The realm of the dragon Califrax (of the line of Gammilus, whom the Romans had known of old) was in the nation of Britain, 224 Moat Lane in Finchley, North London, beneath the stairwell, in a dead space behind the drying machine. Like all of the Gammilic dragons that had come to London in the last few centuries, Califrax was a hoarder. As a wee wyrm she had curled beneath the machines of laundromats, drawn by the pleasant heat and rumble and prospect of lost coins, but the bulk of her nest consisted of socks of every size and variety. A good part of her time, when not out hunting, was spent in her nest sorting through the pile of (always clean and dry) foot coverings, burrowing through piles of wool and nylon and cotton, shifting the pattern of her scales from laundry whites and blacks to stripes and argyle.
Now it must be said of the line of Gammilus, that the last male had died out in about 300 AD, speared by a Roman legate as he tried to drag the heavy armor back to his hoard. Yet Gammilus laid her clutch, and those daughters looked just as she had; and when their time came they paired off, daughter and daughter, to act out the mating play and spur ovulation. Partheogenesis, the loremasters call it, and those that took the male role they called bulls, and those that took the female role they called cows, though all were ultimately daughters of Gammilus, and tended to alternate in the roles as hormones surged through them. And though they were all female, a dragon's instincts are strong, and they all wished to woo and be wooed, by the size of their hoards.
So it was with Califrax, in the bullish part of her cycle, did desire a mate. She struck out farther on her expeditions, beyond the laundry rooms she knew, dragging a clinking sock of change with her. To the airy rafters were wyverns hunted bat and pigeon, but they did not care for her cash; so too did the fat wyrms of Bank Street turn up their snouts, for their nests were bundles of cheques and pound-notes and bits of expensive leather stolen from wallets and suitcases. There was one hoary old cow who lived beneath the pubs, taking in the bar tokens and scrounging vending machines, who sniffed with interest among the coins, but she was long past laying another clutch, and Califrax went back heartbroken to her nest.
Yet though she had chosen her hoard-sock for its strength, as she dragged it along it snagged and ripped, and the dragon stopped and worried over the coins poking through the netting, for she knew that the weakened fabric would not last the rest of the trip, and her careful hoard would be lost. So did the argyle dragon fret, and finally covering the sock with an old newspaper set out to find a replacement sock. There were dim prospects in that North London street, no laundromats at all, just kebab shops and pubs and newstands - and not even that, for the Waterstone's had closed - but there was a lingerie store, and Califrax well knew the strength of silk and nylon.
So it was that Califrax snooped around the back alley, claws scrabbling on the pavement, sniffing at the scents of human and cat, before seizing on the bin behind the back door. Knocking it over with one deft swing of her tail, Califrax began rooting through the spilled garbage - the remnants of old lunch curries and packing materials for the most part, but here and there a ruined bra or ripped pair of panties. At length, she triumphantly squeaked as she found an opened box with a pair of long silky black stockings, and quickly hurried back to her hoard, her prize grasped in her jaw.
Yet where it had been, it was no longer; the newspaper was still there, but the sock was gone. Releasing the stocking for the moment, Califrax opened her mouth to taste the air - and quickly picked up the trail of another dragon. Not just any dragon, either, but a cow. Recovering the stocking, Califrax continued on the trail - for with the hoard-sock in the state it had been in, the cow-dragon could not have gone far. The scent led through a long-abandoned doggie door through a small bathroom that had seen better decades and few plumbers, whose sole human-sized entrance was long painted shut.
There it was that Califrax first beheld Arnifar, of the line of Gammilus, in her realm - a nest of stolen silks and and polyester, a veritable mountain range of brassieres arranged into a nest around a small heap of loose coinage, which Arnifar was dutifully attempting to add Califrax's swag to. Her scales were the shades of satin and rayon, and she could have hung unmoving and unseen among the racks of frilly lace, long elegant neck ready to dip into passing purses for change.
Their eyes met. Toes curled, nostrils flared, tails stiffened, and a croaking hiss started to build in the throat of Califrax.
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