The first

Her eyes follow the birds flying around the castle, their blackness in stark contrast to the pearl white stone. The animals spiral up around one of the many towers, following the round shape up to the pointy roof. They scream as they dive down as one. Before they can repeat the process, half of them disappear in a puff of feathers.

Felegra clicks her tongue in annoyance.

‘Muds, they still do that?’

She grits her teeth before turning the corners of her mouth up. Better to avoid someone telling her she’d look lovely if she smiled, than to get more frustrated to hear it. With an effort, she relaxes her eyebrows to normal. She smooths out imaginary wrinkles on her deep burgundy robe.

Upon walking through the large, heavy wooden, open doors—only breathing a little bit heavier after the arduous climb on the stairs’ fifty steps—the entry hall still takes her breath away. The floating chandeliers in perfect contrast to the luxurious red-brown panels on the walls. A floating banner shows the way; ‘annual incantation revision day for cum laude graduates’.

After following the directions, she stops at the door to the second largest auditorium. Mage professor Garfunkel stands there, a floating thick paper in front of him.

‘Wizard Felegra.’

She clenches her jaw but pastes a smile on her face anyway. His thick bushy eyebrows drop into a scowl.

‘Where is your beard?’

Her smile slips.

‘Before graduation, we established that women don’t need a beard as a mark of our wizardess. It has been set in the rules as an amendment. I’m quite certain you are aware of that, mage professor.’

‘Hm, yes. Well, I still disagree.’

No surprise there. He’d been against her acceptance as the first woman in the supreme school of wizardry from the start.

You know women don’t grow beards naturally. Most anyway.’

‘Yes, well. You are a wizard, you could make one. Either way, go in now, you’re holding up the line.’

When the day ends, she nearly cries with how little the protest and actions she did as a student had changed things. Animals are still used to experiment on, she is still the only woman wizard graduate, and everyone was still ignoring her.

Her posture looks deflated as she walks through the hallways. When a perky voice calls out her name, her head shots up. Tears brim her eyes at what she sees.

Seven girls, all in the yellow robes indicating their student status, look at her, expectation in their eyes.

‘Wizard Felegra, miss, we’ve been waiting all day for you, can we ask questions about how to do actions? We heard so many things about you and what you did, paving the way for women here and we want to know how to go against the old-fashioned rules and change things, and—‘ The young woman cuts off abruptly, a blush on the cheeks. ‘Sorry, I prattle when I’m nervous.’

Felegra’s grin is genuine for the first time that day.

Nadec ch 24: Stories and a slap

Previously: Nadec manages to free the gorwak because of her ancestry. The creature joins her to Blackie and Kitty. Blackie doesn’t trust the gorwak, but Nadec drinks herself into oblivion first. The day after, she tackles all her issue with renewed vigor. The gorwak appears to be a genuine source of connections.
Read all the previous chapters here.

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The stunned expression on the gorwak’s face was at odds with the creature’s confident bearing. At least, the combination of staying in flight in one spot and those mesmerising wings conveyed a certain confidence. Not to mention the no-nonsense way it spoke.
‘Are you still burning drunk?’
The disbelief in its voice was too much for Nadec to keep up her seriousness. She snorted. A small smile accompanied her still smug face.
‘I wish I was but that’s beside the point.’ Because if she still was, that meant she could still forget all of this happening. ‘You did sense the DNA in my blood, didn’t you?’
‘What in the grounding seas are you talking about, what is a deeyenay?!’
‘Sorry, I forgot. Never mind that. What I meant was, somehow you sensed my ancestry and recognised it to be the one who locked you up. If you want to join us in our travels, honesty would be great. Who were they? King or queen? What was the kingdom of area called? Why did they take it upon themselves to preserve you?’
‘You make it bloody sound as if I’m some kind of grounding fine wine.’
The gorwak muttered to himself while lowering himself to the ground, apparently no longer interested in trying to assert dominance. Nadec sat down as well.
‘Us gorwaks were the burning guides of dripping humans everywhere. Far and wide, gorwaks were regarded and revered for their grounding special attributes.’
‘What were those, cursing at and annoying everyone?’ Nadec’s interruption only made Patat scowl a little bit, the expression odd on that eyebrowless face.
‘Listen kid, I’m grounding answering your last question, do you want the burning answer? Burning truth is, your little quip wasn’t that grounding far wrong. Humans kept us around because we often spoke the dripping truth. You burning humans are too emotional and care too burning much about hurting each other’s grounding feelings. The exceptional human who did speaks the truth has no grounding friends because no one dripping likes them. So they kept us around to burning tell the truth for them.’
Nadec transferee dto a cross-legged position, taking that time to think about what Patat had said. It was definitely right about it all.
‘Are you male or female?’
‘What?’ It’s voice was so gruff-sounding, she wanted to think of it as male. She knew from experience that things weren’t always what they seemed though. Calling Patat, it, started to annoy her, especially now that they were getting to know each other better.
‘Do I call you he or she? Or they? Or something else?’
‘What does that burning matter? I don’t give a flying whale horse about that. You grounding humans with your burning labels. We have no gender nor sex, if that’s what you want to burning know, so I don’t care what you dripping use.’
‘No gender nor sex? How do you reproduce?’
Sex and talking about it had never been an issue for Nadec, but her cheeks did light up a bit after asking that question. It was almost like asking how someone had sex! She supposed sometimes it was a question to ask, but only in certain circumstances. This was definitely not such a situation.
‘We aren’t as dripping messy as you humans. Gross. No, if we want to multiply, we grounding stay in the dark for while until knobs grow on our tail ends.’
He moved his five ends up and down to bring attention to them. Kitty stirred next to Nadec. He walked around her, low to the ground.
‘When it’s time, we burning cut them off and grounding stick them in the ground.’
Kitty looked mesmerised at the tails. The front of his body pressed against the ground, his butt up in the air.
‘I suppose your grounding ancestor hoped I could grounding multiply, but I don’t dripping know when he ever intended to dripping release me.’ He looked towards Kitty, whose butt was now shaking left to right in rhythmic bursts.
‘But you didn’t… eh…. multiply?’
‘No, I obviously burning didn’t. I lost the ability because of spending too much grounding time at sea. Don’t burning ask me—’
Kitty jumped forward, but Patat had anticipated it. With a whoop, he jumped and flew into the air, giggling like a small child. He moved his tails, enough to make Kitty jump for them, but kept them right out of reach.
‘Don’t ask me how that worked. Perhaps it was the salt, perhaps the water. Either way, something about those years has made me incapable of multiplying.’
Joy at seeing him play with Kitty—she noticed he hadn’t cursed even once—blended with a grief for his people. If he really was the last gorwak, then he was the end of the line. He flew up and down, enrapt in his game.
‘Oh don’t look so sad, kid. It happens. Creatures grow extinct. I’ve had fifty years to come to terms with it.’
He lifted his tails and grabbed them, hiding them from Kitty as he lowered himself on the ground. Kitty’s dilated pupils followed Patat’s descend.
‘So now you know why I was burning preserved in the grove. Humans killed my entire race. Don’t look so abashed, I don’t hold a dripping grudge against you. Some individuals weren’t grounding happy with getting the dripping truth flung in their dripping face so started the bloody rumour that our guts could predict the future. Nonsense of course. But you can burning guess what happened next.’
‘Gorwak guts,’ she muttered. She knew the origin of this curse now.
Blackie had been following the whole exchanged while lying stretched out next to them. After Kitty had lost interest in the Gorwak’s tails, he curled up next to Blackie’s head. Their combined purring filled the air.
‘Right kid, tell me what this dripping nonsense is about us all being connected and me getting you to your burning employers? First of all, who in the burning seas are your employers? Second of all, as a direct dripping descendant of the Ichau-lineage, why do you even have burning employers?’
‘Eesjooh? I’m Smith, not… oh.’ Of course! If her parents had lied about everything else, then they would’ve lied about her family name as well. She smacked herself in the head. Idiot.
‘Ee-sj-oh.’ Patat narrowed his eyes. ‘I believe you have your own grounding story to tell because none of this is making any burning sense to me.’
Nadec waved a hand toward him. That can wait. She was getting really hungry now.
‘The only thing I need to get to my employers, is an invitation. Once I have that, I can skip us all there. Lucky for us, my invitation is right in front of me.’
Patat threw his hands up and let himself fall back in an elaborate arc. The gesture was dramatised more by a small hop backwards.
‘I don’t burning understand any of this.’
Nadec glanced at Blackie. Her head had perked up by Nadec’s last words.
‘I’m not too sure about how any of this works either, but I know how to make it work. And that’s all we need right now.’
‘Why don’t you just burning go to your family’s dripping castle, in Paralelo? Or does your skipping thing not grounding work like that? I’ve got to tell you, kid, this is the most confused I’ve dripping been in fifty years.’
‘You’ve been alone and away from everything for fifty years,’ Nadec said absently. Paralelo. Wyny’s kingdom. My family’s kingdom? Did I almost have a small crush on my cousin or something? Gross! And then he went on to betray her as well.
‘Slap me.’ When Patat merely stared at her, she lifted an eyebrow.
‘I don’t like to repeat myself. You heard me. That’s always how they give me directions. Someone randomly slaps me and I somehow know where to direct my skipping. Yeah, It’s stupid, don’t give me that look. It’s not like I always enjoy it. Do it.’
Without another word, Nadec stood up. Patat flew up to her level. He eyed her. She nodded. He slapped. The slap was nothing like she’d ever been slapped before. It was firm, hard and with a perfect aim. His skin felt dry, in direct contrast to the slimey look. Her head was still turned to the side—some unwanted tears prickling—when she felt the slap take effect. Her damn idiotic gamble of a plan had worked!
She gestured for them all to get a hold on her, picking Kitty up to perch on her shoulders. Her grin was genuine and gleeful as she bent through her knees. She slapped them together, crossing her arms over them. Right before they disappeared, she thought she heard several voice shout.

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.’

Nadec ch 22: Rum and rainbows

Previously: Nadec walks away from Kitty and Blackie, under the guise of wanting to see if she recognised there environment, so she could pinpoint their location. She secretly wants to finds something else too. Her wanderings take her in to a peculiar tree grove. She recognises it as the mythical gorwak grove, in which she meets the even more elusive gorwak.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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The soft, overlapping whooshing sound of the wings gained a frantic quality to them. Nadec felt a whisper of air rush at her back. That damned gorwak isn’t going to leave me alone, is it? She was almost at the imaginary edge of this particularly tree, underneath the spot where the canopy shied away from another tree’s canopy. Crown shyness was a real thing. With a sigh, she turned around to face the creature. She didn’t want to be rude—and she really was quite curious to know more about these mythical beings—but this wasn’t the time to act like a researcher.

The gorwak was almost arm length to her when it stopped flying. No, that was putting it softly. It looked more as if slammed into an invisible wall, the impact sending rainbow coloured waves in the air.

It bounced back, fell down, and rolled over the ground.

‘What the fuck!’

A good old-fashioned Earthy curse was sometimes the best way to convey any current emotions. She wasn’t certain what to do. If she went over to check if the creature was alright, she’d be in a perfect position to get attacked by it. Ridiculous. Her own inward scolding felt right, if the forwak wanted to attack, it had a chance to do so before.

The creature untangled itself from its wings and unknotted one of the tails. It sat back on its haunches and looked at Nadec, mouth opening and closing. Ultimately, it scowled, jumped, and flew up again. It came closer to Nadec, this time careful and at a slow pace. When it was again at arm’s length, it hovered in front of her. Those black, liquid eyes conveyed a sadness.

‘What the fuck indeed.’

The gorwak’s voice no longer had the sweet quality from before. Instead, it now sounded more like someone who’d been smoking all their life.

‘I tried to burning be nice and help you with your burning emotions, but you grounding walked away. Very burning rude. You’re the grounding first human I meet in a burning fifty years, and you dripping even saw me yet you walk away. What the fuck is burning wrong with you?’

Nadec could only gape. If she was still on Earth, she’d look around to see if she was being pranked. She looked around anyway.

‘Close your dripping mouth, you look like a burning fish.’

‘I look like a fish?’ She laughed, incredulous, glad that she got her tongue back. ‘You’re the one with the fishy body parts! What the fuck is this? What happened to your voice?’

That was not the most urgent question she could ask, and she knew it. What she really wanted to know was everything.

‘Listen, sweetie, come back inside and I’ll burning tell you things. Being on the grounding dripping edge feels very uncomfortable.’

‘Don’t call me sweetie,’ she said. Her heart wasn’t in it though, her mind was busy trying to figure things out. ‘What do you mean, come back inside? What fucking edge.’

The gorwak made an annoyed throat sound, pointed up, then reached its arm towards her. Before it was fully outstretched, it stopped, touching something she couldn’t see, spreading rainbow waves out. The waves had a specific direction. They followed along the edge of the tree’s crown, as if something drooped from it, invisible to her.

‘I’m burning stuck here, kid. Now, you grounding coming? It would be dripping good to talk to someone again.’

It flew backwards before flying up to make a loop in the air. After completing the loop, it looked at her, wiggled its forehead, and nodded its head toward the tree trunk.

‘I’ve got boo-ooze.’

‘Well, why didn’t you tell me that first?’

She trotted after the creature. The second reason for her little exploration walk appeared to come in an unexpected way. Alcohol was even better than the mushrooms she’d been searching for.

There was a gap in the massive trunk of the tree. It was easy enough for the gorwak to slip through, Nadec had to go in sideways, and almost got stuck. Damn but.

Once she’d wriggled out of the gap, she couldn’t see much. It was dark, which wasn’t a surprise, seeing as where she was, and the fact that twilight had already started. She squeezed her eyes shut for a while. When she opened them again, she still couldn’t see much. A vague outline of something in some areas, but those could’ve been pieces of bark as well as a couch, for all she knew.

‘Why’re you burning standing there like a grounding fool? Come here.’ The gorwak muttered something more, but either Nadec wasn’t supposed to hear, or it didn’t care. Surely it didn’t just say that humans seem to have grown even more stupid?

‘I can’t see anything.’

She was getting annoyed at this creature’s behaviour, and knew she’d soon lash out. Or merely walk away again. That sounded like a brilliant idea, Kitty and Blackie might be getting worried, and in the end, they were more important than a night of drowning her sorrows.

She moved to put one leg back into the gap, but lights sprung on, one by one. She stared around in amazement. The space looked too large. It must be a trick of the eye.

‘I forgot you can’t dripping see in the burning dark. Aah, this is my last grounding bottle. Should be good.’

One of the lights flew up to her, growing until the only thing she could see was the light orange glow of the large insect. It filled her vision, destroyed her night vision, and forced her to duck down or lose an eye.

‘Those don’t always give light?’

She walked up to where the gorwak sat, and dropped herself on the ground in front of it. Fake it till you make it, she thought, snorting at the stupid saying. It glanced at her, gave a little shake of the head, and filled the two wooden cups between them.

‘They’re lazy—’it gave her a lopsided grin‘—fuckers, and I can’t burning blame them, there’s never a reason for them to turn themselves on.’

The crooked grin, though horrifying as it was, reminded her of Wyny. A deep pit of sadness welled up in her chest again. She lifted up the wooden cup, cheered toward the strange creature, and chugged the whole drink in one go. The familiar warm feeling of a strong drink spread in her body, awakening her veins, tingling reaching her finger tips.

‘Rum!’

She held out the empty cup, eyes wide with excitement. The gorwack downed his own cup and filled both of them again.

‘I worked a long time with burning sailors, and this was the best burning rum around. Aah, those were the grounding times. Before everything went to the dripping grounds. Us gorwaks were—’

‘Nadec! Dark is. Alright you?’

The voice cutting through her mind shocked her enough to spill some of the rum. The gorwak had stopped talking, noticing something had happened.

‘Blackie! Yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry.’

‘Worried Kitty.’

Oh, Kitty. Nadec felt like an idiot. She should’ve been back already.

‘I’m coming, tell Kitty not to worry, I’m on my way back.’

Nadec wasn’t certain if Blackie could speak to Kitty, but that didn’t matter. She looked at the cup, to the bottle, to the gorwak, and sighed.

‘I have to go. I don’t suppose I can, eh, take that bottle with me?’

‘Wait. Bloody fine. I’ll give a burning summary. I’m the grounding last of the burning gorwaks and have been dripping put here to be kept dripping safe. The only one who can burning release the safe zone, is a descendant of the grounding fella who’d put it up.’ He gave her a significant look.

Rolling her eyes, she stood up. ‘Yeah, and I suppose I’m the one. Blonking shallops. Classic. I might as well accept my own tropeness. What do I do?’

‘Don’t you burning know? Don’t bloody look at me like that. Here, the dripping man pressed his hand in the heart of the tree.’

‘Has anyone ever told you how annoying your curses are. So little variation…’ She trailed off as she saw the connection between cursing like a sailor and the start of his story. Damnit, I should’ve seen it before. Not important though. She stood in front of what the gorwak pointed at as being the heart of the tree. There was a hand print in rainbow colours, sunk into the wood. Shrugging, she put her own hand in there. It was warm. She remembered the cup of rum and drank it.

‘Now what?’

‘Wait, let me burn—let me test something out.’

The gorwak flew out in a flurry of wings and tails, coming back soon after, as excited and flushed as a cat after the zoomies. ‘That was burning it. It’s gone. I can go. I can burning go. I’m grounding dripping bloody free. Aah.’

‘Great. Have a good life.’ She eyed the bottle again. ‘That was really good rum. I wanted to get completemy hammered tonight, even on mushrooms, if there was nothing else. I guess that’s not happening after all.’ She made her way out of the trunk.

‘You’re just biurning leaving?’

‘What? Did you want to come along? You did!’ she shrugged. ‘I suppose I can’t see no harm in that. Bring your flying lights too, and don’t forget the booze! I have to say I’m pretty curious to know the rest of the story anyway. And why they use gorwaks as a swear word. Do you have a name at all?’

‘We made it as a burning swear? That’s absolutely dripping fantastic! Haa! You wouldn’t be able to pronounce my name. Patat will do.’

‘Patat? What kind of a name is that.’ She laughed, unable to keep it in. She had no idea what just happened in there. The gorwak must’ve been playing with her, she hadn’t done anything at all. Somehow though, the feeling that everything was going to be alright crept up to her.

The rum was doing its thing.

‘Be there soon.’ She thought towards Blackie. ‘And I’m not alone.’

Nadec ch 21: Myths and legends

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.

‘Know not.’

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.

‘I’m fine.’

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 🙂

Nadec ch 20: Voices

Previously: Blackie came back from waking the zlurp, landing on top of the ancient statue-piece. She ignored the humans and began eating the grass instead. This incited a deeper talk between Nadec and Wyny, in which Nadec talks about when she and Kitty found each other. Before Nadec can talk about being a red knight, Blackie flies her and Kitty away from Wyny and others who had been surrounding them. Read all the previous chapters here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

‘You’re not going back to get Wyny, are you?’

Blackie’s reply was to shake her wings, rearranging them on her back, before flopping down on the ground. She’d been flying for a good twenty minutes, carrying Nadec away from from Wyny and the people surrounding him. Nadec let herself drop down as well, grass softened the fall. Standing up at this moment was like standing on land after being at sea for a while. The trees on the edge of the clearing seemed to dance. She blinked hard several times. They kept wobbling but the woozy feeling diminished.

It was obvious Blackie was unable to fly any more. Nadec frowned when she looked at her. The dragon’s colour was back to the all absorbent black. Did the scales only do that outside? No, Nadec was sure they’d still been iridescent those first days after coming out of the cave.

Kitty sat between them, completely unfazed about the long flight. He leaned back on his haunches, washing his tummy. Seeing that—the calmness the action radiated—relaxed Nadec somewhat.

‘What happened, Blackie?’ She kept most of her anger contained, but that made her voice sound tight. Surely Wyny can take care of himself. Those people wouldn’t hurt him, he was a king after all. ‘Why did we leave Wyny behind?’

Nadec knew that for the silly question it was. Blackie wouldn’t have been able to grab both her and Wyny.

She’d had to choose between getting either of the two humans out, or none at all.

‘Late too was I.’

The voice was startling inside her head. Blackie watched her, head resting on the ground. She winked at Nadec, but there was no levity in the gesture. Instead, it radiated helplessness and confusion.

‘Who else was late? Late for what?’ Nadec ignored the oddity of having a voice pop up in her head. A dragon’s voice, no less. The large horned head moved slightly.

‘Nay. Late I. Hungry. I need first food. Expect not they so fast.’ Blackie let out a soft, deep growl. Nadec’s eyebrows shot op. She hadn’t heard that from the beast before. The curiosity of communicating with Blackie lessened the anxiety and urgency about getting back to Wyny only a little bit. Somehow Blackie managed to sound disgruntled in her head. ‘Not easy words. Learn I. Better will get. Show you I heard. Quicker is.’

Nadec had a hard time deciphering Blackie’s words.  While she was still working out what that last part meant, other voices sounded. She sat upright—would’ve jumped up if she didn’t still felt woozy from the flight. But no one would’ve been able to sneak up on them in the open expanse, surrounded by trees. If anyone was as close as the voices sounded, she should’ve been able to see them. There was nobody.

‘I told you splitting up was good,’ a female voice sounded, prim and with an unusual breath pattern in her speech, ‘She is not here, so must still be with him. He knows to keep her at his side. They’ll catch them. We can get clues here. Any luck with that zlurp?’ A murmured reply was obviously negative.

‘It must’ve been hiding a dragon, hah,’ a deeper, rumbling voice cut in, quiet and intent. ‘Where did it get the beast? Of course the dragon turned on it and used it’s Dragon’s White gas, hah. Do put that unbelieving face away, hah, of course it exists. The dragon would never have bonded with a zlurp. That purple abomination will never wake up unless the dragon makes it, hah. I cannot say that is a big loss. We’ll leave it here, there is no reason to go through the effort of transporting it with us. Better to preserve the power, hah.’

‘That purple abomination is why we almost have her, Klappah. Staying so long in one spot gave us the beacon to get Pagewyn’s signal back.’

Nadec closed her eyes, annoyed that her suspicion about who the ‘him’ of the woman’s first sentence proved to be right.

‘I know that, be at ease, no need for unnecessary repetitions, hah. I admit that setting them out on different locations was a proper idea. It seems that I underestimated her severely. You know I expected her to get eliminated by the xlurps. You were right to set extra measurements in motion. Using the idiot king as a tracker worked like a charm. Pun intended, hah. Then again when I was convinced that blowing up her home would get it done. The calculations of where she could possibly skip to without preparation appeared to be brilliant. Hah. You did well, and I apologise for dismissing your idea at first.’

There was a silence. Was that the end of the conversation?

‘You do love to go on a tangent. And you always underestimate people. Apologies accepted.’ It sounded like a common thing for them. Whomever they were.

‘Well,’ the female voice went on, ‘tomorrow early morning they’ll get caught. The catchers might surprise them before they wake. Perhaps more difficult if they still have the dragon. But they’re our best. They’ll catch her. If we’re lucky they’ll kill her immediately. Saves us from doing it. Either way, Pagewyn can then be released from his bonds. He needs to get back on his throne. The advisor is getting restless. People don’t want to listen to her. They only listen to the king. Even if he is only a puppet.’ She uttered a humourless laugh, bringing goosebumps to Nadec’s arms.

‘Hah. Let’s go. I’ve been trying to keep track of it but you know that’s not what I do best. How much longer is it? 12 days left?’

‘It happens in 13 days. She has to be gone by then.’

‘Hm, point proven, my data tracking is still bad. Hold on.’

‘In time them heard. Stop I in tunnel above water. Me almost seen.’

Nadec’s mind spun, and not only from Blackie’s new skill. So much information, yet so many gaps. A swell in her chest made the sadness she felt at Wyny’s betrayal, a physical pain. It appears he wasn’t to be trusted after all. More so, he’d been working for them the whole time. But, who were they? The zlurp hadn’t been able to tell her. All he’d known was that the same people who’d been responsible for her parents’ disappearance—death—were also the same who were hunting her now. Wait, what did Blackie say?

‘You stopped in the tunnel above the water?’ Blackie nodded. Nadec squashed the tiny prick of pride she felt at understanding the dragon’s last words. ‘How did they get there then, how did they leave? Is there another exit?

‘Nay’.

At least that sentence was clear. No other entrance into the cave. They must have skipped there. How? She could only skip from The Other Realm to Earth and vice versa.

What she didn’t understand was why they waited so long to come after her. If she was such a threat to them, why didn’t they kill her the same time as her parents? Why 13 days, what happens then? What was today’s date?

She gasped when she figured out what that Earth’s date would be. It startled Kitty who was sitting on top of Blackie now, balancing while the dragon curled up.

She knew. She didn’t know why it was significant, but she knew one thing about that date.

Her birthday.

************

A little note about this chapter. I found it really hard to write! I didn’t expect those two antagonists to show up, and giving them their own separate voice was a challenge. Now, as I’ve said often before, this is basically the first draft, so I suppose it still kinda sucks, despite having worked on editing it already. When I edit it next (=when it’s up for narration for the podcast), I know I’ve got some work to do with this one!

The Last Kiss

Vampires are supposed to be immortal, awe-inspiring, grand and terrifying. That’s what the stories say. I can tell you with confidence, the stories lie.
These past few days have been, without exaggeration, the worst of my life. I died. Then lived again. I’ve been trying to find my way back home. The sweet smell of a squirrel made me follow the animal, lusting for their blood. I got caught in a spider web, but escaped in time, before the spider showed up. I was afraid of spiders before, now I’m terrified of them.
I finally reach my home, right in time before sunrise. I slumber beneath the deck now, together with my fellow vampires. Most of them aren’t sentient like me. They keep their form. I’ve turned back to human shape, but it already feels awkward. I should sleep the day away. I don’t want to. I know the nightmare will just repeat over and over. My eyes fall shut anyway.
I’m on the deck, my husband next to me. Twilight turns the sky into the most beautiful combination of colours. Several itchy pin pricks on my bare skin. The mosquitos are out in force today. I jump up and make my way inside. I say: “it’s not fair how they don’t want anything to do with you!” My voice sounds both petulant and ludicrous. “They completely eat me up. Definitely the worst thing about summer. Can’t even enjoy the sunset.”
The last thing I remember, is falling asleep on the couch. I wake up in a ditch.
Glitch.
I’m on the deck.
My eyes open. I’m under the deck. I can feel it, the transformation will start soon. Someone is walking above, the wood creaks. A voice. His voice.
“She’s been gone for weeks now, and still they haven’t found any clues. They don’t say it, but I know they believe she ran off and left me. She wouldn’t have done that, I know her!”
Weeks? Surely it had only been days? Oh my love, we’ll be reunited soon. My arms and legs change. Wings sprout out of my back. My skin feels weird as my body transforms completely. It’s time.
I command the other vampires to follow me. I didn’t even know I could do that. The more of us suck his blood, the more chance of infecting him. We all take off, squeezing through the boards. A jovial feeling consumes me. I land on my husbands neck. Like giving a kiss, I extend my mouth and pierce the skin, let out my venom and suck the blood. It tastes good. Pure bliss engulfs me. Soon he’ll join me.
I see the shadow too late. A large hand turns into darkness, followed by pain. My body is broken. He pinches me between thumb and forefinger, lifts me up to eye level. Squinting, he murmurs: “stupid mosquitoes”, before dropping me. I die before hitting the ground.
This time for good.

*************

This little story was written for ‘the horrible writing podcast support’ facebook group. There is a monthly writing challenge. The story can’t have than 500 words, and the other rules for this month’s challenge were: set in summer, show something of summer’s harshness (blood sucking insects are definitely on the top of my list for that), mention the words jovial, squirrel, ludicrous, use a different tense to your usual one (I mostly write in 3rd pov past tense, so chose 1st pov present tense for this one). Hope you enjoyed! OH! The best stories of each monthly challenge are chosen to be featured in a new podcast, The Stories We Tell Podcast. I’m pleased to say that mine have been chosen for all the months I’ve participated so far, yaay! The first episode of that podcast is scheduled to be released soon. Find it on Facebook, Twitter, and look for it on your favourite podcast-listening app.

Nadec ch 19: A Tiny Meow

Previously: Blackie had flown off to wake the zlurp. Nadec and Wyny discovered a piece of an ancient statue, which had been thought of as a myth. Nadec’s halberd reacts to the statue, making for another confirmation of what the zlurps had said about Nadec. Was she really a princess? Read all the previous chapters here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

With a rush of air, Blackie swooped down from above. She landed on top of the statue and began eating the grass. Nadec looked up at her, incredulity painted on her face.

‘She’s been gone for almost the whole day and just ignores us? I need to know what happened.’

Wyny glanced at her. ‘Well, you are the one who had sent her off in the first place, she is most likely quite hungry from the flight. It was a fairly large distance after all.’

Nadec grumbled. He was right. Partly. She hasn’t sent her off, she had suggested it and the dragon had agreed. Perhaps she disliked killing as much as Nadec did. Either way, she still wanted to know if anything special had happened. After discovering her true heritage—getting strong confirmation of the suspicion anyway, nothing has been vouched as certain yet—she’d sat down next to the statue to think. Kitty had taken residence on her lap. Wyny had sat next to her, in his own silent contemplation. He hadn’t said a word when she came back from testing the heat of the halberd’s blade. Perhaps he had realised when she needed to be left alone. He really was a good man. A little bit stiff at times, but that fit his ruler-trope-profile perfectly.

‘How do you think she would be able to tell you what she saw? It is not as if she can talk to us.’ He was looking up at the dragon, face contemplative and amazed at the same time. In a quieter, more thoughtful voice, he said: ‘It is still full of wonder, I never believed to some day meet a dragon. They are myths, as the statue of the originals is supposed to be.’ His head turned towards her. ‘If I was a storyteller, I would never want to leave your side, you appear to attract all the wonder and adventure to you.’

She grimaced a groan. The spark of an idea formed in her though. Perhaps she could find a writer some day to write down her adventures?

‘Will you be my Loial?’ She had meant it in jest, but of course he didn’t understand it. The flippant tone of her voice grew soft. ‘If it was up to me, I’d rather not have these adventures. I didn’t mind my life… before all of this started. Days can go by without thinking of my parents. But then there are the most random moments when the emptiness they left hits me like a… like a dragon running into me, but without losing consciousness.’

He opened his mouth and closed it again. Shuffling, he closed in and looked at her, his usual serious face made softer by his eyes. She’d never noticed it before, but they had a thin outer ring of golden yellow around the blue. Nadec could see something in them. Compassion. Curiosity. Guilt? Her thoughts straight away ridiculed herself. Bah, reading emotions in eyes is such goat shit, more chance of getting it wrong than right. What’s he trying to do though? She squinted at him sideways.

‘I understand you do not like talking about yourself. And I am not pressing you,’ he said that last bit hurriedly while holding up his hand. ‘But what happened? How did you become a… a red knight? Is there anything you can, or want to share?’ When she didn’t immediately answered, he added: ‘It is alright if you prefer not to say anything, Nadec.’

That was the first time he’d ever called her by her name. She shut her eyes for a moment. There were things she could tell him. Other things, she wasn’t allowed to say to anyone. Her employers were secretive, annoying as it is. Not that she had anyone to share things with ever since her ex disappeared—left her. She could trust Wyny. She did trust him. Opening her eyes, she let herself fall back and looked up. Blackie’s tail stuck out from the top of the statue, wagging like a dog. It was hypnotising, enough to distract her from what she was about to say.

‘My parents died.’ Her voice hitched up, but she focused on the wagging tail. It helped. ‘I suppose you already knew that. I moved out a year before it happened, to live with my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend now of course, he left me not long after the funeral. Which never made much sense to me because they never got along with him and he always defended me. Actually, it was after a large argument with them about him that I moved out.’ She was rambling now. She didn’t care. It was the first time she told this to anyone. She never had many friends, the few she had, stopped being friends during her relationship with Frank. The story poured out. Kitty had moved from her lap to her tummy, in easy stroking distance.

‘Part of me still wants to believe he didn’t really leave me but something happened to him. Part of me never wanted to accept that my parents happened to be in the same airplane when it crashed. They went on business trips all the time, but almost never together. But… I suppose… They weren’t business trip after all. They were skipping back here, to rule their kingdom. Right?’ She sighed, not giving Wyny chance to reply. It wasn’t a question meant to be answered anyway.

‘I didn’t even know them, why didn’t they ever tell me about all of this?’ She waved her arms randomly to point out The Other Realm. ‘Didn’t they think I was good enough to be their heir? Was I a disappointment? Ugh. Well, so, everyone was gone. I was in a very bad place when I tripped on the sidewalk. I crawled towards a wall and just sat there until I should’ve been dehydrated from crying. No one stopped to ask if I was alright. I wasn’t, and I guess no one would’ve been able to help me anyway.’ She closed her eyes and was surprised to feel a tear roll down both of her temples.

‘Then suddenly, there was a rustling to my right. So obviously I looked towards it and got greeted with the smallest, frailest meow of all times. A tiny kitten wobbled towards me. He let me pick him up, and a baby purr started up straight away.’ As if he knew she was talking about him, Kitty began purring, the vibration soothing through her belly.

‘I wiped my eyes and took him to the nearest vet. They said he was probably about 5-6 weeks and wouldn’t have survived much longer if I hadn’t found him. The thing is, I wouldn’t have survived much longer if he hadn’t found me. We saved each other.’

She gave Kitty a cuddle—as well as she could while lying down—and opened her eyes, moving her head to look at Wyny.

‘I suppose I got a bit sidetracked, I’ll get to the red knight thing soon. But yeah, from that day on, Kitty and me have always been together. Except, I had to leave him behind too often to do my duties, after they’d recruited me. But I also didn’t want to put him in danger. Half a year ago I decided to train him anyway. So that’s where we’re at now. As for the red knight stuff, four weeks after my parents passed away, a—’

‘RUN’

The voice boomed in her head, loud enough to scare her upright. The flapping of massive bat-like wings couldn’t drown out the next sentence.

‘MUST, NADEC, YOU RUN. WYNY, LEAVE. KITTY, TAKE!’

Instinct kicked in. She picked up Kitty, grabbed her bundle, but stopped. Wyny looked at her in confusion. He hadn’t heard the voice. Why should she have to leave him, that didn’t make any sense?

‘NOT PANIC!’

Before she had time to process what that meant, the dragon’s feet—in a display of surprising dexterity—grabbed her around the waist. She lifted in the air, Wyny’s still confused face tipped back to follow her up.

‘No! Wyny, no! Please, Blackie, what are you doing? We can’t leave him! Oh no, who are those people? We have to help him, Blackie. Why?’

Nadec ch 18: The Statue

Previously: After talking to the zlurp, Nadec, Wyny, and Kitty leave the cave in a rush, flying on the back of Blackie. Once down, they decide to head toward a point in the distance Wyny had recognised. He believes there is a city, and in the city they should be able to confirm or disprove the  zlurps’ claims. On the way there, they discover a piece of a large statue. Read all the previous chapters here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Nadec felt guilty about the way she’d treated Wyny. He had saved her once and took care of her when she had the concussion. Granted, she’d saved him more often, but that was merely part of her job. He didn’t owe her anything, yet he had decided to come with her and help. And what did she do? She threw rocks at him when he wanted to help her figure things out. Smooth, Nadec, very smooth. He didn’t appear to be disturbed about it though.

She stuffed one of the colourful rocks—a piece of what used to be an enormous statue—in her bundle. Not for the first time she thought how much easier it would’ve been if the zlurp hadn’t destroyed the emergency bag she’d taken when fleeing from the burning apartment. At least they would’ve had a map. She ducked to avoid walking in a spider web—she knew how strong they could be by being caught in them several times before. Many things were similar to Earth, yet with subtle —and often not so subtle—differences to The Oth—Troponia. Her giggle got a backward glance from Wyny, who was leading the way closer to the statue part. With a wave and a shake of her head, she urged him to continue.

Not long after, they reached the statue. Nadec was fairly sure it had taken them only about twenty minutes—including weaving around the trees and dense shrubs. She dropped her arm in irritation. The habit of having a watch was still there, but her fitness tracker had also fallen victim to the zlurp. Although she wasn’t happy about wasting time like this, it did seem like a good idea to check this thing out. Especially because of the way Wyny had reacted, completely awe-struck.

The statue lay in a clearing, probably caused by its very presence. It was large. Big patches of moss covered the coloured strata on the side. The top had grass and trees. Nadec frowned at it. The shape was wrong, not what she’d expected a statue cutout of the pelvic area and butt to be. She could clearly see the male parts, and when she walked around, there was the leg, but instead of a buttock, another leg appeared to be attached. And that—Oh. She squinted and leaned closer.

‘They did a very detailed job on this. I could even get in there. Is that an actual hole?’

When she moved aside the vines growing down from the front, where she supposed two female legs came together, she saw it was even more detailed than she thought at first glance. She ducked down and, snorting in amusement, popped her head in the middle hole. It was wide enough at the opening for her shoulders to fit. When she managed to squeeze her arm up, she felt it get more narrow very quickly, yet there was no end to the opening, not where she could reach it.

Quite moist in here. The thought made her chuckle. Kitty meowed at her feet. Nadec ducked down out of the cavern again and patted him on the head before lifting him for a cuddle. ‘I’m alright buddy,’ she whispered, ‘thanks for your concern’.

‘Is there anything else you know about this statue, Wyny?’ He stiffened at that. Pagewyn was what he preferred, and he didn’t care much for the nickname she’d given him. All the more reason to keep calling him that, she thought, he’ll grow to like it eventually. ‘It was obviously man and woman, standing back to back. Why? Who were they? You said it had a lot of power and that’s why they pulled it apart and dispersed it. But how? How could they’ve cut those pieces and moved them?’

She kept walking around until she got back to the male side.

‘And why do they have holes in them? Anatomically correct holes for that matter?’

Wyny kept quiet for a while, studying her and the statue. She let him. If there was one habit of him she knew by now, it was his thoughtful manner. He liked to think and ruminate before speaking. Usually. He sighed deeply before replying.

‘I do not know the answer to many of those questions.’ He turned his head away and his shoulders came forward. ‘This has not been part of the lessons I received. I—’ he glanced at her, pulled his shoulders back and lifted his head up high again. ‘I will admit that I have not been raised to be a ruler. I, more than likely, received more education than many other people, but on a decent amount of topics, I lack an embarrassing portion of knowledge. Come to think of it, it is almost as if… never mind.

‘Here is the little I know of the statue. Obviously the things I told you before, and this: while it was still in one piece, it could enhance objects. Legend says that, for instance, feeding a weapon through one of their mouths, would improve it. I suppose I never understood this, I always assumed it was merely a manner of speech. But,’ he cleared his throat and his cheeks turned a shade more red, ‘I can see now how it would have worked. I believe the weapon would go through the body, receive its power, and come out the natural way.’ He managed to say that last sentence without tripping over the words from shame.

During his talk, Nadec had taken her halberd from her back. She looked at it now, lost in thought. Ever-sharp blade. It sounds supernatural. Could it have been passed through the statue? If so, that would make the weapon even more special. She looked up.

‘You think…?’

He nodded. ‘I believe it is most likely one of the PPW.’ His eyes opened wide. ‘Well! I never thought much about that classification until now! PP—pee pee—W stands for powerpooped weapon. That makes a whole lot of sense now.’

‘Powerpooped weapons?’ Nadec’s voice was incredulous. Then she let out a deep and genuine laugh. ‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard in ages!’ Another bellow of laughter doubled her up, before she let herself drop back on the ground. ‘And I suppose not many of these PPW are left and it’s been considered a myth by many people?’

‘Well. If my opinion counts as the general opinion, then yes. I never thought they were real, and when I saw your blade, I suppose it did cross my mind but I could not believe it. Until now.’

Typical. Another trope. Special, power wrought weapons, lost to most. It probably was connected to the statue and can be found to find all the parts, that would be the perfect additional trope. She snort-chuckled but it broke off as she laid a hand on the blade. Stories from people who feel the blood drain from their face had always seemed silly to her, but she believed them now. She felt herself grow a shade paler.

Wyny asked what was wrong, although his voice sounded muffled, as if underwater. The halberd’s blade was hot. Not warm from sun heating it up, but hot as if it should be blazing red. Yet it didn’t hurt her. She shook her head. No. She stood up and immediately ran away as fast as she could, ignoring Wyny’s shouts. Faint rustling followed her.

She stopped after a minute and felt the blade again. It was still hot, but somehow she knew it was less than before. ‘No.’ Her voice was as quiet like the whispers of the breeze through the trees. The zlurp had been telling the truth. Heir to a royal family. Perhaps even a descendant of these Originals, connected to the statue. Or perhaps you’re being foolish, everyone could have been giving this halberd, it doesn’t make them royalty.

Yes, maybe it was a coincidence. But she trusted her gut feeling. She walked back towards the statue and Wyny, scooping up Kitty on her way. Her gut told her it was true; her parents had been rulers of a kingdom, not hard-working business people on Earth as she grew up believing. They’d been eliminated by throne usurpers. So much more made sense with that in mind. Their business trips. Their sneaky looks at each other. The obvious secrets they were hiding. She was a princess. Or, with her parents gone, was she a queen instead? No. No, no, one needs to be crowned first before being called a queen. What a mess.

She was a gorwakgutsing princess!

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Nadec, the podcast is on episode 3 right now! The earlier chapters have been revised and extended, so if you like this story, you might like the extended chapters. You can listen to them or read.

Nadec ch 17: Rocks

Previously: After talking to the zlurp, Nadec, Wyny, and Kitty leave the cave in a rush, flying on the back of Blackie. Once down, they decide to head toward a point in the distance Wyny had recognised. He believes there is a city, and in the city they should be able to confirm or disprove the  zlurps’ claims. First, they need to get there. Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘Where did Blackie go?’

The question slashed through the silence of their walk. It had been a silence of words, not a complete silence as the crackling of leaves and twigs under their feet formed an orchestra of wood sounds along with the tweeting birds. Wyny looked at Nadec, the question as much on his face as it had been in his words. He suspected she had something to do with it.

‘How should I know? She’s a free animal.’

His eyes narrowed at her. She rolled hers at him.

‘The last time I saw her was yesterday evening, right before falling asleep. It woke me up this morning, not having her by my side. I’ve gotten used to her warmth. And presence.’

She absently lifted her hand to stroke Kitty, who was riding along on her shoulder. Since their unexpected flight to The Other Realm—or Troponia, as she often called it now—her furry buddy had been holding up pretty well. Nadec suspected that their meeting Blackie had much to do with it. The dragon and the cat had formed an almost immediate and super strong bond.

‘You had her go back to the cave to wake the zlurp, have you not?’

Nadec stopped in shock. She slowly turned her head towards Wyny. He stood there stoically. Even while wearing peasant clothes, his royal bearing was obvious. His face was serious. Nadec felt herself shrivel under his gaze. She did not like confrontation. But she also did not like to cower down before anyone.

‘I did.’ She met his stare eye for eye. Who did he think he was? She didn’t have to answer to him.

‘Why would you do that? You know what he had said. Blackie might be flying straight into their hands. She might be in danger now. And once the zlurp is awake, he can tell them things.’

He was serious, wasn’t he? Nadec felt her face redden and her blood boil.

‘What can he tell them? Oh, huh, they took a bunch of clothes and left me here, eeuuh. We’ll be fine. Blackie will be fine.

But now doubt crept up to her, like a wriggling traitorous itch on her back. Had she sent Blackie to her death? No, the dragon could take care of herself. And there really wasn’t anything the zlurp could tell them. Except… except what he’d told her and Wyny. Would it be a disadvantage if they knew that she knew? Wyny was still looking at her, silent.

‘No, I mean, yes, she’ll be fine. You’ll see. The zlurp was probably too out of it to remember what he’d told us anyway.’ Damnit, she thought when she saw Wyny shift. He hadn’t even thought of that yet. She’d have to give him something more.

‘I just couldn’t let him die. Too many have died on my hands already.’ Her voice was soft. She’d tried to keep it low enough so he wouldn’t hear.

‘Anyway, we should keep going, still a long way to go.’ The words came blurting out when his face softened and he took a step toward her. She moved away from him in the direction they’d been going.

‘I’m sure Blackie will join us by tonight, we’re only three days away and she’s a fast flyer. At least, I assume she is. How long until we reach the city near the, what was it again, the spiraling spinal spine pines?’ The chuckle she forced sounded hollow. Perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to leave Wyny behind. It’s no good having people around, because that leads to talks, and those eventually sometimes lead to deeper talks. And Wyny appeared to be a trigger for her.

‘Bloody ridiculous man,’ she murmured under her breath at the same time he said: ‘Yes, that was the name, I am not certain how far it is still. If Blackie was here, we could ask her to take us up long enough to get our bearing.’

She flinched as he put his hand on her shoulder. Oh no, he’s not! She knew what he was up to, once again he wasn’t letting go of the momentarily weakness she’d showed. He liked to latch on to those moments, as if those convinced him she was a woman. Even worse, as if that meant he was a woman who needed a man by her side. Fool.

The underground crunched beneath her feet as Nadec swerved to the side, putting a tree between them, dismissing his hand in an effective and—she hoped—inconspicuous way. He wasn’t ready to give up yet though.

‘We will need to talk about it someday, Nadec.’

‘No, we don’t. I don’t know what you mean. Just keep walking. We’ll listen to any rumours in the city first. I’m sure they’ll tell us the zlurp was lying.’

‘You do not believe that. I saw your face when he mentioned your parents. Were they really—’

He ducked right in time to avoid the rock she threw at his head.

‘Perhaps,’ she bent down to pick several more rocks, ‘it wasn’t a coincidence,’ she aimed another rock at him, ‘that I was sent to rescue you. Perhaps,’ another rock, ‘it also wasn’t a coincidence,’ this one hit him on the shoulder, ‘that you skipped along with me. Perhaps,’ a grunt from a solid impact on his back, ‘it wasn’t a coincidence that my couch exploded while you were there.’

The last rock went flying over his head. She didn’t really want to hurt him. Much. Only a little. That felt good. Perfect vent for the frustration she’d been feeling lately. He gaped at her. She went down her knees, searching the ground.

‘No! That is not, you can not believe I have anything to do with that! Please, I would never hurt you.’

She shut out his pleas. It was good to hear him grovel. Was he too adamant about his innocence though? She shook her head. She didn’t suspect him of such a thing. Well, Frankdamn fucking shit. I suppose I really trust him. The thought surprised her.

When she straightened again, holding more rocks, he stopped babbling and steadied himself. He was going to take it like a man, it seemed. Although why he wouldn’t tell her to stop or come up to her to try to take the rocks away, or anything else, was beyond her. Social difference between man-woman interaction on Earth vs Troponia she supposed.

‘Relax, I’m done throwing these at you. Come have a look. Do they look man-made?’

Wyny looked at her warily but came closer anyway. The hewn marks were clearly visible on the rock, now that she was paying attention. It was a special blue-pink color, strata of both colours forming a mesmerising effect. She almost dropped them at the startling gasp coming from Wyny.

‘The statue of the Originals. It is supposed to be only a myth, but this colour. It is unmistakable. It is said that the statue was divided in eleven parts and carried away to other lands. The power of the complete statue was said to be too powerful. One of the parts must be… There!’

He pointed, but all Nadec could see was a hill with a funny protrusion at one end.

‘Oh’. The only thing she could say. Of course. Of course the part they had to come across was the middle. Of course she had to get the balls again.

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In case you missed it, the first episode of Nadec: the podcast has been released on the weekend. The extended and improved narrated version of the previously published chapters is accompanied by comments from Nadec, a short excerpt from how she tells the story to Astrid, and bloopers.

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