Modo remained, scanning the chiseled, gridded, squared-off landscape of brick, concrete, steel, and glass that jutted and spanned and canyoned below. They’d passed over a number of small villages and settlements on the way here – distantly, of course. Still, from the vantage of the clouds it seemed like the men were much the same as before, sending their little trails of smoke into the sky. In fact that image of them – cold and shivering, stomping and huddling around the golden glow of their various hearths – more or less emblemized them in the Great Wyrm's mind. That was the good and the bad of them, how basically naked and ill-equipped they were, and yet, because of that, clever; the only other creature to master fire, if you could call that mastery, with sticks and flint and the coaxing and feeding and taming. But that was the point – the seed of admiration tucked away inside the husk of his contempt – that man had to work so hard, so constantly, so creatively to manage what Modo already had within him, and could summon up with mere intention, literally as easily as he could breath. That was the difference.
And here was that same difference again, splayed out beneath him in this impossibly ornate cityscape. If the villages hadn't changed much, the city was transformed. It was much better lit than he recalled. All the little globes they’d posted along the walkways appeared to be beaming a new kind of light: hollower – slightly cheap, it seemed to him – but also lovely in its way. Incandescent. It didn’t flicker so much as hum. Everything hummed and strained – the carts all rumbled now, and puttered and grunted along, some of them on wheels of their own, some guided along tracks, so clumsy and awkward, with gangly arms attached to more humming wires overhead. The streets were latticed with them like cobwebs
There was almost something endearing about it, the lengths to which they’d go just to be carried along, the effort they dedicated to expending no effort, and the price they were willing to pay. The stench was everywhere – of gas, smoke, and burning air. Across the water, the stacks were much bigger and taller than he’s seen before, chugging great plumes of dark smoke into the sky. But again, to what end such industry? Leisure?
He quieted his mind to listen, to see if he could hear a difference, for this was another of his gifts: to hear however much or however little he chose; each lap of each wave in the river; or past these, and past the humming and buzzing and chugging to the human's voices, their laughter, their shouts, their whispers and inner voices – every thought if he so desired. Had that changed at all, or was the din the same as ever? It seemed to be, only more loud perhaps, more of it, more closely packed together. He heard the squabbles and the prayers, the pleas, all the same as he remembered.
Then suddenly and out of nowhere – or not out of nowhere, as it was coming from directly underneath him – a most profound and majestic sound, a driving, driven hum which caused the stones to tremble, and that same trembling to rise up through his body, to cause his wings to quiver, his skull to purr. The charge was all throughout him, and now the sound was joined by human voice, a chorus-full, diving and cascading, rising again. He thrilled. Of course he did. He pitied them no more than they deserved. They were filthy, yes, but also capable of this, this glorious sound, borne of a knowledge they possessed that he did not – those lights, those muttering wagons, and whatever it was that had humbled the man so quickly, the father. Was that his genius as well? And was this song below the sound of that?
Only now there came another sound, a counterpoint – a lone voice, climbing up the spiral stairs, wheezing and grunting to the music, as if to remind the wyrm again of just how paltry, how sniveling, and disgusting they could be; this one griping about the gout in its knee. Modo turned round to see him appearing in the door – lumpy and white and trembling, standing on the parapet, looking back at him, his back flat against the wall. Modo lifted one wing just barely, just to see the terror in his eyes.
He jetted a hot plume of smoke from his nostrils: the tower was his now. When the smoke cleared, the man was gone, tripping back down the steps, gimpy knee or no.
Oh, they were the same, thought the Great Wyrm, the same as ever, just more so, and there were more of them, packed more tightly, more frightened, more angry, more desperate. More more more, but there again, wasn't that the point. Say what you will about the rottenness of their cores, they were thriving, living and dying in untold numbers, while his own kind had whittled down to how many now? Was it just the one?
He would have to find that stone.