Previously: Blackie flew Nadec and Kitty away from Wyny and others who had been surrounding them. When she landed, Nadec angrily urges her to go back for Wyny. Even if the dragon wasn’t as exhausted, she wouldn’t do it. She mentally transfers a conversation she heard between two people while in the cave to wake up the zlurp. They are the ones hunting for Nadec, and seem to think something special will happen on a specific day, which Nadec calculates as being her birthday.
Read all the previous chapters here.
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Nadec paced around the Blackie and Kitty doughnut, thinking. From what she could piece together about the conversation Blackie had heard, they were in serious trouble. She couldn’t say why, but her birthday and the potential end of the Earth were linked together. Her life was linked to it. It was obvious to her that if she died, Earth would die. If she lived, all would live.
‘A hero,’ she mumbled, ‘I’m going to need to be a gorwakgutsing hero. Shonk swallop in cod liver!’
She sighed and kept on pacing. What a mess. She needed to know more. Her employers had always been secretive. They’d never told her much, and to be fair, she’d never asked them much. She’d never cared. But they’d given her the halberd and the power to skip. They should have more answers. They might be able to help her. She needed to get in touch with them.
‘How can you talk to me in my head? No, that’s not what I wanted to ask. How did you put those voices in my head?’
She stopped in front of Blackie’s head, hands on hips. The dragon opened one eye and closed it again.
The voice felt full of wonder and petulant at the same time, the oddest combination. Nadec stared at her, looking but not seeing. Her mind drifted, swept away by the incomprehensible magnificence of the creature in front of her. She allowed herself to feel awe for a little bit longer, before shaking out of it. This was all as new for Blackie as it was for Nadec. She decided to pretend as if all of this was normal. She’d been doing that from the moment she first came to The Other Realm, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
In this case, it was all too much. She couldn’t shake it off. The feeling of dread and immense responsibility threatened to push her down and flatten her to a useless flat blubbering mess of a human. She would tackle this the way she knew best.
She asked Blackie how far they were from their depart spot, and the dragon’s opinions about their safety in their current location. And if she knew where they were. As she asked that last question, she knew how silly it was. Even if the dragon had an internal navigation system, how would she be able to say where they were without any point of reference? Nadec cursed at herself. Today was definitely not a good day in terms of self-confidence.
Blackie’s reply was careful but positive. She thought they were fairly safe right now and a good distance from the attackers. She didn’t know who they were. It took Nadec a while to figure out the meaning of the words appearing in her head. But either she was getting better at it, or Blackie was improving.
That was all Nadec needed to know. It was late afternoon, there was already a change in the sky’s light. It would be dark soon. It might get a little bit colder during the night, but not as much as needing a fire. At least, that’s what Nadec hoped. Building a fire without any tools to help was difficult; a skill Nadec had never mastered.
Even though she knew it was probably a bad idea, she wanted to scout the area. She told Blackie she wanted to see if she recognised anything enough to know where they were, so she stood up, muscles stiff. If she found what she really wanted to find—not what she’d told Blackie—she wouldn’t be cold anyway. She asked Blackie to stay put—as she was fairly certain of her safety here—and walked away. The mental connection with the dragon appeared to work even from a distance, which comforted her slightly. She’d never admit to that of course.
She waded through the knee-length soft-tufted grass, keeping a straight and confident back. From the moment she passed the first large trunk of a tree, her chin trembled. With a burst of breath, she let it all go. It would probably be wise to keep quiet in this unfamiliar territory, but she didn’t care. She let a soft sobbing accompany her tears.
Wyny had betrayed her. He’d never been on her side. He’d played her for a fool. What a joke. Once again she got proven that it’s stupid to trust people. The deep and painful hurt she felt now wasn’t because she liked him. She did, but not like that. The pain was like when she tried to grow her nails and keep them manicured. Annoying at first, not sure why she kept it, but after a while getting used to it and finding herself admiring them often. Only to tear and get ripped out once complacency made her careless. The intensity of the physical pain that had caused was similar to what she felt in her chest right now.
This depressing state of hers needed to be dealt with, so she kept on walking, sniffling and groaning, hating herself for the self-pity and self-loathing. She did have a goal for her little wander—it hadn’t only been to break down by herself. So she kept wiping the tears away, looking every way at once.
The trees sparked some kind of recognition. They grew a good distance from each other, not like the other dense forests they’ve been in before. They all looked ancient, like 500 year old fig trees. Beautiful. She navigated through the thick roots, grown from many of the massive branches. This area had a special feel to it, and the awe which spread all over her body stopped her sputtering breath. The mad rush of random gulps and gasps steadied. Soon her tears stopped.
‘What ails you, my child?’
She knew the calmness which had settled over her wasn’t normal. Neither was the lack of surprise she felt at the voice. It was soft and melodious. Quiet yet strong. Confident yet curious. The first part of her walk was accomplished. She knew where she was now. Gorwak grove. What a frankdamn blonking coincidence. She’d never believed the stories of this place, few though they were. When she’d been taught about the places of The Other Realm and the creatures in it, this had been glanced over because no one believed it was real. But it had been mentioned anyway, as a myth. Myths and legends do have a way of proving themselves real here, she thought, wryly but with a touch of fondness for Blackie.
Turning around to search for the creature which had spoken, she didn’t see anything through the labyrinth of prop roots. The gorwaks have been mentioned in legends, as elusive as their grove. Because of their mystery, there were no descriptions of what they looked like. Nadec didn’t know what she was looking for. Was it large, small? The colour of the soil, the colour of the tree? Or, was it the tree?
There! Something glinted near the trunk of the tree in front of her, surrounded by a thick wall of the prop roots. She slowly stepped closer, relaxed but prepared to grab her halberd from her back in case this creature proved to be dangerous. The underbrush crackled in the most wonderful way, and her steps disturbed it enough to release the earthy smell of the soil. She inhaled deeply while taking another step, closing her eyes briefly for optimal enjoyment of the aroma. When she opened her eyes again, the gorwak was in full view, in front of her.
It was… not what she’d expected. The appearance didn’t fit the sweet voice. The size of a capuchin monkey, with vaguely the same body features—long limbs being one of them. It also had a tail, but it was split in five, about a third from the base. It didn’t have hair, but scales. Fish scales, not reptile scales. There was an obvious layer of slime covering the moss-coloured body. It gave an occasional rainbow flicker in random areas.
‘Speak and I will hear you.’
The hands gripping the bark had only three fingers; two broad ones and one thin but disproportionately long. The black, liquid eyes staring back at her looked as if she could see every emotion in them, with their long eyelashes and round form.
The gorwak jumped. It stayed in flight on eye level in front of Nadec, the different colours of its four wings mesmerising in their translucent iridescent.
Nadec swallowed. There was so much she wanted to say; three years of build-up emotions, layers of insecurity and moments of doubt, the deep sadness of betrayal, old grief never overcome, abandonment, loneliness, the weight of responsibility. She blinked, squeezing her eyes hard until they felt dry enough again.
She turned around and left.
A little note about this chapter. Like the previous one, this too was difficult to write, and even more difficult no to go back and start editing. Because I realise it needs a lot of work, it reads a bit stiff and patchy, quite incoherent. But editing is for later 🙂