I took the sleeper out of Glasgow, and as the smelly old train bumped out of Central Station and across the Jamaica Street Bridge, I stared out at the orange halogen streetlamps reflected in the black water of the river Clyde. I gazed at the crumbling Victorian buildings that would soon be sandblasted and renovated into yuppie hutches. I watched the revelers and rascals traverse the shiny wet streets. I thought of the thrill and danger of my youth and the fear and frustration of my adult life thus far. I thought of the failure of my marriage and my failures as a man. I saw all this through my reflection in the nighttime window. Down the tracks I went, hardly aware that I was going further south with every passing second.
Hershey Pennsylvania was self-proclaimed as the 'Sweetest Place On Earth, ' but less advertised than chocolate, it was also home to one of the state's largest Children's Hospitals. The streets lined with Hershey Kiss-shaped streetlamps that led excited children and families on vacation to chocolate tour rides and rollercoasters were the same exact streets that led anxious children and families to x-rays and MRIs on the worsts days of their lives. Chocolate was being created on the same street that childhood diseases were being diagnosed. And that was life. The sweetest of sensations and the deepest of devastations live next door to each other.
On westminster Bridge, Arthur was struck by the brightness of the streetlamps running across like a formation of stars. They shone white against the black coats of the marching gentlefold and fuller than the moon against the fractal spires of Westminster. They were, Arthur quickly realized, the new electric lights, which the city government was installing, avenue by avenue, square by square, in place of the dirty gas lamps that had lit London's public spaces for a century. These new electric ones were brighter. They were cheaper. They required less maintenance. And they shone farther into the dime evening, exposing every crack in the pavement, every plump turtle sheel of stone underfoot. So long to the faint chiaroscuro of London, to the ladies and gentlemen in black-on-black relief. So long to the era of mist and carbonized Newcastle coal, to the stench of the Blackfriars foundry. Welcome to the cleasing glare of the twentieth century.
Suddenly, the man was thrown off her. Darcy looked around, but saw nothing. She rose up on her elbows to see the man climbing to his feet, shaking his head to clear it. His four comrades were looking up to the sky nervously. A huge, dark shape descended from the sky, vanishing quickly. Along with one of her attackers. Darcy was afraid to move and be taken as well. She remained still, her chest heaving. Another shape formed out of the dark sky. She could only stare openmouthed at the dragon coming right for her. Just before he touched down, the dragon shifted, taking the form of a man-a man that left her breathless and awestruck. There was no denying she was looking at a Dragon King. He stood naked, his hands at his sides while his gaze was riveted on the men who accosted her. The shadows kept much of him out of sight, but the streetlamps shed enough light of the hard sinew of his body that she wanted to see more. His lips peeled back in a snarl as he fought the four remaining men. He moved quickly, as if it were as effortless as breathing. The men began to throw huge bubbles of magic at the Dragon King. He dodged many of them. The few that hit him barely made an impact other than to infuriate him, if his bared teeth were any indication. The man-or whatever he was-who had stopped her in the pub was struck down with lethal force by the Dragon King. Darcy almost cheered, but it got lodged in her throat when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Had she not turned right then, Darcy would never have seen the second dragon swoop from the sky and wrap its talons around another of the men before flying away, crushing him. That left just two of her attackers. They and the Dragon King circled each other on the street. 'She's ours, ' one of the red-eyed men said. The Dragon King merely raised a brow. 'Think again, Dark.' More globes of magic flew from the two Dark, but the Dragon King was too fast. He came up behind one of the Dark and ripped out his spinal column. The same instant the dragon grabbed the other. Both Dark fell lifeless to the ground a moment later. Darcy hadn't moved a muscle in the few minutes that had passed. The need that had assaulted her earlier with the Dark was now gone. But she wasn't alone. The Dragon King's gaze turned to her. Darcy watched him standing in the glow of the streetlight, completely mesmerized by the dragon tat that ran from the King's right shoulder, under his armpit, and down his side to the top of his right thigh. The dragon's head was at the front of the man's shoulder and had his mouth open as if on a roar. He was rearing with his wings up and out. It was his long tail that stopped at the King's thigh. The King glistened with sweat that made his muscles gleam in the light. Darcy had the absurd notion to run her hands all over his body, learning the feel of his hard muscles and warm skin. Her gaze traveled down his wide chest to his washboard stomach and narrow waist. Then lower...