I followed Bryph back to the taxi.

Hop in, and we'll head on back to Tolikra.
You got a favorite kind of food?

Uh... Small problem...

Arcturus points downward at the taxi with a worried expression. Bryph, looks over the taxi at Arcturus with their door already open. Arcturus is visibly too large to get into the taxi.
I don't think I can fit.
Can you make it any taller?

HAHA! Oh man, I didn't even think of how you'd get in the car.
I'm sorry, I can't make it any bigger. It's stuck at that size forever.

Then... I suppose I...
I suppose I can become smaller.



I shrank, emboldened by how Bryph had hugged me.
I felt safe enough. I trusted them.
I got into their machine, their "taxi".
But then-

You can change sizes that easily?
How small can you become? I wanna see!

The siren call.
The words I was taught to fear above all others.

"This is how they will trap you, little Arcy.
They will pounce upon your agreeable nature.
They will convince you that they have no ill intent.
And just when you feel safe, they will ask you ever so sweetly...
'Can you become smaller for me?'
And you must be wary, little Arcy.
You must be wary, for the sapes are clever creatures.
You must assume each and every last one of them is practiced in glassbinding.
It is a dark symbol of power among the sapes. To have a bound dragon.
You will be bent to their will if you trust them and become smaller.
Your spirit will be crushed by them. Do not be careless!
Your conceit will spell your ruin! Be friendly but stand your ground."

I felt my limbs aching. I felt my heart's pace quicken.
I felt their wonder... And I suspected the greed beneath the wonder.
But above all... I felt mortal fear.
I was in their machine now. I had closed the door.
Perhaps I was already glassbound!
The windows, the front windshield, all glass.
Perhaps there was glass embedded in the doors as well.


That word was the only word I managed.
I didn't want Bryph to know I was afraid of them.
I didn't want to speak on and trip over something.
I prepared myself mentally to kill them and make my escape.
The scenario ran through my mind.
I would wait for them to attempt to leave the taxi.
If they were intending to trap me in this device and then crush me within it...
I would tear them to shreds and eat them.
Slowly and with a tension in my heart I had no prior comparison for,
I turned to face my captor. My master. My victim. My supper.
But instead of a face of avarice and pride,
instead of even the slightest hint of malice,
Bryph had taken note of my sudden panic and looked upon me with compassion.

Bryph, with their left hand resting on the steering wheel, looks over at the passenger seat where Arcturus is seated.
Are you good, dude? Did you get a concussion when I hit you?

Ahh, you wouldn't want a damaged trophy, now would you?
What manner of vile contraption...
How... How dare you...

Bryph put the key in the ignition, started the taxi, and lowered the windows.
Bryph took several deep breaths, staring out of the front windshield.


All at once I realized my folly.
Their kindness earlier was no ruse.
That was the real Bryph. There was no ulterior motive.
I felt a pit of guilt take hold in my gut, sharpening my hunger pains.
How could I doubt Bryph like that? After their promise?
No sape had ever harmed me... Well, that was a lie.
I had just been hit by a car and thrown into the air.
But that was an accident! I am no vengeful elder wyrm!
I would never... I would never harm...
But I knew what had been going through my head moments earlier.
I knew, and was too ashamed to admit it.

Did I... like, offend you?
I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked if you could become smaller.
I was just surprised you can do that! Does it hurt when you do that?

I felt awful. I felt like the worst monster on the planet.
Lower than dirt, lower than shit.
I was shown kindness and immediately plotted murder?
That isn't me! I'm not like that! I love sapes! I love all sapes!
But it only took a brief misunderstanding for me to throw it all away.
And now I had ruined any chance at becoming friends with Bryph, ever.
I almost felt like crying! But instead, I answered Bryph's innocent question.

It hurts only a little, when the soot forms in my lungs, just before I exhale it out.
Bryph, I am so sorry for snapping at you.
There's this thing I was taught to fear...
It sounds silly, but the worst fear of any dragon is being glassbound.
That's when someone convinces a dragon to shrink down to an extremely small size, and then traps them in a bottle.
I was afraid that this taxi was some manner of large bottle.
With so much of it glass, I suspected the glass might continue inside the doors and around this cabin.
When you asked me if I could become even smaller, I felt a stab of fear.
I was afraid you were going to imprison me.
I was afraid I had already fallen for your trap.
I was terrified that I was going to need to kill you in order to escape!
Goodness, what a relief it was when you lowered these panes.
What freedom and joy filled my heart when I felt the breeze blow in!
I am feeling much more relaxed now.

Wait, you were going to kill me?

Oh. Whoops.

No, no, no!
No, I simply thought I was about to be enslaved for all eternity!
I only meant to express that, if you did try to trap me, I would fight back.
If you're not trying to trap me in a tiny glass bottle, I am quite content.

You know what? Same. I killed someone for trying to trap me when I was younger.
I 100% totally get it. Thank you for being honest with me.

Bryph showed me how to put on my seatbelt, demonstrating with their own first.
And then, we were off down the road.
But then what Bryph said sank in.
It was my turn to be shocked.

Do sapes... often kill other sapes?

Sometimes. But not normally. It's kind of a situational thing, y'know?

I thought murder was illegal.

Yeah, but so was what that bastard was doing to me.
Sometimes the law doesn't protect people.
Sometimes, people gotta protect themselves.

So... You are an outlaw?

Once, I was.
These days I fly straight though.
I used to fight in the underground circuit and do sex work.
At one point in my life my former employers tried to rope me into running drugs.
That was about the time I called it quits. I'm not touching that business.
I might've been a violent whore for a few years but, damn it, I've got standards.
I'm not gonna help some nepotee who watched too much TV push deadly product on vulnerable communities.
I cut bitches who run drugs.

Um... What is a whore?

That's a word for a sex worker. It's derogatory though so don't go using it.
I can call myself one because I lived the lifestyle. The word doesn't bother me.
But some less educated folks like to use the word whore like an insult.
Like some two-drink broad could last one night in my line of work. Ha!

I'm beginning to feel as though I've been studying the wrong dialect.
I understand most of what you're telling me, but there are a few words I don't quite grasp.
For example, what is a two-drink broad?

Oh right, you're like, new new.
So we've got these shops called bars where people sell and drink alcohol.
Right, and in these places sometimes there's some low-class broad who shows up...

The little yellow taxi approaches a tunnel from a valleyside road. Above the hill the tunnel enters, there is a small stone tower.
Bryph spoke on at length, and I learned a great deal more about sape civilization
in those ten minutes than I think I had learned in the twenty years prior.
We came upon a tunnel, and here Bryph took a breath, and sipped at their water. Then, they asked me something.

Can I ask you a personal question?

Ah! Splendid, what can I tell you about first?

We entered the tunnel.
My mind raced with the possibilities.
What would Bryph ask about first?
The great cities of my homeland, our culture...
The rich history of my race, the origin of this very planet!
I had spent my entire life studying history.
Whatever Bryph asked me, I was sure I would have a satisfying answer!

Right, so...
I've seen all kinds in my line of work.
I've seen reptiles, birds, even some amphibians and fish.
But people used to always tell each me sharks have two.
Do feral sharks have two? Yeah.
I thought sapes would be built the same.
When I finally got a client who was a shark, I was thinking, I finally get to know!
But it turned out there's just one.
Like don't get me wrong, it's a very interesting "one", but no one would call it two.

Where are you going with this?

Do dragons have two penises?

Not what I was expecting you to ask.

You don't have to answer, dude.
Seriously, I won't be upset if you tell me to shut it.

I thought for a while.
I'm having "banter" with my "bud".
When sapes banter, there's an element of humor.
... Shouldn't I try to be funny, here?
I wanted Bryph to like me.
So, I decided I would answer their question with a joke.
From my studies I had deduced that there were three components to a joke.
There is, first, the setup for the joke. The purpose of the setup is to create an expectation.
A sense of apprehension, mystery, anticipation. You grab the listener's attention and hang on.
Tell me, Bryph, are all sapes so bold as you?
First, you hit me with a car.
Then, you ask me if I can become smaller for you.
And now, you've asked such a provocative question when we've only met minutes ago.

Bryph laughed a long, hearty laugh.
So far, so good.

Yeeeaaahhh, when you put it that way I've been kind of a pain, haven't I?

Then, the timing. You can't drag on the setup for too long, or it won't be funny.
But at the same time, if you rush the setup, the punchline won't have context.
Bryph looked over at me and chuckled nervously. I guess I had a strange look on my face.


Arcturus, in the passenger seat of the taxi, glances over at Bryph.
Pardon me, I was just thinking... Don't you sapes have a rule?
Based on one of your sporting events, three strikes and you're out.
Well... What do you think I'm getting at here?

I, uh... I'm gonna be honest, dude, I can't tell whether you're mad right now.
Are you saying I'm out? Like, I used up all my chances?

This is why telling jokes is a skillful art. It is why sapes can make a career out of jokes.
The third part of the joke is... the delivery.

Good heavens no. I was saying it's a coincidence that the rule is three strikes.

... I'm sorry, I don't follow. What's the coincidence?

That's how many I have down there.

I paused, my hand held meaningfully in the air, a grin on my face to signify I was joking.
Did I do it right? Did I tell a joke correctly?

Arcturus, in the passenger seat of the taxi, glances over at Bryph.
Bryph didn't react.


Bryph cleared their throat and took another sip of water.
They loosened their collar.

Three dicks, huh?
What a world, Arcturus.
That's just fantastic.

Uh... Thanks.

We drove in silence through the tunnel for several more minutes.

... Long tunnel.

Hey, talk about coincidences, that's what they used to call me!

Ah. So that's timing.