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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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---

Here Be Dragons

"I can't believe I agreed to be a booth babe," Megan muttered.

"It happens to the best of us," Ladybird said. She was a tall, curvy, dark-skinned Indian woman with a paranormal green thumb who worked as a landscaper for Ultimate Construction. She twitched the branches of the potted boxwood to the left of the booth, and a bit of the plant grew to fill in a bare patch. "Remember that your job is to smile and nod and hand out brochures. Looking dour won't sell contracts."

"Okay, answer me this: why is the annual meeting of a lizard and snake collector's club considered to be an enormous industry event?" Megan swept her arm, indicating the grand ballroom of the Wonder City Plaza Hotel, packed to the gills with booths representing much of the major large-scale construction industry in the US.

"Let's just say," Ladybird said, plucking brown leaves off another potted plant, "that some people would call the American Reptilian Collectors Association the 'Reptilian-American' Collectors Association."

Megan gave her a puzzled look.

A short, balding white man in a tweed jacket with leather patched on the elbows who happened to be passing by halted and smiled at her. "Oh, my dear, you're new to the ARCA meeting, aren't you?" he said in a way that was surely meant to be kindly, but set Megan's teeth on edge.

"Yes," she said, glancing at Ladybird, who grinned, rolled her eyes, and shrugged.

"It's a fascinating event," he said, drawing closer. "Certainly an interesting -- and recent -- cultural development for them."

"Them?" Megan said. She watched Ladybird greet a tall, sleek-haired white man in a polo shirt and designer jeans. They seemed to be conversing, and Ladybird handed him one of the mini-portfolios.

"Oh, yes," the little man said, smiling out at the convention floor like a proud father. "Them."

Megan followed his gaze. The floor buzzed with low, well-bred conversation. A surprising number of people circulated among the booths -- booths that advertised construction contractors, plumbers, carpenters, masons, painters, landscapers, and architects, as well as windows, doors, tile, bathroom fixtures, brick, stone, steel, carpets, decks, and a bewildering array of other things that Megan had never closely contemplated in regard to building, like antique jewelry and rare orchids. Most of the people circulating were white and well-dressed, about an equal number of men and women, with some people of color sprinkled in. Some were clearly alone, some moved with enormous Hollywood-style entourages. She saw bizarre designer dresses rubbing elbows with flannel plaid shirts, Armani suits next to "Am I Missing An Eyebrow?" t-shirts. She could almost smell the money, old and new, oozing off these people. A large percentage of them were aesthetically lovely, with flawless faces and bodies.

"Who are they?" Megan said, almost under her breath.

"I call them Draco familiaris when I write about them," he said fondly, still watching them.

Megan blinked at him. "Dragons?" she said in a strained whisper.

"Oh, yes," he said. "They're everywhere."

"But... collectors?"

"Haven't you been reading your fairy tales?" he said in a tone that made her want to punch him. "Dragons in stories do nothing but collect. These are real people, of course, and have other pursuits, but they are very serious about their collections."

Megan watched another beautiful person -- this one androgynously Asian, ostentatiously wearing a Chinese-styled thigh-length coat of golden silk with, of course, dragons worked into the brocade -- take a set of brochures from Ladybird. "What sort of collections do they have, if they need whole buildings for them?"

"Oh, it varies from Draco to Draco," he said. "The younger ones tend to go for types of objects -- incunabula, records, even the stereotypical jewels. As they age, I find, they tend to specialize."

"So they don't collect the same thing all their lives?"

"Oh, my, no," he said, laughing. "Though the period of time they spend on a given collection varies. Some of the booths here -- over there, I think, and there, and there -- aren't here to sell, but to buy outgoing collections. One or two get sold every year in the American community, five or six worldwide."

A slender white man with white hair and sunglasses paused at the booth. Ladybird was occupied with a smiling middle-aged socialite whose blonde hair was a brassy shade Megan had only ever seen out of a bottle, so Megan politely excused herself to her pedantic companion and said, "Can I help you, sir?"

The white-haired man regarded her over the tops of his sunglasses. "You're the Amazon's daughter."

Megan tried not to grind her teeth. "Yes, sir, can I help you, sir?"

"Ah," he said, plucking up a brochure about paranormal-level shielding in walls. "A shame about your decision," he said cryptically before striding away.

She restrained herself from exclaiming or flipping the bird at his back only by reminding herself that she could be working for Captain Zip still.

The laughter at her side brought her head around slowly. The bald man was holding his belly and laughing. He had also insinuated himself behind the booth table. He seemed completely untouched by her best death glare.

"They're so blunt here," he said, wiping his eyes. "They're free to be, you see. It's their convention, their cultural space, if you will. Most of the rest of the time, they have to coax."

"What do you mean?" Megan said. She was trying to figure out how to get him to leave now.

"Well, when they want someone for their collection..."

"They collect people?"

He blinked at her. "Well, of course, I said they specialize as they get older. Most of them realize that the most rewarding collection is an ephemeral one, a human one. They specialize in a particular type of human."

Megan stared at him with barely concealed outrage.

He smiled. "It's quite remarkable, really. Many of their collected humans never realize they've been collected. Draco go to great lengths, sometimes, to keep them from discovering the true nature of their sponsors."

Finally noticing that Megan had turned less inquisitive and more hostile, he excused himself and wished her a pleasant day.

Megan was starting to put out more brochures when a short, stout, matronly white woman in a flower-patterned dress leaned on a corner of the table and smiled at her. Megan smiled back a little hesitantly.

"Isn't he a treasure?" the woman said in a confiding tone, glancing after the bald man. "It took years to persuade him to change institutions, but he finally did. A perfect example of the breed, if I do say so myself." She patted Megan's hand and continued on to the next booth.

Ladybird turned around a moment later. "Hey, close your mouth," she said to the dumbfounded Megan. "You're trying to catch customers, not flies."

Woah

Date: 2013-01-09 08:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What happened here? Are there dragons that collect other dragons? It never explicitly says, but I got the feeling that the gentleman was a dragon. Then, at the end, the lady makes it clear that he's a part of her collection!

Either way, it's an interesting take on what kind of a person collects things. The answer is so obvious, in retrospect. Lol

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