Nadec ch 23: The ritual of drowning

Previously: The gorwak follows Nadec, after she refuses to talk about her emotions, until it bumps against the edge of the tree. It tells her that it’s trapped there, and urges her to come back with him to tell his story. He has rum.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘Dragon, meet the dragonfly.’

Nadec swept her arms in a grand gesture from Blackie to Patat. On their way back to Kitty and Blackie, Nadec had taken a few more good swallows from the bottle of rum. She’d found mushrooms too, thanks to the light-giving insects who’d decided to follow the gorwak. It claimed to be unable to order them around, so only three had followed out of their own free will. She’d nibbled on the mushrooms while walking.

She giggled at the empty expression on both of the creature’s faces. Patat was the first to say something.

‘What’s a grounding dragonfly?’ It flew up higher and looked down and back, through it’s long legs, as if looking for something. The four wings were the only graceful body parts it had.

Nadec laughed at her own little joke and shook her head.

‘Never mind,’ she sat down to give Kitty something else to head butt instead of her ankles. ‘Blackie, this is Patat. Patat, this is Kitty and that’s obviously Blackie.’ She chuckled again. Tonight’s missive was working. She told the air in between them that she was unavailable from now on until the morning, reached out and took the bottle from the gorwak, while mumbling. ‘Payment for freeing you.’

Blackie didn’t leave her alone that easily, of course. She asked in her mind what was going on. Nadec did her best to explain this was a ritual she needed to do, and Blackie shouldn’t worry, no matter what happened tonight. Tomorrow she would start fixing things and finding solutions, tonight she would be a mess. The dragon obviously didn’t understand, but agreed to let her be. She shuffled closer to Nadec. Nadec ate more mushroom and took another swill from the rum. She didn’t bother with using the cup anymore.

Blackie looked towards Patat sideways, who’d stopped flying and curled up to sleep. The dragon didn’t trust the gorwak. That was enough for Nadec to keep a sliver of mistrust for the newly found creature. For now though, she wouldn’t think too hard on what was true and untrue.

Her head felt blessedly floaty, and the emotions she’d been meaning to drown were all there, pushed to the extreme by the drunken high she was in. Tears spilled in an endless cascade, pooling on the ground to make a tiny river in between the grass. The gorwak had already passed out, breathing in slow and deep breaths. That was quick.

Nadec unlatched the halberd and its harness, and leaned back onto Blackie’s belly, cherishing the warmth. She looked up at the night sky, marveling at the beauty. It looked similar to the Earth’s, but she was certain none of the constellations were the same. She’d never been able to remember any but the most known ones, and neither of them were here. Did that mean they were in a different universe all together, or did they merely see a different part of it, deforming the patterns of the stars? Whichever it was, it looked magical. Without any light pollution, there were several clusters of tightly clumped stars, much like seeing several milky ways on Earth. She let her mind wander and lost herself, sucked into the infinity of space and beyond.

Faint light of the coming sunrise woke her. The expected hangover wasn’t there. That proved the exceptional quality of the rum. She yawned and laughed simultaneously as she crawled out of the middle of the curled up dragon. She’d been made part of the dragon doughnut. As she stood outside it, looking at Kitty settling himself on his usual place on top of one of the wings, she noticed Blackie opening one eye.

‘I’m all good,’ she whispered to Blackie. ‘There’s an idea forming, just need to think it over some more.’

She glanced at the gorwak. It was still sleeping, prone on it’s back, all limbs spread out, the tails like a fan to the side, and drool dribbling from its open mouth. It had only small, square teeth on the upper jaw, and large, yellow ones at the bottom. She couldn’t see the rest of its dentures, but from what she saw of the front, she suspected this strange creature ate mostly plants, like grass and leaves. That would explain why it could have survived as a prisoner in one area; especially if that area is a giant tree with an endless supply of leaves—and perhaps the occasional fruit. One mystery solved, a million more to go.

Her stomach growled. Hot food would be wonderful at this point. She didn’t mind living of fruit and other raw edibles, but eventually she always craved something more. Coffee would be so welcome right now, although she’d settle for tea as well. She knew she could find herbs suitable to make tea with, but they had no hot water, so that was useless. They didn’t even have water. It didn’t matter. They’d have food and drink soon.

About an hour later, she frowned at the gorwak and nudged it with her foot. At least, she guessed it was about an hour later, by the position of the sun. She’d looked at her bare wrist often, only to remember her fitness tracker had been ruined by the zlurp together with her clothes. Patat awoke with a start.

‘I swear it is the burning truth, please don’t open up my grounding guts!’

It sat up, liquid black eyes wide, staring at Nadec. Then it relaxed. What was that all about? Nadec hoped to some day get the whole story, to confirm her suspicions. She felt a bit guilty for interrupting it yesterday, but there were more urgent things to take care of first. She was about to discover a few facts now either way.

‘Wake up sunshine. Or should I say rainbow?’

Those small spots of rainbow on the glistening slimy skin looked decidedly odd. She realised the rainbows appeared on the places where it—if this was, say, a fish—would reflect the light the most. Such a strange little creature.

‘Are you still staying with us, and coming along?’

She asked the question in a casual way, but relied on a positive reply for the rest of her plan to work.

‘Of course I burning am, I’ve been by my dripping self for long enough!’ His eyes narrowed. ‘You have a dripping plan, don’t you? Ah, I grounding knew it! When did you bloody come up with that?’

Nadec only nodded, unable to resist the tugging on the corners of her mouth. Blackie was looking at her curiously. The intensity of his look was spoiled by the stretching he did, in perfect synchronicity with Kitty. Those two were too cute.

‘Good. You will show us the way to my employers.’ One of her eyebrows lifted. ‘Close your dripping mouth, you look like a burning fish.’ She was relieved when that made it laugh, a short but loud harumph. Meeting new people—or, sentient beings she could communicate with—was always tedious in the beginning, figuring out if they could get along with her humour. She had high hopes for this one, but didn’t forget the mistrusting look Blackie had given Patat.

‘Burning good one, Nadec. Burning good one. How do you expect me to grounding help you though?’ It leaned down, broke some grass off with a combination tongue and teeth, and began chewing it. Satisfaction of being right at its eating habits strengthened her confidence in her other theories.

‘I figured it out. Not completely, but enough. You knew who I was yesterday, at least, you knew my blood line. One of my ancestors had caged you, either to keep you safe and preserve your species, or to keep everyone else safe. I suspect the first option.’

Because she’d been keeping a close eye on the creature, she saw the effect her words had. It had tried to hide it by maintaining its steady chewing, but she’d seen. Gamble number one had been true. Now on to gamble number two. She sank through her knees in front of Patat.

‘You,’ her voice was full of silent intent, ‘can tell me how to get to my employers.’

The gorwak snorted and jumped up to fly. That wasn’t the reaction Nadec had expected, but it wasn’t a denial either. Nadec stood up, but when she was at eye level with Patat, it flew up a bit higher. Did it do that for presumed dominance? That amused her, but she didn’t show.

‘That’s bloody ridiculous, I don’t grounding know what you’re talking about.’

‘Oh, but you do.’ She focused on keeping her voice confident.

‘We are all connected. You and me, and you and them. So like I said,’ she crossed her arms, her face smug, ‘you, can get us to my employers.’

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