Duality Prologue

A shadow passes over him, soon to change his world forever. His eyes widen as his environment changes from one to another. The staircase he climbs is no longer the one from his home world. These new stairs stretch away from him in a climbing arc as they coil around the perimeter of a structure. The surfaces are stone and lit sconces show him the way. He is now in a world that is not his own.
A light flashes at his hand before a dagger materializes in it. He looks at the stairs with uncertainty, then proceeds to climb. A window faces into whatever he is climbing the outside of. His youthful gaze passes through the small opening to see a vast open chamber. It has a cylinder shape but he can’t see the top or the bottom. He goes quiet, closing his eyes, thinking he hears a distant breathing.
“What is this,” comes a sudden voice, making him withdraw from the window. He backs his black feathered wings into the wall behind him, bracing. The voice is a growling rasp of an ancient thing and the sound of it vibrates within his chest. He glances up and down the stairs, wanting to get some place else but not knowing where would take him furthest from this place. The unknowing prevents him from going either direction.
Something shifts within the round structure, causing a cascading sound of coins to tumble across a stone floor. “If you’re after my treasure, I can’t say it’ll be good for your health.” A silence stretches out as he unknowingly holds his breath. “You’re a curious thing aren’t you? You smell like a human but I killed off your lot— a deed which landed me in this wretched place. If you are human, I can’t imagine a survivor would come all this way, just to do me the courtesy of dying.”
He leans toward the window while gripping the dagger tightly. His eyes dart around, seeing nothing. Suddenly a tail whips through the air and his eyes snap downward. A pair of wings stretch upwards, flapping briefly before disappearing again. A red scaled head finally snakes around into his view as it sniffs at the air.
“If you are human, I don’t know how you’re still alive. You seem like one of the simple ones. The smart ones would know that I can sense you every time you focus on me. The really smart ones would know that I can glimpse some of your thoughts when I’m aware of your presence. But I guess we both knew that you weren’t very bright or why else would you be here—Envy?”
Envy’s eyes go wide and he backs into the wall again. He doesn’t look in either direction this time, knowing instinctively that there would be no escape from this creature. His dagger is pulled into his chest and he grips it absentminded with an overhand grip, one hand around the blade and the other around the hilt. Blood begins to trickle down onto his lower hand but he doesn’t notice. His black clothing almost makes him just another shadow as he grows still and distant.
“You’re finally showing the proper respect Envy. I can hear the panic in your heartbeat and it is quite animated. It sounds like a hummingbird about to fly right out of your chest.”
A heavy, creaking door opens elsewhere but Envy doesn’t hear it.

Elsewhere. The door opens for the first time in an age, dust falling onto the figure leaning into the push. Light floods in behind him as he coughs and bats away the dust. A massive, red scaled foot is ahead of him and he continues to stride forth.
The dragon’s head bends back around and approaches the individual with reproach in its eyes. “I grow tired of these intrusions—and by another human?”
The winged human has a massive boomerang draped over his shoulder and he wears a trench coat that hangs open. His unkempt hair is a mass of brown that hangs in loose strands, not unlike the loose bootlaces or the array of belts and buckles that hang from his coat and pants. He looks up at the dragon then shouts, “Hey, you there.”
The dragon grows irritated, baring its fangs and leaning towards the intruder, close enough that the exhales from its nostrils buffet the loose hair atop the intruder’s head. “You dare address me in such a familiar manner?”
“Well, we haven’t made introductions yet so what else am I supposed to call you? I’m Sloth and I’m a little lost. I was hoping you could help me out with some directions.”
The dragon withdraws its head and tilts it to the side as it looks back down at Sloth. It blinks blankly, not knowing how to reply. The dragon finally burst into laughter, the sound echoing around the chamber. “You’re a curious human, aren’t you?” The dragon peers back down, a sly look on its face. “You know, it might have been worth keeping humans around if more of them were like you.”
“So,” Sloth continues. “Think I can get those directions now? I’m not sure how I got here so I’m more than a little lost.”
The dragon’s expression shifts back to irritation. “You’re serious? You come to a dragon’s prison…to ask for directions? Maybe, this is some kind of trick and you’re ultimately after my treasure.”
Sloth looks around the room, seeing the mounds of golden coins and trinkets. The flickering torchlight dances across their reflective surfaces but Sloth doesn’t find it very interesting. “Why would they let you bring this to a prison?”
The dragon looks aside to the treasure mounds and growls. “They didn’t let me. My former treasure was much more grand. This meager sum is all that I’ve been able to shed in my time here.” The dragon stands up taller as he talks about his treasure.
Sloth’s nose scrunches. “This came out of you?”
“Well of course. A dragon has to shed it from time to time to remove the shimmering in his scales. How do you not know this?”
“Like I mentioned, I’m lost. I don’t think I’m even in the right world.”
The dragon studies Sloth for a time. “You’re world does look different from the one I know and that does explain why you have wings. The humans I knew didn’t have the ability to fly.” The dragon thinks about it for a moment and then his attention turns back to the windows above him. “I’ll make you a deal. There’s a door at the top of the tower. Open that and I’ll let you have all the treasure here. But there’s also a rat in my walls and I need you to kill it on your way.”
Sloth looks over at the treasure. “Is that sanitary?”
The dragon looks over to his treasure and then back to Sloth, offended. “There’s nothing wrong with my treasure!”
Sloth doesn’t acknowledge the dragon’s temper or mood swing, instead looking up, then over to a stairwell nearby. “That’s really far, plus, the treasure isn’t going to do me any good. Do you think you can give me a ride to the top?
The dragon shakes his head. “Ride? First, you think I’m a mere tour guide and now you think I’m ridable?” The dragon’s fangs become visible as it grits its teeth. “I grow tired of you human. You have wings and stairs, yet you have the audacity to think you can ride me to your destination?”
“Hey, this is your destination, not mine. I don’t need anything from the top of this tower. Besides, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to let you out of here. Didn’t you say you destroyed all of your humans?”
“Oh never-mind. Just climb on already. I’m ready to be out of this place.”
Sloth walks over to its tail. “But what about your rat problem?”
“Once, I’m out of here and can feed, I’ll regain my ability to breath fire. I’ll return and torch the place, burning the rat alive.”
“So technically, you could eat me, then burn the rat right?”
“Do you ever think about what your saying or do you just not have a filter? If I ate you, how would I get the door open? Besides, you’re not enough to return my powers. Now, climb on so we can get out of here.”

Envy couldn’t see the two of them talking but their conversation continued to march by him while he didn’t acknowledge its passing. It wasn’t until the dragon laughed that something changed. The laugh vibrated more insistently through his chest, causing a discord in Envy’s rapid heartbeat.
A voice yells, causing Envy to jerk and unsheathe the dagger from his hand. As the blade moves through his flesh, his focus slams back into him as the pain lances through the hand.
Envy has to move unless you want to get dead.
Envy doesn’t search for the voice, instead focusing on his hand and moving forward. He stands, holding his hand up as blood runs down his bare forearms. He ascends the stairs, hearing the dragon tell someone to climb on. The next step that Envy takes is not stone like the others. He steps through the environment, which thrusts his weight forward. He extends his hand to brace against the wall but it turns to sand allowing his hand to pass through it. Suddenly, all of his footing his gone and he flails, tumbling feet over head. He tosses the dagger away and pulls his injured hand into his chest just before his back collides with a solid surface, forcing the air out of him.
He lies on a rooftop, back in his home world. He curls into a ball and begins to cough as the tower turns to sand, leans, and then blows away. Envy groans and looks over to see Sloth standing on the same roof. Sloth turns about, looking at the change of the environment.
“Huh,” Sloth says to himself. “I guess I won’t be needing those directions now.” Sloth notices Envy lying nearby. “Hey, did you see that big dragon rifter?—Wait, were you that rat it was talking about?”
“Why,” Envy starts. “Why were you going to let it out?”
“Why not? It was just a rift. He wanted out of that place, I wanted out of the rift.”
“Take my advice.” Envy pushes himself into a seated position while holding his injured hand against his chest. “If you find a dangerous dragon locked away some place, you never let it out.”