did what Lance told him, and if he fell the last few feet into a bunch of dead leaves, well, only the guys were watching and he'd had worse in that fight with the hydrangea anyway.

Huh. From this angle, it was a pretty tall tree, and watching Lance climb down just accentuated how far up they'd been. Chris looked to his left instead and swatted at Justin's ankle. "Help me up, Curly."

Justin reached a hand down and pulled him to his feet. "Looked like you and the ground were having a moment there. I didn't want to interrupt."

"It was a passing thing of beauty, but now we're done," Chris said. "It understands."

Lance dropped to the ground next to them. "So Justin, not that I'm not grateful and all, but was there a reason you were looking for us?"

"Yeah, we're supposed to get back to the bus. I think we're leaving."

"What, already?"

"The photographer guy was waving his arms and saying something about a shift in his vision. I don't know." Justin shrugged and started back down the path towards the house, followed by Tiny holding the rope.

"That seems kind of boring," Chris remarked.

"There may also have been a bet with Joe about whether you two were up to hanky-panky in the bushes," Justin called back. "Which I just won, thanks guys."

"Hey, there was a reason we were up that tree!" Chris protested.

"So you claim!"

Lance came up next to Chris and nudged him to start walking. "It's all right; we win anyway."

"How so?"

"Bonus points for not being eaten," Lance said, and swatted Chris on the ass. "Come on, old man."

"I'll give you old, Bass!"

"Big talk for a little guy," Justin called back.

Tiny just waited and looked like he was trying not to laugh.

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "We don't pay you enough."

"I'm saving it for my tell-all memoir," Tiny told him, and brought up the rear.


Back to Dragon Index
Back to Popslash Index