Nadec first draft

Ch 1: Deadline

‘Gorwak guts!’ Her watch showed her that she’d missed her deadline by half a day. She cursed again and tapped it a few times in frustration. ‘Bloody thing,’ she murmured, frowning, ‘I’m sure that had been more than 37 000 steps.’ She’d always been annoyed that none of the fitness trackers would accurately account for all of the steps she took while in the air.

Dislodging her halberd from the dead creature’s head, Nadec tried to use its clothes to wipe her weapon clean. Calling it clothes may be overdoing it too much. It didn’t look like more than a strap of fabric with two holes at each end for the head, covering nothing more than the spine section of the back, down to everything between the legs, and back up to whatever was in the middle of the front body. The part near the ass seemed to have been wedged in between the fiery orange, purple-haired buttocks, which had distracted Nadec a lot during the fight. She felt lucky that the cloth seemed to be attached tightly enough to keep its position at the front.

The thightness prevented her from being able to use it for wiping the pink blood off her weapon, so she used her side knife to cut the cloth off near the neck. When she was done with that little bit of battle-aftercare, she couldn’t help but take a peek at what the cloth was meant to cover. She swore once again, this time directed at herself. Every time she told herself that she’d never do it again, but every time she did it anyway. She gave an exaggerated shudder and contorted her face in disgust. It would definitely have distracted her during fighting.

She shortened the halberd’s shaft and flung it at her back. The magnets held on to it immediately, keeping the weapon in its place. It had taken her a while to find a proper way of carrying it. At first she’d tried the traditional hip-carry, but because of the large size of the weapon and her rather diminutive stature, that didn’t go very well. After tripping over it several times and cutting herself more than once, she’d gone on a mission to find a better way. Having it on her back was perfect. The weight was placed in the most central and supported spot, the handle stuck out over her tight shoulder, in perfect reach to grab it with her right hand. She’d tried to have it at the left shoulder but it was a big struggle to get a hold of then.

She shrugged, letting the weight of it settle, and took one last look at the 4 dead orange creatures around her. Poor buggers didn’t stand a chance against her. A chuckle escaped her mouth. Suddenly remembering her deadline, she hurriedly went up to the xlups’ camp fire and untied the man laying there. He’d been tied to a thick branch, ready to rotate on top of the fire.

‘There you go buddy,’ already turning around to leave, anxious now that she had her deadline back in her mind. Her fans would probably be wining again about the lateness of her blogpost. She bent down her knees slightly, slapping them against each other in quick succession whith her hands placed on top, appearing to follow her knees. Except that her arms alternated between getting crossed and opening up, giving the illusion that her legs were doing funny things. The expected build-up of energy came quickly and she concentrated on where she needed to go. With the next crossing of her arms, she found herself back in her house. Her cat immediately came up to her, meowed and jumped up in her arms, purring as loudly as a car-sized bumblebee.

‘What just happened?’ A male voice asked, so out of nowhere that she jumped and her furry buddy dug in his claws at the movement. Nadec looked down and saw the man she’d just fried, only now letting go of her ankle.

Ch 2: Stranger

‘I have no time for this,’ Nadec announced to the man laying at her feet, who looked around in confusion. ‘I’m already past my deadline.’ Her cat jumped from her shoulders, sniffing at the strangers’ bare knees. Nadec grabbed her halberd from her back, once again praising herself for making the mechanism for shortening its shaft and the magnets to keep it safely in place. In the process of doing so, she could see all the pink blood on her hands and clothes and uttered a long and solidly vulgar curse.

‘I better take a shower first,’ she muttered. She looked over at the man again, who had pushed himself to a sitting position by now but still looked pretty dazed. Remembering the first time she’d skipped, she felt a bit of some sympathy towards him. Whatever he had to endure from the xlups probably only added to his feeling unwell.

She couldn’t feel too sorry for him though, it’s his own fault, he shouldn’t have grabbed her ankle and then he wouldn’t have skipped along! Her brows drawn down, she took a blanket of her couch and tossed it to him.

‘Here, at least cover yourself up, you can have a shower after I’ve finished.’ His face showed a lot of confusion at her words, and she saw him mouth the word shower. Not wanting to waste anymore time, she grunted while ignoring him and walked towards her bathroom.

Feeling immensely better after her quick shower, she immediately went to work on her blog. Trying to explain to the stranger how the shower worked, and everything else, would definitely be too tedious of a job so she didn’t bother, for now. Her desk was part of the large open space containing the lounge room, kitchen and dining area all at once, so she could watch the stranger while she worked on her blog. Annoyingly though, she seemed to watch him more than be able to type own words.

He had draped the blanket on his back like a cape, completely missing the point of it needing to cover him up. He’d been walking around the room slowly, stopping at every little thing and looking it over for several minutes a piece. Nadec decided that he was not bad looking at all, especially considering the average looking people of the other realm. Her eyes kept drifting back towards his uncovered body. Definitely much better than what the xlups had to offer. That thought made her snicker quietly. Even in modern day standards this man would hold up very well compared to other men. Dark hair falling in waves on to his shoulders, unshaven chin and cheeks—something between stubble and a beard—tall, lean, obviously muscled in all the right places. She felt a warmth spreading from the middle of her tummy and quickly averted her eyes and stared back at the computer screen.

A scream, a feline squeal, and a clattering sound, made her look back at the man again, all senses alert. He had stumbled back from the window—she assumed—tripped over her cat, knocked over her side table and rolled over the back of the couch, hitting the lounge table so hard with his forehead that the wood made a creaking echo. Or maybe that was the sound of his head splitting open. Rolling her eyes, she looked back at her computer screen, scowled at the ten words she’d written, and got up with a sigh.

After fetching her first aid kit, she knelt next to the stranger. ‘Alright fella, let me see. Ooh, that’s quite the cut. Right, sit down in the lounge. Yes, that’s this large red thing behind you.’ She cleaned out the cut and used her special skin glue to keep it together. That should do. He let her do it, looking at her in silence, studying her face, which made her cheeks heat up. She was not used to being looked at so intently.

‘My deadline isn’t going anywhere so I might as well give you some attention. Do you have any other wounds? Did the xlups hurt you in any way?’

‘No, I am alright,’ he replied softly after clearing his throat. ‘Who are you and where am I? Is this a castle? How can we be so high above the ground and the view is strange, what are all those weird things I saw?’ He hid it well, but Nadec was certain she could detect a good amount of  discomfort and even fear in his questions.

‘Alright, I’ll try to explain things to you,’ aiming to covertly move the blanket to cover his lap. Too distracting otherwise. ‘First, tell me who you are, where you come from, how the xlups caught you and why I’d been sent to free you?’

The stranger pulled himself up, sitting as straight as possible, his chin lifted up slightly—the blanket shifted again, causing Nadec to sigh.

‘I am Pagewyn O’Elope d’Onnosely, ruler of Paralelo, master of the Squares, defender of the Triangles, chief of all Lines, bearer of the Wooden Water Crown!’

Not knowing whether to swear again or to stare, Nadec burst out in gales of laughter.

Ch 3: Blurgh-woods

‘This is wonderful!’

The voice coming from her bathroom sounded as if on the verge of climax. Nadec grunted in recognition. A good hot shower can do that to a person, she knew the feeling well enough. Especially after spending a lot of time in the other realm, where the only option of washing yourself is usually a cold stream or nothing at all. Extremely inconvenient when she was on her period.

She went back to staring at her computer screen. 20 words. Great, only 480 more to go. She vaguely wondered if this was going to be the beginning of the end for her blog. Will her 24 followers now revolt because she missed her deadline? That thought did not help her writer’s block at all. And that last one made her stiffen, realising what she’d called it. Well fu— Her couch exploded.

She managed to jump from her chair quickly enough to cower on the ground. Debris landed on top of her, mostly pieces of fabric and wood. Not wasting any time, she grabbed the halberd from its place behind her, changing in her realm-gear in record time.

‘Kitty!’ Panicked, she looked around, followed by immediate relief at seeing the grey cat run towards her, meowing. ‘I know buddy, this sucks.’ She slipped on his harness and put him on her shoulders, ran to the bathroom to get Pagewyn. Before she got there, he came through the door, his eyes wide, water dripping from his wet hair and his body. Naked again.

Nadec shook her head, trying but failing at keeping the nngggh sound in. That man had no right to be so good-looking and wet.

‘Hold on to me,’ she snapped, bending through her knees, moving them against each other while shifting her hands over them. She felt Kitty balance himself, meowing softly. Feeling guilty for doing this to him while his training hadn’t been completed yet, she hoped he’d be fine during the shifting.

The next moment they were in the woods, trees all around them. Nadec looked next to her and was relieved to see that Pagewyn had complied to her command. When he let go of her shoulder, he turned around and threw up.

‘Sorry buddy, shifting twice in a short period of time can do that to you. Eventually one gets used to it though. Now, where are we?’

Because she’d had to hurry up to get away, she hadn’t been able to pinpoint a precise location. She didn’t recognise anything around her, but that was okay. The woods  looked the same almost everywhere anyway. Ah, there we go, she thought, looking at the two creature running towards them. It appears that we’re in the Blurgh-woods.

The blurghs running, or stumbling—whatever you want to call it—towards her were about half again as tall as she was, which made them as tall as an average ceiling. Their skin colour imitated a bark, with browns, grays, and even some greens. Nadec felt immense relief at seeing the leaves they used to cover up some body parts; they didn’t always had those and it was too distracting. Their faces were twisted knots and dents, vaguely looking like a human face but you’d need to have a lot of imagination to see it.

‘Hey Wyny, I don’t know if you’ve ever fought these guys, but it would be nice if you could give me a hand. I mean, of course I can do it myself but I’ve got to keep an eye on Kitty as well, she’s not trained well enough for it. Here, use this stick.’ She frowned at him.

‘Hold it out.’ She took a few good swings towards the stick. Her ever-sharp halberd cut through it almost without any resistance.

‘There, just use it now like you would a sword. The trick with these guys is to numb them and they’ll just turn around and stumble elsewhere. Do you see that red-brown coloured area on the side of their body? The one that looks like… you know… a lady’s part?’

She could see him colouring a bit at that and felt oddly satisfied for it. He’s been making me blush often enough already, she thought with a pang of pleasure.

‘Just try to hit that with as much force as you can, and that should do the trick. Oh, but do try to stay away from their—woaah here they are!’

Ch 4: The Squares

The last one of the Blurghs stumbled away in the direction where the other one had gone. Nadec knelt on the ground next to Kitty, congratulating the cat for jumping against the knob in precisely the right way. It looks like the practice they’d been doing had paid off. Nadec didn’t think Kitty would’ve been able to jump as powerful when they’d only started the training. Purring loudly and giving all the head bumps, he accepted all the pats, ear scratches, and belly rubs with visible pleasure.

Booping the cat on the nose, Nadec murmured to him: ‘We better check on our walking trope-friend.’ Chuckling at her own joke—the man really was the stereotype of a prince charming from a faraway kingdom—she walked over to what looked like a car-sized ball of brown yarn. Granted, only the size of a really small car, but it still made her sigh and roll her eyes.

‘How often am I going to have to save this guy?’ But she still took her serrated knife from her boot and went to work on cutting the threads.

An hour later she finally saw wrinkly and quite hairy flesh through the slim ropes. Of course the first part of his body to come upon had to be the middle. Gritting her teeth, she moved to a different part of the tangle of yarn. She was not going to expose his balls first! Estimating where his upper body was, she started cutting in that new area. When she’d finally managed to expose his head, she couldn’t stop a sniff of relief.

‘Good, you’re not dead.’

‘What was that!’ he cried out, terror on his face.

‘Relax buddy, you’re fine.’ She sounded more calm than she felt. He hadn’t even tried to defend himself during the fight! While she had been struggling to hit the knob on the Blurgh in front of her, he’d just been standing there like a stupid with a stick. His Blurgh hadn’t hesitated in turning around and sprouting its threads from its ass. Nadec had to concentrate on her own fight too much to help him so by the time she’d managed to make hers stumble away, Wyny had been well and good rolled up.

Before she had been able to engage the large and bark-like-skinned creature, Kitty had decided that the ball had become too large to play with. So she’d jumped up against the Blurgh a few times until she’d hit the sweet spot, the red knob which numbs them enough to stumble off in confusion.

‘Why didn’t you fight?’ she demanded of him while still cutting. Okay, so maybe she couldn’t manage to keep the calm face. Stupid man, giving me so much trouble, I’ll need to buy a new couch, heck, probable need to find a new apartment too.

‘You’re not going to cost me my perfect score too, I’ll keep you safe until you get back to your stupid kingdom, what was it again, Parallelogram, wherever that is, no matter how long it takes, but it better not take too long, fuck, there’s still my deadline, how am I going to explain that, …’ She kept on mumbling, not noticing the stunned look on his face.

‘Paralelo,’ he cut in, swallowing visibly because of the fierce look she gave him. ‘I don’t know how to use a stick, or a sword.’

Before he could continue, nadec burst out: ‘What do you mean, you don’t know how to use a sword! Doesn’t everyone in this realm use a stupid sword?!’ So much for the sword-swinging gorgeous trope-king he was supposed to be.

‘No, of course not, swords are useless.’ Nadec grunted in agreement while he continued, sounding more confident with each word.

‘I told you I am the master of the Squares, defender of the Triangles, chief of all Lines.’ With that, he lifted his newly freed arms and made some strange movements. Out of nowhere, a solid wooden Square appeared, floating in the air between them. With a few more movements, the box turned into two four-sided sticks in an L-shape.

‘These are my weapons.’

Once again, Nadec couldn’t do anything else but laugh, this time until she cried, her cheeks and abs hurting but unable to stop.

Ch 5: Laughter and tears

The empty look on Wyny’s face only added to her fit of hysterical laughter. Whenever it eased down into giggles, she made the mistake of looking at him again and that set her off once more. After the fourth time, she managed to keep from looking in his direction. The giggles scattered into an occasional chuckle. Her cheeks and belly ached. She wiped away the tears which had rolled from her eyes, unstoppable. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed this hard. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed out loud before meeting Wyny.

‘Okay, okay, I’m all good now. I’m sorry for my… outburst.’ She still didn’t look at him, and a snort escaped her. ‘I shouldn’t laugh at you so hard, I know it’s just cultural differences and all. Or should I call it realm-differences? Thank you anyway.’ She wasn’t sure why she thanked him, and he probably understood even less.

‘You are quite welcome.’ His voice sounded serious, not a single hint at the mocking he must be doing. Her head shot up, all snorts and giggles gone.

‘I am not quite sure what okay means, but I assume you have had a lonely life and thus many unleashed emotions. You saved my life several times now, and for that I owe you a debt. I will gladly absorb all the emotions you hurl at me. I hope that will help you feel better by the time we have to part ways.’

She blinked. She noticed that her jaw hung slack, so she shut it and swallowed the accumulated spit. That man! That man… The nerve! How did he suddenly turn into a shrink! She was just about to say something particularly nasty when he spoke up again.

‘As for my Squares, I did not have the time to call for them when the Blurghs were upon us. They do not take that long to appear, but sometimes it can be too much. Here’s what I could have done.’

He stood up, not caring about his glorious nakedness, and held the L-shaped sticks on the short ends, holding out the longer ends. Kinda like holding a gun, Nadec thought curiously but still furious at what he’d said. What’s he going to do, shoot out imaginary bullets? A grin started on her face but stopped midway when the stick did just that! Except that the bullets weren’t imaginary, and they weren’t bullets. The end of the long side seemed to grow before a piece dislodged itself and shot away. His sticks were shooting cubes!

‘See,’ he said, ‘I could have easily hit their red spots, to turn them around before they got close enough. If only I had a few more moments longer, and was not feeling so sick from… what did you call it? Ah, shifting.’

He gave her a look she didn’t quite understand, and slapped the sticks together, the shorter lengths on the opposite sides. Quicker than she could follow, he folded the sticks—the Squares?—on itself a few times. Before she could blink, his hands were empty. He looked at her with an intensity she couldn’t place. That deep stare stirred up butterflies in her middle. Her mouth felt dry. With a massive effort she tore free from the gaze. Why was she breathing so fast?

‘I need to be alone. Come Kitty.’ She picked up the lead and the cat jumped on her shoulders.

‘Wait! Don’t go! Did I say something wrong? Do you need something?’

‘No! You’ve done enough. Just… just stay here. I’ll be back soon. I just need… I don’t know. Stay.’

With that she turned around and walked off, Kitty on her shoulders and her thoughts all jumbled. She didn’t understand why she felt so confused. She wasn’t going to get a hunky other-realmer get to her with his silly words, was she?

‘Lonely. Urgh, I’m not lonely. I’ve got you,’ she muttered, while accepting and returning the feline’s headbuts on her cheek. ‘I don’t have unleashed emotions. What the hell. He has no idea what he’s talking about. Some king straight out of a fairy tale, what does he know!’

Yet she couldn’t stop her mind from returning to the events which had led to her being recruited by her current employers. She hadn’t realised she’d stopped walking until the sound of snapping branches startled her. Her head whipped to the source of the sound but her tears-filled eyes prevented her from seeing sharply.

A blurry figure, a blackness, rammed into her. A yell escaped her before a sharp pain on the head preceded the loss of consciousness.

Ch 6: Blackie

‘I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’ She was still mumbling when the nightmare was fading, the same one she’s had every night the past few years. Nadec’s throbbing temple speeded up the process into the waking world. Soon the last traces of the dreams disappeared and she stirred, trying to sit up. She couldn’t. Her hands and feet were bound together behind her back. I’m glad I started doing yoga last year, she thought as she considered her awkward position. Though it will still hurt when I get free.

Opening her eyes wasn’t easy. Something sticky prevented them from doing so . Blood. Of course. Stupid… whoever did this. They never seem to realise how dangerous a hit on the head was. It’s all good in movies and the like, but in real life a head injury is more likely to cause death instead of only unconsciousness. Seemed that she got lucky though, she was still alive. Hopefully no concu—nausea assaulted her. In a burst of panic, she managed to lift her head a bit and move it to the side before violently throwing up.

Her nose and throat stung from the vomit’s acidity. She tried blowing the stuff out of her nose as well as she could before shuffling backwards, away from the reeking spot. She cursed inwardly at the near certainty of having a concussion. But, where was she, and why was she bound? She grunted. Those should’ve been the first things I questioned, something’s wrong with my head alright.

‘Let me help you with that love,’ an amused, gravelly, and inhumanely deep voice grunted. Her heart jumped in her throat while she was lifted by the waist. Her body protested—the way she was tied up did not make this a pleasant experience. Thank you gravity. At least this realm has slightly less of a downward pull than Earth.

‘Here boy!’ the voice called out. Nadec’s half open eyes were too bleary to see more than vague blots of grouped colours. A wet rag got slapped in her face. It moved upwards. It wasn’t smooth at all. In fact, it felt like… A tongue! It was a tongue! A massive tongue, so much larger than Kitty’s, but with the same coarseness.

Kitty! All worries about being licked by a creature with a tongue larger than her head evaporated to a growing concern for her feline buddy. Nadec hoped with a passion that he’d managed to escape. All of a sudden she also remembered her other travel partner. Did he know she was captured? Is Kitty with him? Is he going to try and free me? A daydream of a nude prince on a white horse, galloping towards her, filled her vision. No, he wasn’t on a white horse, he was running. Running. Naked! That certainly changed the fairy tale-feel of the daydream.

‘Oi! Oi, princess!’ Large, purple, hairy fingers snapped in front of her eyes. She blinked several times in a row. Daydreaming about a prince—no, a king—saving her!? Her head must really be bad. It felt as if most of the dried blood was gone from her face, licked off together with the spew. Her sight had improved visibly. She snorted at that pun and immediately regretted it. Snorting after a puking session, and with a split head, is not a good idea! Working hard to steady her eyes, she looked at what was holding her.

The orange hairs only covered the back of the hands and fingers, but further up the arm and body the limb was attached to, it grew pretty much everywhere. Kinda like a very hairy man. Except twice as large and proportionally wide. She wasn’t sure what it was. Her first thought was a Xlurp, but even her addled brain knew the colours were in reverse. She groaned at seeing that this one had no covering strip of cloth. Farking great.

‘Xlurp? Princess?’ She didn’t realise she’d spoken—muttered—out loud until the harumph of the creature exploded in her head. He must’ve seen her wince, because to her large surprise, he apologised for the sound.

‘I’m sorry princess, Blackie gets too excited at times. He didn’t mean to knock you over. He especially didn’t mean to headbutt you so hard.’

‘Bl-blackie?’ The creature let one hand go from her waist, holding her up as easy with one as with two, and turned her head to the side. A dragon. There was a dragon. After all she’d seen in this realm in the past years, she shouldn’t be surprised, yet she was. None of the creatures here matched up with any of the myths and legends of Earth. None! Yet there it was, the blackness of the scales seemed to suck in the light. It wasn’t as large as she’d expected a dragon to be, but she still felt the blood drain from her face.

‘Did he eat my cat?’

Ch 7: Zlurps
‘I don’t know what a cat is.’ the reverse-coloured xlurp looked at her with a confused expression, pronouncing cat in a funny way. ‘But it’s fair to assume Blackie didn’t eat anything alive. She,’ he emphasised the gender, ‘doesn’t eat living things, she only eats the excrement. And she loves fruit.’
‘She? You called her boy earlier,’ she murmured. ‘Wait, what? The dragon… is… a vegetarian?’ Nadec asked befuddled. She must’ve heard wrong.
‘Vegetirn? Vegtern. Veggenar? Hrrmm. Strange words you use. She only eats fruit, and milk, eggs, poo, and everything else excreted by living things. She doesn’t eat the living things.’
That dragon had just licked her face. Was that shit she smelled? Nadec shook her head in bemusement and denial. That was a mistake. It felt as if a thousand knives stabbed under her skull. Eyes watering, she couldn’t stop herself from whimpering. Her hands wanted to hold her head, as if that would make it better. But they couldn’t move, she was still tied up.
The purple creature frowned and looked at her closer. He then set her down and removed her ties.
‘You don’t look as if you’re capable of escape, princess, so I suppose we can ease it up a bit love.’ Her tear-filled eyes overflowed at the burst of pain coming from her released muscles. Her legs cramped up completely, but the creature didn’t stop what he was doing.
After untying her completely, he brought her wrists together in front of her and bound them there, leaving a long lead. That he tied around his ankle. If ankle you could call a basketball-wide purple piece of a leg. She was glad to have tears streaming over her face. They blurred her vision enough—it was definitely not wearing any cloth over that area.
It wasn’t until she paid attention to the creature’s nudity, that she noticed her own lack of clothes.
‘Where the fuck are my clothes, xlurp?’ She wanted to use her most demanding voice, but it came out as a simpering question. Something was very wrong with her head. The dragon whinnied. It—she—sounded like a dog. I hate dogs, she scowled.
The creature’s face darkened and he—definitely male—put his face up close to Nadec’s, foreheads almost touching. She almost vomited again from the sight. Ridiculous small beady eyes, she would’ve chuckled at that cliché description if she didn’t feel like crap, blinked at her. Ugh, the eyelids were all wrong, they blinked from the left and the right instead of top and bottom. She counted at least 6 pimples, ripe to bursting, whiteheads about to explode.
There was no nose. Well, there was an indent which looked like the imprint of a nose, one hole in the very end, the deepest part of the cavity. The mouth was the worst thing. No visible lips, when he didn’t speak it just looked like a crack in his face, going from ear to ear. Anytime he did speak, it revealed a row of small, sharp teeth at the bottom, and nothing but smooth purple gum at the top. Smooth except for the areas where his own teeth had pierced the skin, causing pink blood to seep out, spreading around.
‘Listen carefully, I shall say this only once,’ he grumbled. On the outside her face remained passive, on the inside she was rolling on the floor laughing. I can’t believe he just gave me a perfect television quote.
‘I am not a xlurp. I am a zlurp. Zzz zzz. Zlurp. Not the same as the other.’ He said that last bit with a pause after each letter, teeth clenched. All of a sudden, he exhaled. In relief? In forced calmness? For whatever reason it was, he blew his breath right in her face. Nadec dry-heaved. That smell was too much.
The zlurp pulled back as quickly as if he got stung. The dragon came closer, tail wagging in anticipation. That damned thing wants me to throw up so she can eat it! The thought made her dry-heave some more. She hadn’t felt this miserable in years.
When her fit finally stopped, she looked up at the zlurp with tears streaming from her eyes, struggling to sit back up. She didn’t stop at that. With a massive effort, she managed to stand. Very unstable, ready to drop down any moment, but she was standing. Agony spread over her muscles, but she didn’t give in.
‘So, zlurp,’ she put as much contempt in that word as she could, ‘where in Frank’s name are my clothes?’ She shut her eyes tight for a second. ‘And my weapon!?’ She opened them again, focused on looking up and not straight forward. Brrhhhrrhhr, what a sight. ‘And why do you keep calling me a princess? Is that like a pet name you call all women? I’ll show you how much I’m not a princess.’
‘Love, you should know by now that you’re my prisoner. I am not giving you any weapons. As for your clothes, here, I’ll show you, follow.’
She had no choice but to follow him or get dragged along. She hated the way her boobs wiggled without her bra. All good and well when she was home alone and didn’t have to walk, but hiking through some kind of forest is a completely different thing. They were huge and painful as well. Stupid period would soon start, damnit.
‘Here you go, princess,’ the zlurp emphasised that last word, his face smug.
Oh no. She couldn’t keep standing and fell hard on her knees. These weren’t clothes. These were scraps of fabric. Useless. This… No. She loved this outfit. He’ll pay for this! Her eyes narrowed and she prepared to jump up. Nadec wasn’t precisely keen to feel the touch of his sticky scrotum on her head, but the thought of causing him pain made up for that. Before she could do anything, something zipped passed the corner of her eyes and a wet thump sounded. What the…?
The zlurp grunted quietly, a triangular piece of wood stuck in the cavity of his nose, pink blood dribbled from the tiny gaps. A perfect fit. Nadec’s heart sped up. He’s here, he really is. Then she passed out once more.

Ch 8: unexpected friendships
‘Nadec? Nadec, wake up. Come now, you are alright, are you not? Wake up!’
The voice cut through her head, every sound amplified in her broken brain.
‘Here, perhaps you should give it a try.’
Something soft and fluffy brushed against her face, accompanied by the quiet hum of a small engine. Funny enough, it didn’t hurt her head. A rough, wet thing scraped her cheek, over and over again. A tongue! Kitty! Nadec grinned before opening her eyes, one at a time.
She was on her back, head to the side. Her little purring machine sat next to her, replacing the licks with headbutts once he saw that her eyes were open. She groaned. And repeated the groan when that hurt. Gentle hands helped her sit up.
‘Easy now, I believe you have been injured quite severely.’
She looked to her left and there he was, kneeling. Pagewyn, the prince charming of parallelogram. No, that wasn’t it. What was his kingdom called again? Didn’t matter. And he wasn’t a prince, he was a king. And he saved me! They looked each other in the eyes for an awkward moment.
‘I guess it was about time that you saved me. Only a few more tries and we’re even.’ She laughed, a little bit shakily, and bumped her fist against his shoulder. Her head was still aching as much as ever. ‘What happened?’
‘Well, after you stormed off into the woods, I followed from a distance because I was not about to lose sight of you. Neither of us knows where we are. Are you alright to stand up?’ He got up first and helped her to her feet, but she shook her head and sat back down, looking at Kitty.
‘Then I saw that dragon barge into you, dropping you like a bag of seeds. Kitty wanted to defend you while you were unconscious, but the dragon scooped him up in one of his paws. I feared the worst for him but he was fine. They seemed to get along somehow?’ His voice turned up in wonder.
‘I followed them here, and saw the other creature cut your clothes away and tie you up.’
Bloody heavens, how could I forgot that I’m naked? Before the thought had fully formed, she tried to cover up her boobs and cross her legs. She couldn’t stop herself from looking up at him because that’s the proper thing to do when talking to someone. Yeah, he was also still naked. With him standing up and she sitting, the perspective wasn’t great. How many more balls am I going to look up to these days?
‘Kitty left the dragon right before you woke up. I prepared my Triangles as Squares, and waited for the right time. The nose cavity deemed me to be a perfect target. And it was, I got a perfect shot in and the creature died.’
‘What about the dragon, didn’t it attack you, or want to defend the zlurp?’ Ignoring the confusion she felt at his Triangles and Squares thing, she attempted to stand up again, accepting his helping, quite muscly, arms. She also make a massive effort of not feeling embarrassed for being in the nude. She kept reminding herself that it’s fair now, because he hadn’t worn any clothes since they’ve met. Once she was standing, she followed her question by looking around, learning quickly that it’s best to move your head in a slow way when concussed.
Before she could look behind her, the feel of blackie’s tongue ran up from about halfway her legs up to her head. She didn’t know how she should feel about her having licked her ass. She turned around, but faster than she could do anything else, another lick came, covering the front of her body. The tug it did on her sore boobs was definitely not pleasant.
‘Stop, blackie!’ she yelled, not expecting the command to make any impression. To her surprise, she stopped licking her, sat on her back haunches, and looked down at her, split tongue out, moving with her breath. Just like a stupid dog. The breath smelled equally as bad. Nadec glanced at Wyny, then looked down at Kitty, who’d gone up to Blackie, his full spin machine one, giving headbutts against the blacker than black claws. Nadec jumped back when a deeper and louder spin machine started, and the dragon bent through the front paws to receive the head buts against the tip of her snout, which was about kitty’s size. So the dragon also acts like a cat? She instantly liked her better.
‘Is this the way dragons are supposed to behave?’ She asked Wyny without taking her eyes of the strange combination of cat and dragon. They obviously liked each other. Blackie had curled up and Kitty was lying in the middle of the dragon-donut, both purring away. Nadec was glad that the purrs didn’t affect her split head. It was still hurting, but it also didn’t get worse by those sounds.
She turned her unbelieving eyes toward Wyny, who shrugged. Shaking her head—slowly—she looked back at the animal duo. It was pretty cute, both of them seemed to be falling asleep. The dragon’s body was twisted in an astounding flexible way, her rested head beside her belly, in the same direction! She had a tail long enough to go around the outside of her curled up body twice. Amazing.
Wait, what was that? Nadec looked a bit closer at the tail. At what she would guess was the halfway point, something gleamed at her. Oh! It was her halberd, the dark metal almost camouflaged against the black dragon skin! That zlurp had thought to hide it by putting it on the dragon! She was impressed, that had been a good idea. Could she…? Yes, she unlatched the harness and it came off the tail as easy as the shower’s water had slid of Wyny.
She froze. What? Where did that thought come? Ugh, must be my hormones making me all romantic and horny. She glared at Wyny as she put the halberd’s support harness on. He’d just been standing there, looking at them. Or had he been looking at her nakedness? She decided she wouldn’t go down that path, that train of thought. Too much self consciousness lay that way and that always prevented her from doing her job right. Once the harness was on, she groaned when she looked down. Great. The design of the harness made a triangle of dark muskin—mushroom leather, she was proud of that—around each boob, even lifting it up. She looked as if she was ready for some kinky bondage, or bdsm. Not her cup of tea at all.
It was too much for her modesty so she tried to use one arm to cover them. She glared at Wyny, again, but he wasn’t looking in her direction anymore. She thought he did look a shade more red.
‘Come on, mister fifty shades of red, we should try to find out where we are and how we can get to your kingdom. How can these two be so sound asleep so quick? Wake them. I’m taking a look around first.’ She wanted to see if there was anything she could use to cover herself up. Anything at all would be good, even a large leaf.
A loud growl turned her around. There, too close from where they stood, the zlurp jumped up, squeezing the triangle out of his nose cavity. Pink blood spurted out, but he was obviously not dead. He did look furious.

Ch 9: Clichés
‘Shonk swallop and gorwak guts!’ Nadec blurted out, getting a disapproving look from Wyny. As if he never curses, she thought. Those curses were among her favourites, although she had no idea what they meant. She knew they were regarded as very foul here, and that was enough. While still appreciating The Other Realm’s multitude of curses, her attention went back to the raging zlurp. He was ready to pounce on them. A cascade of pink blood flowed freely from his nose cavity.
‘The search warrant said to bring you in alive, princess’—there it was again, the word and the deep scorn while saying it—‘but it said nothing about how alive. Barely alive will do.’ A strange sound emitted from his mouth, the face-wide open hole showing a much larger amount of pink blood on the purple gums than before. Was he choking? Or perhaps trying to bring up a hairball? She’d seen Kitty act like that. Both Nadec and Pagewyn stared at him. Then she realised it.
Oh!’ Pause. ‘You’re laughing! That’s the most terrible laugh I’ve ever heard.’ She made an exaggerated shiver sound, her body acting it out as well.
The zlurp closed his mouth and scowled.
‘I practiced a long time for that laugh, my trainer called me the best among her students.’
Nadec couldn’t stop herself from snorting. They train to laugh?
‘Perhaps it would serve you better to practice making clothes, because that,’ she pointed vaguely in the direction of his bare sex, ‘is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’ She heard Wyny make a noise, but couldn’t be certain if it was a stifled laugh or an incredulous gasp.
A growl rose in the zlurp’s throat. Nadec rolled her eyes at all of the cliché things surrounding this creature. It almost felt as if he’d taken his whole attitude and manner of speaking from all of the humans tv-shows and movies. The awareness of an idea formed in her head in a fraction of a second.
The zlurp had been saying more stereotype things—something about not having to spare Wyny’s life, the consequences of her death being worth the pleasure of killing her—but she hadn’t been paying anymore attention. She turned toward Wyny, who was just about to hit the creature with… eh, whatever he was about to do.
‘Don’t kill him,’ she almost yelled. She paused. ‘I mean, not that you’ve managed it before when you actually wanted to…’ she trailed off, grinning at him. ‘Just unconscious please, I have questions.’ She was willing to let him handle this, as she felt herself grow weaker by the moment from the concussion. If she didn’t know better, she’d think that someone was poking her brain with their finger.
The zlurp just kept on talking. She vaguely heard him say: ‘If you want me, why don’t you come here and get me!’ Her attention was fixed on her travel compagnon, the man who’s gotten her in all this trouble.
Wyny merely stared at her, confused. Uncertain. She didn’t understand why he wasn’t doing anything. He stood there, looking like an idiot. A gorgeous, naked idiot. He somewhat looked like a young Gerard Butler, yet with the attractiveness of the actor’s older years. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed it before. She couldn’t help but grin wider at him, and at the zlurp’s number one villain mistake—talking while they should be attacking.
Wyny shook his head slightly, and then a smile blossomed on his nearly perfect face, lopsided, in perfect imitation of Gerard. Those stubbles surely looked nice on him. The zlurp picked him up and tossed him several metres further. Rotting blurbs! Nadec cursed herself for falling into the classic romantic-scene-while-fighting mistake. What was going on here with all the tropes?
The purple creature let out that sound again—the one that was supposed to be laughter—and ran towards her, going faster than she’d give him credit for. He almost got close enough to tower over her when the dragon came to a stop between them. His long neck forced the zlurp to a halt.
‘Step aside Blackie, I can handle this. I will enjoy listening to the princess’ screams of pain. I’ll keep her alive enough to deliver her as the conditions stated. But here wasn’t any mention on how long she should still be able to stay alive after delivery.’
The black beast, head only a bit higher than the zlurp’s, not quite as large as she expected a dragon to be, looked from Nadec to the zlurp to Kitty. She repeated that three times before breathing in, her chest puffing up. Fire! I’m going to be scorched by fire! Nadec has never thought that was the way her life would end. She thought about running away, but all she could do was stumble backward, tripping over her own panicking feet.
Blackie’s chest stopped expanding. She aimed her head at Nadec, winked, turned toward the zlurp, and let out the most massive burb Nadec had ever heard.
The zlurp fell unconscious.

Ch 10: Dragon’s White Gas
‘The dragon winked at me and burbed the zlurp to unconsciousness.’ Nadec whispered while crawling toward Pagewyn. He was still lying where he’d landed after being tossed away by the zlurp. ‘I can see you stirring, so don’t pretend like you’re hurt.’ She ignored his silent groans, kept telling herself he was overdoing it.
She couldn’t do anything but whisper, the headache of her concussion enough to double her vision. She had to stop moving forward to throw up once more. Blackie was there immediately to lick it up. It almost made her heave again, although she doubted there was enough content left in her stomach. With the way she felt, and all the headache and nausea, she was certain she needed to get rest soon. If not, there might be serious consequences.
‘Whatever the consequences are for not tending to a concussion properly,’ she muttered bitterly.
By the time she got to Wyny, he was sitting up, but cradling his left arm. He looked a bit dazed at her, but seemed fine otherwise. Kitty had joined her when she was about halfway, right after chucking up. His purring machine was in full swing and it made her feel slightly better, and thankful that it didn’t worsen her painful head. The touch of his fur on her bare skin reminded her that she was naked. She managed to ignore that for now.
‘What happened?’ The force of his voice made her cringe, her eyes watering.
‘Whisper, please.’ Her own voice trembled. ‘Didn’t you hear me before? I already told you what happened.’ Of course he hadn’t heard, with the silence of her whispers, but she did not want to repeat herself. Perhaps later.
‘We need something to tie the zlurp up, any idea?’
There was only confusion on his face. She rolled her eyes, and nodded her head toward the zlurp. The flare of sharp pain generated instant regret at the movement. Balls, she thought, how hard is it to not speak or move your head?
His eyes widened when he saw the body of their current nemesis, and even wider a fraction later. The movement of the purple ugliness’ chest was clear. He was still alive.
‘Don’t know how long he’ll be out.’ She sighed as she knew what she was about to say. ‘Blackie burbed and he fell unconscious.’ There. She’d did it. She’d repeated herself. Blonky wallops in livercod.
‘Dragon’s White Gas.’ Wyny sounded in awe. The wondrous expression when he turned his eyes on her almost made her chuckle. Almost, but not quite. She gave herself an imaginary pat on the shoulder for remembering the effect noise had on her head.
‘It’s not as if she can breathe fire,’ she waved her hand dismissively, ‘so never mind that for now. We need to tie him up, and then we can rest.’ Her eyebrows shot up at hearing her own words. She would never in a million years admit to someone that she needed sleep. It scared her. It meant that she was in terrible shape. When did his hand end up on her cheek?
‘You are very hurt.’ He giggled. Oh. Wait. No. It was Nadec herself who’d giggled at his concerned tone. Why did he appear so worried all of a sudden? She pouted at his expression, not able to stop giggling.
‘Not to worry about the zlurp, if he really has been caught by Dragon’s White Gas, he will only wake when the dragon wishes him to. I will take care of everything. You need to close your eyes and rest. I will get you help.’
She wasn’t certain when she’d lowered herself completely to the ground, but by the time his hand stopped touching her cheek, she was curled up, Kitty in the hollow formed by her knees, tummy and chest. She saw Wyny walk toward the zlurp, a limp in his gait.
Through narrowed eyes, she admired his fine buttocks when she felt a warm surface press against her back, followed by a large black tail taking her view away. The warmth of the dragon’s embrace and the blackness in front of her were enough to make her stop fighting against what her eyes wanted to do. They shut. She fell into a deep slumber.

Ch 11: The Cave
A trickling sound, as of water falling down in a small stream. Like a waterfall, Nadec thought. It made her aware of the urge to pee. She opened her eyes while getting herself in an upright sitting position, stiff muscles protesting.
There was no headache. In a rush everything that had happened flowed back into vivid memory. She gasped, looking around. Tried to look around anyway. Wherever she was, it was dark. Oh, wait. Her arm felt like lead when she lifted it up to her face, removing the cloth.
Her eyes adjusted to the strange light quickly. After a few blinks she could see her environment. Her first thought was that she’d left earth and had somehow ended up on an alien planet. The absurdity of that struck her straight away. She was in The Other Realm after all, which was about the same thing as being on a different planet.
Dark rock all around her, areas of them illuminated in a bright blue, grouped in patches, providing light and dark contrasts. At the far end it seemed like daylight coming in. Reflections in a lake finished off the beautiful environment. Drops dripped from stalactites everywhere. Some fell into the lake, others dripped onto the stalagmites they’d formed, forming an impenetrable terrain. It took about more than half of the open space next to the water. The chuckle at remembering the trick for what was what—tits hang down, so stalactites were the ones hanging from the ceiling—broke off midway. It had reminded Nadec of her clothes’ destruction.
With relief, she discovered she’d been dressed—or at least covered up—in a crude shirt and skirt. Not her outfit of choice, but she wasn’t about to complain. Better than nude.
Her head shot up at something moving in front of her.
‘Wyny,’ she sighed in relief. Utter joy exploded on her face when she saw Kitty next to him. The grey cat ran up to her quickly when she stretched out her arms.
‘What happened, where are we?’ She asked Wyny while receiving headbuts from Kitty, his loud purrs working their calming effect. He grinned at her, causing a sudden burst of butterflies to explode in her stomach. What the hell, body, stop reacting like that. It’s not as if he was the first handsome Other Realmer that she’d saved.
But then she awkwardly realised he was the first one who had returned the favour. Several times. As much as she’d saved him. Guess we’re even now. She only had to take him home to live up to the promise she made herself, even if home-delivery hadn’t been in the contract, which had only said to free the guy from the xlurps. Wyny had made it more complicated by skipping accidentally along to her apartment. Which was then destroyed.
‘Blackie showed me the way to this cave. She carried the zlurp after I helped heave it onto her back. I carried you.’
Nadec’s thoughts churned around dozens of different questions with those few sentences. How did he lift the zlurp, that thing must weigh a ton? He carried her? How far? A blush heated her cheeks when she envisioned him carrying her, both naked. Why did she pass out so soundly? Is this Blackie’s cave? How long ago was that? Why did her head no longer hurt?
‘Where can I take a pee?’
Out of all the questions, this was the one that came out of her mouth? She grimaced, although a full bladder was to be expected after being unconscious for who knows how long. Wait, do unconscious people hold up their pee or does it just flow out? The possibility of the second option flushed her cheeks even more in embarrassment. Wyny saved her from bearing the shame for long.
‘Of course! I apologise, I should have expected that after a week of slumbers, the body will want to take care of their natural needs. Follow me.’
He helped her to her feet—Kitty jumping on her shoulders as usual—for which she was grateful. After a week of no use, her legs protested at bearing her weight again. A week! She asked Wyny how that happened while he led her through the cave to a side tunnel. He explained that Blackie used his Dragon’s White Gas on her, in order to give her the time for healing. This ability of dragons is elusive and not much is know of it, but Wyny believed it put the body on some sort of timelessness, meaning that they can survive without food or drink. He wasn’t certain if bodies would age while in the slumber.
Wyny showed her into a hollow of the tunnel, forming a room of about two meters in diameter. As far as she had seen, this whole cave, tunnels and all, appeared to be lighted by the bio-luminescence. There was a hole in the floor, against the wall opposite from where they’d come in. He waved his arm toward it, so she went to check it out. Daylight shone through, and when she looked down, she almost grew dizzy with how far above ground they were.
‘Do not fall through, that would not end well. The garderobes in my castle discharge into the moat, so if you were to fall down one, it would not be such a problem. They are smaller too, so falling through would require an effort. But, we cannot complain, I certainly did not expect a chamber like this in a cave. There is even a stream.’
Nadec saw the stream he pointed at, a narrow flow of water coming out of one wall at about belly height, weaving through the room to disappear through another wall. She hadn’t noticed stepping over it to check out the hole. Her eyes widened when she realised the small waterfall can act as a way to wipe her butt. Or, well, whatever needed wiping.
‘Great!’ She was genuinely pleased with it. Nothing worse than doing your business, whether that’s taking a piss or a shit, and having nothing to clean yourself with. After doing what she needed to do, ignoring the familiar feeling of cramps in her lower belly, she re-joined Wyny in the cave where she’d woken up.
Blackie was there now. At the sight of her, she jumped around in a circle, and stood there trampling in excitement. ‘No licking!’ Nadec told her in a stern tone, laughing. Kitty meowed at her, jumping from her shoulders to greet the large black beast. Apparently the dragon had gone out to fetch food, as a variety of fruit lay in front of Wyny. He explained that it had taken several fails to get the food gathering right. Blackie had been confused about him not wanting any poo to eat.
After eating their bellies full, Wyny’s expression grew serious. He looked at her with such intent and gravity, the witty comment she was about to say got stuck in her throat. There were plenty of questions remaining unanswered. Were they going to get solved now?
‘I understand you have many questions at this moment…’ he cleared his throat, looking away from her a second. Her face must have shown the sarcasm she felt. She’d always thought that eyebrow had a life of its own.
‘… but I won’t answer them yet. There is something else we have to handle first, and I am quite certain it will take care of a portion of those.’ He nodded toward another tunnel leading out of the main chamber.
‘It is time we wake the zlurp.’

Ch 12: Clothes
The sound of dripping water echoed in the cave while Nadec stared at Wyny. She’d only just awoken from a week-long recovery slumber, and he wants to get into the serious stuff straight away, wake the zlurp? She wasn’t certain if she could handle it. Her face remained neutral; there was no need to show her uncertainty. Ever.
‘Where did you get these clothes?’
‘I can show you that later,’ he said hesitantly. ‘It is hardly important at this moment.’
‘Were there more?’ A faint cramp in the belly reminded her of the urgency. ‘Were there more clothes? Show me.’ She managed to put a sense of command in her voice, but cursed inwardly at the pleading undertone. Had he noticed?
He regarded her with a slight frown, almost seemed to study her, then narrowed his eyes, apparently coming to a conclusion.
‘I suppose we can wait until tomorrow. In any case, Blackie can keep him unconscious as long as we want.’
At the mention of her name, the dragon lifted her head and blinked a few times in their direction. When she saw there wasn’t anything going on, the head went back down. The black scales of the large animals moved with the large intake of breath, reflecting the blue of the cave’s illumination in rippling, scattered iridescent tones. The sigh drooped with contentment for being curled up with Kitty in the middle. Nadec vaguely wondered why the black had seemed all-consuming before, outside of the cave.
‘You do not like the clothes I gave you?’
Gave me? GAVE me? Those words made her blood boil instantly. He hadn’t given them to her as they hadn’t been his in the first place! Ignoring the embarrassment she felt at knowing that he’d dressed her while she’d been passed out, she opened up her mouth to give him a piece of her mind.
‘Bloody heavens dude, you really have some nerve, claiming you—’ the tirade slowed down when she looked at his amused face. Why was he amused? Had that been a joke? She wanted to think that uncharacteristic of him, but then realised she didn’t know him that well just yet. She cursed again as she understood what that meant. He must have guessed she’d have a more profound reason to want to check the clothes. That man was too good at reading her.
‘What is a dude?’
Nadec couldn’t help the amused snort before explaining that a dude is a synonym of man. He didn’t appear to know what a synonym was so she told him synonyms are different words with the same meaning. They stood up and started walking toward yet another of the side tunnels.
‘I understand.’ He nodded. ‘What is a synonym’—he pronounced this in an odd way—’of a woman then? Wodude?’
The way he asked it, delivered in a tone, showing how serious he was about the question, made her break out in a loud and belly-deep laugh.
‘You, sir, have made me laugh more often and more genuine than ever in the past three years. Thank you for that.’ She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes while they walked through the bio luminescent-lit corridors of the cave. The strange light—produced by a combination of some sort of moss or algae and worms, she saw now—made his facial features look regal. She wondered if she thought that way because she knew he was a ruler, or because he did look it. The stubble he had when they first met had turned into a scruffy beard. At least that validated his claim about her week-long slumber.
‘Now that we’re exchanging… knowledge, let me ask you a question. You obviously know something about cleanliness and hygiene, as you knew what to use the waterfall in the little room for.’ She scraped her throat roughly, surprised at how much of a taboo this felt like.
‘You mentioned garderobes in your castle before. They were like a bathroom, right?’ She didn’t give him a chance to reply, rushing on and talking quickly before shame took over. ‘So how do you wipe your butt? We use toilet paper, and some use water, but I’d be surprised if you have easy access to water in all of your rooms. I always wondered about that, but I’ve never thought about googling it. On the internet.’
He stopped in bafflement, his face scrunched up in confusion.
‘Bathroom? Googling? Internet? Toilet… paper? Why would you use paper? It is incredibly rare, not to mention rough. I do not see that working very well. Never you mind. If you need to know, we have strips of linen to take care of our business. And, as far as I am aware, people outside of the castle use leftovers leaves from food they’ve prepared. I assume they have other ways as well, but I can not say for certain what they are. I do not mingle often with people on the street, I am afraid. It is fairly smelly. Here, this is it.’
His hand outstretched toward a smaller opening in the end of the cave’s tunnel. Smaller was a matter of perspective, as the tunnel was still large enough to fit herself at least three times in height and multiple times in width. She marveled again at the sight of the natural irregularities in the dark rock’s surface. The uneven illumination worked to bathe it all in a magical, and even mysterious, glow. She decided she liked this place.
When she entered the room, the change in atmosphere was palpable. The air was much drier here. Nadec barely registered that. She could only gape at the huge pile of clothes in front of her. The size reminded her of a tv-show she once saw, not too long ago, where the tv-people—had it been called the war on waste?—wanted to illustrate what the amount of clothes people threw away looked like. That pile had been about six thousand kilos of clothes, and represented what got thrown out every ten minutes. After seeing that, she’d changed her attitude towards clothes and commissioned fighting suits made from mushroom leather.
Hence why she again felt anger rising towards the Zlurp for destroying them. None of the clothes she saw here were damaged much, they all seemed fine. She was suddenly very much looking forward to the morning. That creature will answer her questions, and if not, she’d gladly toss him around the room!
‘Do you need help with anything?’
The concerned look on Wyny’s face replaced the anger with tears forming in her eyes. He did care, she was sure of that. Despite that, she shooed him off. This was something she had to do by herself.
She tried to pick out the most shabby looking pieces of garment, ripping them in large strips. A woman’s period doesn’t wait on anything, not even being in the Other Realm, away from civilisation. The cramps were getting worse. Nothing she could do about those. She counted herself lucky to have such a massive stock of fabric. It would make things easier.
They weren’t going to budge from this cave for the next days, of that she was sure.

Ch 13: Comfort food
‘I would really have like strawberries right now.’
Nadec groaned and sat up from where she’d been lying in foetus position. She clutched her arms around her knees, hugging them tight to her body. She’d managed to make a big heap of pads, which were merely strips of fabric folded upon each other. Unfortunately, knowing that the odds of leaking blood everywhere were pretty slim didn’t diminish the pain.
‘Strawberries?’ Wyny sounded confused. Don’t they have them here? Nadec thought, equally as confused. She was sure she’d eaten them in The Other Realm before, so why didn’t he know of them?
‘Yes, strawberries. If I was at home right now, which I would’ve been if you hadn’t messed everything up and if my apartment hadn’t been blown to pieces,’ she paused and bent down to the right give Kitty a peck on the head—a thank you for staying near to cheer her up—’I’d be eating strawberries to make me feel better. Preferably with ice cream. And chocolate sauce drizzled on top. Or poured, whatever.’ She murmured that last bit as she flicked out her left hand to give Blackie a few pets on the massive head.
The dragon had appeared to be as emphatic as Kitty was, or perhaps she liked to follow the grey cat’s behaviour. Those two had become best friends from the moment they met. Nadec was still getting used to having a real dragon around her, even if she was—as Wyny claimed—a small one. He thought she was probably still growing.
‘Comfort food,’ he nodded, looking at her from across the small fire. He had to raise his voice to be heard over the combined purring of Kitty and—mostly—Blackie. They were sitting with their back—or part of, as they’d half-turned to talk to each other—to a side of the large cave chamber. The wall, if it could be called that way, reflected the heat and light of the fire into the rest of the chamber. Unfortunately it made the natural blue shine of the cave disappear into the dancing orange glow. An opening above their resting spot removed the smoke well enough. In front of her she could see the large lake. It looked magical, she told herself once again, marveling at the sight of the bio-luminescence reflecting on the water.
‘But, how can straw-berries be comfort food? They do not sound very tasteful at all. We have appleberries, delicious little green fruits, sweet and sour at the same time. So I assume strawberries to taste like straw and perhaps look golden?’ He shook his head. ‘It does not sound appetizing at all. What other strange foods do you have in your Realm?’
‘Strawberries don’t taste like straw, silly. They grow close to the ground so the ground is packed with straw as a cushion for the berries, to prevent rot. They’re delicious! There are a ton of varieties, but the best ones are mostly sweet, with maybe a hint of sourness.’ She closed her eyes, envisioning them while she spoke.
‘Many people like to add sugar to them, or eat them with whipped cream, but I prefer them just like that. Pure. Hmmmm.’
‘Or with ice cream and a sauce of chocolate,’ he interjected, pronouncing both foods strangely. She smiled and opened her eyes, looking at him. Him remembering what she’d said before, while not even understanding the words, proved that he was really listening. She appreciated that immensely.
‘Exactly.’ Her smile turned into a grin. ‘I wish I could let you taste them. I’m sure I’ve seen them here before. Well, I mean, perhaps not here here, but in this Realm. They’re a conical shape, the length of an average thumb, or smaller, or bigger, and they have the most beautiful red colour. The funny thing is, their seeds—’
She broke off. His expression had changed dramatically. It had gone from interested, even curious, to wide-eyed and sickly-looking. And, was that a blush on his cheeks? Why was he suddenly embarrassed?
‘What?’ She had to prod him when it was clear he didn’t intend to say anything. He was staring at the ground! What had she said that made him so uncomfortable?
‘Red,’ he cleared his throat so often, Nadec nearly got up to slap him on the back. Or on the face, if that’s what it would take to pull him out of his fit.
‘Red foods are not to be talked about and certainly not to be consumed in Paralelo. It is inappropriate and I do not know how I feel about you know that I know you eat those foods and enjoy them.’
Nadec gaped at him. He had blurted the words out so fast they’d almost blended into each other. His breath came as quickly as if he’d just ran a good distance. He doesn’t know how he feels about me now, because I eat red fruit? She strangled the laughter which was about to burst up from her, instead did her best to keep a straight face. It was obviously important to him so she would treat it that way. How’s that for adulting?
‘I’ll do my best to avoid talking about… those foods. I’m sorry, I didn’t know. If you… When you feel like you can, could you tell me why? Is there a specific reason, or is it merely a remnant of history?’
She felt very proud of herself for the way she’d handled that. It had been the right approach, as he appeared to relax. The tension in his stubbled face faded, and his eyes resumed their normal size. Satisfaction spread over Nadec’s body as a slow burning warmth. See, I am learning better socialising skills. The thought sounded smug in her mind.
‘Nozbexraper!’ She doubled up in pain. That had been a bad cramp. When it passed, she saw Wyny standing up, his hand outstretched and a wooden box floating above it, transforming into the L-shapes she’d seen before.
‘That,’ he told her while folding his sticks up, ‘was the most vulgar swear I have ever heard. I thought we were under attack!’ He sat down again, looking at Nadec curiously.
‘We’re not under attack, although my uterus feels as if it is.’
She mumbled that quietly, hoping he wouldn’t hear. Louder, she said: ‘Anyway, I think I should try to get some sleep, I’m looking forward to get answers from the zlurp. I especially wouldn’t mind knowing why that purple big shit kept referring to me as a princess. What, do you know?’ Something in his face had changed when she’d said that. He did know something!
‘I can not be certain.’ The reluctance in his voice made her more curious.
‘Perhaps he has knowledge I do not have.’ Big sigh. ‘Or perhaps he recognises your hairstyle as an indication of your rank.’
She groaned. Bloody great. No one has ever thought to tell her about the significance of hair in this Realm. She hoped it was only a local custom. The only reason why she french-braided her hair in three parts, one on top and one on each side, and then pulled it together in a knot at the back, was to keep it away from her face. Not to mention avoid her adversaries to pull on it.
‘I’ll hear more about that of you tomorrow, mister.’ She tried to put a playfulness in her tone of voice, but another cramp caused her to grit her teeth, making it sound more like a threat. She tried to find the most comfortable sleeping position, but failed.
I wish I had my hot water bottle. That nice warmth always helps against the cramps. She almost considered plucking a warmed up log from the outside of the fire, when Blackie gently laid the arrow-pointed tip of his tail on her tummy. It was the perfect heat to ease her pains. She looked into the dragon’s face, Kitty settling in between them. The large, greenish yellow-gold eye blinked at her. Was that a wink?
Her last thought before falling asleep stirred wonder in her, a feeling she took along to her dreams.
How had Blackie known I’d been thinking about wanting something warm on my tummy?

Ch 14: talking to a drunk guy
‘Will he talk?’
The dubious look Nadec shot toward Wyny spoke volumes. She had quite a few questions for the zlurp. Whether or not he’d answer them and how much truth his answers would contain, remained to be seen.
‘I can not be certain of that. He might not even know many things. Perhaps he is merely a empty-headed minion.’
‘He mentioned a search warrant before. Maybe he’s a bounty hunter? Or a… You know what, it doesn’t matter, we should stop speculating and wake him up. It’s the only way to know for sure what he knows…’ She trailed off, thoughtful while looking at the purple creature. They were standing in a small cave room, the zlurp laying unconscious in front of them.
‘Hold on a second, I’ll be right back.’
She left the room to walk toward another one, where she looked around, picked something up and came back. The look on Wyny’s face made her grunt in amusement. He had no idea what she was doing. She stepped closer to the zlurp to place a cloak over his gender.
‘Much better.’
Noticing Wyny’s raised eyebrows, she added: ‘I’ve seen enough balls to last me a while, thank you very much. Anyway, don’t we need to tie him up or something first?’
Wyny chuckled. He chuckled! Was that for the balls comment or some ignorance of her? Whatever it was, he did appear much looser around her than in the beginning. He even seemed to start understanding her—sometimes sort of crude—sense of humour. She’d never expected that in any royalty, no matter which world they’re from.
‘I do not believe it would be necessary to tie him up.’ He glanced toward Blackie, whose body sat outside of the room but her head peeped in. Kitty was asleep on top of it, curled into a fluffy cat-ball. ‘I am fairly certain the dragon can wake him partially, which should make him too drowsy to get up and attack.’
‘And he might work along with us better too, being half-drowsy and such!’
The dragon started panting, just like a dog would. Although in her case it looked more like a sign of agreement instead of a need to cool herself. Nadec took it as a smile. A smiling dragon. What else will you astound me with? She asked herself that in her mind, partly because she did wonder, but partly as an experiment. Blackie looked at her, and winked. This time Nadec was certain it was a wink, aimed at her! The large animal had heard her thoughts and understood them. Well, bloody heavens take me, that’s pretty amazing.
She mentally added mind-reading to the list of ‘special things dragons do’. The Dragon’s White Gas was on that list—with expansion because there appeared to be more to it than she first thought—and the ability to relief pain. When the dragon had put her tail onto Nadec’s cramping tummy, she’d thought it was only the warmth which softened the pain. She realised this morning, when she woke up from a brilliant sleep, that it was more than that. Even now the cramps were still reduced to a soft, nearly imperceptible throbbing.
‘Ready?’ She jumped at hearing Wyny’s voice, so caught up in her thoughts about Blackie. He chuckled. Again! What was going on with that man? He’d been so uncomfortable the day before after the ‘red food is taboo’ thing. Was he trying to make up for the discomfort his discomfort had caused?
‘Yes. No, wait!’ She held out her hand to Blackie, who stood waiting eagerly to wake the zlurp. ‘One small question first. I need to know. Do you… have tomatoes?’
Wyny stared at her. His mouth even fell open, and he blinked slowly. She snorted at his expression and wished she still had her phone on her so she could take a photo. It had been blown up together with her couch though. His head shook slightly, as if he needed to make himself physically snap out of it.
‘Tomatoes? No, I don’t have tomatoes here. Oh, You mean? Yes, we have tomatoes in paralelo. What does that have to do with waking the zlurp?’
‘Oh, nothing. Just wondering. I like tomatoes.’ Their tomatoes must be yellow or other colours then. She was suddenly very much looking forward to discovering parallelogram, no, paraleo, no, eh, his kingdom.
‘Well, what are you waiting for, go ahead!’
Nadec expected Blackie to stretch out his neck and burp again, the same way she’d make the zlurp pass out. Instead, she retracted her head, turned around, and shimmied her backside in. Both Wyny and Nadec had to move aside or be pushed out of the way. Blackie held her tail to the side, so it was still mostly outside of the room. She lifted it up at the base, in the way a cat would lift their tail when someone scratches their back at the very end.
The black dragon farted onto the zlurp.
It wasn’t a silent expulsion of gas either. It was as loud a fart as she’d ever heard. It sounded more like a trumpet. No, it was like a tuba, not a sound produced by a living being. It was actually impressive. No matter how impressed she was by the sound though, Nadec wasn’t keen on getting the same extreme in her smell sense. Her hands lifted up parts of her shirt automatically, hiding her mouth and nose in an attempt to filter the air.
When the dragon’s head replaced her ass again, Nadec noticed Wyny grinning at her.
‘It is quite alright, there is no nasty odour. Oh, there we go. He stirs.’
She tentatively lowered her arms and breathed a shallow breath through her nose. The zlurp groaned. She jumped and uttered a high-pitched aah. What in Frank’s name was that? That was the second time today that something surprised her enough to make her jump.
‘OOooOOh, Princess.’ The zlurp’s speech was drawn out and thick, his accent heavier, the gravel replaced with pebbles. ‘I still got you trapped.’ He did his imitation-laugh, which surprisingly did sound more like a real laugh in his dazed state.
‘Dude, your sight must be seeing double, you’re our prisoner now.’
‘That’s not how I look at it! Welcome to my crib!’
The zlurp fell sideways, his whole body shaking with exaggerated shudders, hands slapping his thigh in too hard cracks. The movements made the cloak fall away from his sex. Nadec sighed, frowned and shared a glance with Wyny, walking over to him. The creature was trying to imitate laughter too forcibly. She nodded toward him.
‘What do you think that meant?’ Her whisper sounded a bit shaky. All of a sudden she had a bad feeling about this.
‘I do not believe it means anything. The creature is not all there, Blackie did not wake him up enough. It is alright,’ his voice softened as he grabbed her by the shoulders, ‘Come now, we will dig to the bottom of it and see if we can get anything reasonable out of this abomination.’
‘Like talking to a drunk guy hey. I can do that.’ She nodded, a short, curt nod.
‘I can definitely do that.’

Ch 15: Flight
‘How do we get out of here?’
Nadec walked away from the room where Blackie burped the zlurp back to unconsciousness. She kept her stride firm, heart beating loud in her own ears, and looked over to Wyny, checking if he was keeping up.
‘You believe him? Do you not believe we should discuss what he said and think about it properly? You know he could have been lying.’
She shook her head, stopping briefly to allow Kitty to jump on her shoulders. What the zlurp had said… She wished she didn’t believe. It had shook her to the core. She was trying hard to hang on to calmness, but in reality she was on the brink off hysterics. She hadn’t felt like this in… in three years. No, don’t think about that as well.
‘We can’t assume he was lying, there’s too much at stake. I’ll have to let you find your own way back.’ Another thing to add to her upset state—her perfect record broken, at least from her point of view. They got to the main cave, and sadness grew on top of the other emotions. In that very short time, she’d quickly gotten attached to this place.
‘It’s too dangerous for you to come with me. My employers would kill me if I did. They probably already do. Oh.’ She stopped, stared out over the water.
‘Could they be the ones behind this? If what he said was true?’ Wyny’s face had an intensity to it—any other time it would’ve diverted her mind elsewhere.
‘No, no, that wouldn’t make sense.’ She sensed her brows drawing down. ‘Even if they aren’t happy with my uncompleted job—you, yes—they wouldn’t hurt me over it.’ She snorted at the ridiculousness, but it sounded fake to her own ears. Come on, pull it together, keep making jokes, don’t let this get to you.
‘You realise I will refuse to let you go on without me, are you not?’
‘Are you trying to be the valiant hero, the knight in the night, the man who rescues all, the prince on the white horse, rescuing the damsel in distress?’ She’d meant for it as a joke, but it came out sounding bitter and annoyed.
‘I’ll have you know, I am the one who saves people here, buddy. I am the one they’d named the red knight. I am the one whom they send out to find missing people and do everything in my power to get them back.’ She was shouting now but didn’t even care. It felt good. Why were her lips wet and salty?
‘They gave the responsibility to me! So don’t you think you can just come marching in and take over. I’ve seen doing fine these past years by myself and I will keep on doing fine. Even if there is someone out there who wants to capture me or kill me because they—wrongly!—believe I am some heir from a dead country. Bullshit! My parents were normal people. They were the best people. This is all horseshit!’
She inhaled, but couldn’t. Instead it became a broken sob. She turned away from him, keen to pick up Kitty. But Kitty was already on her shoulders.
‘It is alright, Nadec. It it alright. I will not leave you. We will figure this out together, and your employers can go eat goat dung.’
A sniffle-giggle escaped her—Wyny didn’t swear often. He enveloped her in his arms—nice strong arms—and she immediately returned the hug. It had been too long since she had any human contact like this. She allowed some tears to flow. Kitty jumped off her shoulders, but kept making an eight in between her ankles, headbutting and meowing.
‘We don’t have time for this.’
Forcing a stop to her pathetic behaviour, she pulled away from Wyny. He reluctantly let go and nodded.
‘I still am not completely convinced if we should really go, I do not trust that creature. But,’ he held his hand up to her as she was about to protest, ‘I trust your judgment. We should be going. What shall we do with the zlurp?’
‘Leave him. He won’t wake up unless Blackie wakes him, right? Right. So we leave him. Not our problem anymore. I’m not in the mood for killing.’
As Wyny opened his mouth, she glared at him.
‘We go, now.’
She had to keep busy, anything to keep the whirlwind inside her from getting out. Her little breakdown had been enough. No more of that now. Focus on the immediate threat, handle the larger issue later. Break it down in small steps, make the impossible, possible. She kept repeating those last words to herself until she believed it.
‘Clothes. I need spare ones, can’t keep walking around in these rags all the time, do you need clothes?’
Nadec didn’t wait for his reply, she walked off straight away towards the room with the abandoned clothes. Many of those were not better than rags, but she managed to select several decent looking shirts, a skirt and trousers she thought might fit her. She made a bundle out of them, and did the same for Wyny.
When she came back to the central room—after enjoying the luxury of the bathroom and its small waterfall one last time—Wyny looked ready to go. He had collected their blankets and put Kitty’s harness on te grey cat. Blackie wagged her tail, panting with split tongue out.
The sight of her companions—one human, two non-human-animals—stirred something. As a ray of sunlight banishing a dark cloud. How poet, thought of that yourself? She did not appreciate her own self-mocking… eh… self.
‘All good to go, I guess. Where’s the exit?’
‘Well, that is something I have not been able to tell you yet. There is no exit.’
‘What? How—?’
‘Please, let me finish. There is no exit we can easily navigate through. Thus, we fly.’
‘We fly.’ Her voice was flat in every way. She looked from Wyny to Blackie. The dragon winked. Oh no.
‘Can she even carry us all? She’s not matured yet, she’s still little.’
At that, Blackie puffed up, standing tall with her chest out, front legs straight but ass down. Sitting like a proud cat. Nadec had to admit that the dragon was not small. Although not as large as Nadec had imagined dragons to be, she supposed they’d fit on the animal’s back. Flying on a dragon. That would take her mind of things for the present. She also realised it would make their journey easier.
Not wanting to speak for fear of a tremble in her voice, she glanced at Wyny. The man had a grin on his face! Of course, he’d flown before, when she was unconscious. He gestured in a polite way. She shoved his bundle of clothes in his outstretched hand. She hoped he knew how much of an art it was, making a perfect and solid package out of clothes.
Blackie ducked down, positioning one of her legs so it made for a step. When Nadec settled down onto the dragon’s back, Kitty jumped up and settled in front of her. Wyny climbed up and got very cosy behind her. She supposed with the wings and all, it made things a bit awkward. The dragon was pleasantly warm underneath her—Wyny pleasantly warm behind her—and almost felt like a massive, supersized horse. Except without the hair and the smell.
Before Nadec could properly prepare herself, a jump and flap of the wings took them off the ground. They soared over the water, into a tunnel at the end of the lake. They maneuvered around the cave’s obstacles, higher and lower, fast and slow. The bioluminescence a brilliant blue against the dark rock. She noticed green and yellow as well, those hadn’t been in the other areas.
The unfamiliar yet incredible sensation of flying on a mythical winged beast was enough to make Nadec forget about everything else for the moment. Then they exited into daylight.
Nadec’s breath stopped in amazement.

Ch 16: descending
Looking down from an airplane is beautiful enough, but that high up, it doesn’t really show much. Only when the plane ascends and descends, the real beauty of what is below, shows. Close enough to see details, far enough to see a lot. Except that Nadec had never flown over an area of pure nature, stretching as far as she could see.
The opening they’d exited the cave from let out a stream of water, dropping down into a flowing waterfall cascading over multiple rocks. When Blackie turned around—perhaps circling was an easier way to descend with humans on one’s back—Nadec could see many more waterfalls next to the one, all coming from another tunnel in what appeared to be the side of a small mountain. The sight was mesmerising.
Sun rays hitting the falling water shattered into a million different colours. The main colour was a shining golden, but hidden in between were thousands small rainbows, caused by all the different levels, depths, strengths, speeds, and widths of the waterfalls. Then Blackie’s circling turned them back around. Once again, Nadec’s breath hitched before letting it out in a woaaaah.
Definitely nothing she’d ever seen before from an airplane. Perhaps people who did all the base jumping and things like that had an idea of how pretty things could be. But surely even they had never seen anything like it?
‘It is quite extraordinary, is it not?’
Wyny almost had to shout to be heard over the wind rushing past them, but he still managed to find the perfect volume. At least she didn’t have to cringe in the way it sometimes goes when someone at a loud party tries to speak and nearly breaks the other’s ear drum.
She merely nodded her head—she knew how embarrassing her voice sounded when she had to yell. There were no words to express the magnificence of the view. The magnificence of The Other Realm; this area of it anyway. She thought of perhaps a combination of New Zealand, with its lakes and large hills, a bit of Australia, with brilliant beaches along side cliff sides. She saw vast jungles, green and moist and colourful. There was such a variety of diverse landscapes, she wondered how that worked with the climate.
Best of all, she could see no sign of people anywhere. No human settlements, no human interference. Her heart warmed even more at the sight of it. She loved what technology could do, but she resented what it had done to Earth. And how much suffering and death it had brought, to both people, animals and nature. She didn’t allow her mind to wander of in that direction just yet. Enjoy the bliss for now.
Kitty didn’t care about anything around him. He appeared soundly asleep in front of Nadec, head towards her, tail fluttering besides him. Somehow he managed to look comfortable while on top of the ridges caused by the dragon’s spine. This was one of those times she wished she could take photos. Although most of Earth’s technologie somehow still worked here, taking photos never worked. Not with a mobile, not with an expensive camera, not even with a Polaroid nor old-fashioned throw-away camera.
Their flight soon came to an end. Blackie’s feet hit the ground, not landing softly at all. It was close, but neither of them fell off during the bumpy landing. Nadec slid off as soon as she could, almost before Blackie stood still. No matter how much she’d enjoyed the view, having solid ground under her feet did feel good.
Blackie had dropped them off next to a lake, formed by some of the waterfalls. The reason why became obvious immediately, as she stepped toward the lake and started drinking it with big swallows, dropping down on her belly as she did so. The flight must have exhausted her. So much for flying on a dragon to make the journey quicker, she thought, with a relief she would never admit to anyone.
‘So, do you know where we are, was there anything at all you recognised from the air?’
She turned to Wyny while asking the question. Her mouth dropped open as he stood there with his bare upper body, in the middle of removing his pants. That was not what she expected.
‘I am not certain, but… what is the matter?’ He frowned at her. She realised she’d been staring and shook out of it, making a shooing motion with her hands. She was sure she saw a small smile before he ducked his head. While removing his underpants. He was naked once again.
‘Honestly, I would think you would be used to seeing me nude by now, you have seen me more nude than dressed. I am taking a dip in the lake, it might make for an acceptable bath. As for where we are, I am not certain, like I said,’ he jumped in the water, ducked down, and appeared again with a puff, ‘but I believe I did see the spiralling spinal spine pines. If that is so, we should go that direction. Not because I know where to go from there, but because there is a small city nearby and we could possibly find a map there. And perhaps hear more about events.’
By the time he’d finished speaking, Nadec had also undressed and gone into the water. It was cold at first, but quite good after a while. With her period in full swing, being in this much water was a treat. If only she could stay there until it was over. No time for that. She thought about what he’d said but didn’t have to ruminate too long. There weren’t many options.
‘Good. We’ll go there. If you remember which direction they were?’
He gave her a look which said I am not an idiot, but nodded anyway.
‘It was where the sun sits now.’
Nadec tipped her hair back. She liked the crawling sensation on her scalp from the chill water. On the river side, Blackie had already snuggled up with Kitty. Nadec snorted at that. Those two slept whenever and wherever they could.
‘I never heard that dragons are so odd.’
Wyny sounded amused and pondering. He came to float closer to her.
‘There, I do not have to talk as loudly now. Dragons are elusive and not much is known about them. We know them most of all from stories. Their numbers appear to be dwindling.’
‘Of course they are. It’s a classic trope, the dragons-are-rare-and-almost-extinct-trope. I should call this world Troponia instead of The Other Realm.’ She chuckled at her own joke.
‘Don’t look at me like that. You don’t even know what a trope is, but believe me, this planet of yours is full of them.’
His face contorted even more in confusion. ‘What is a planet?’
She rolled her eyes at him. Almost, she swiped her hands forward to splash him, but that was one trope she didn’t want to fall in, no matter how much fun it might be.
‘If I tell you that, I’d have to tell you many other things and it would blow your mind. We have more urgent issues now beside mind-blowing. Let’s just say it has to do with the stars. I know you know what stars are, I’ve seen them here plenty of times. They might be one of my most favourite things here.’ She trailed off, stopping herself right in time from mentioning pollution and the effect it had. That would’ve also taken her down many roads if mind blows.
‘Maybe I can explain some things while we’re on the road.’ An idea struck her and she cooed. ‘Ooh, and perhaps you can teach me how to use that magic of yours. My employers have granted me with a little bit of magicness. Enough to be able to skip anyway.’
Wyny had been coming closer to her, but she’d been steadily moving away from him. No matter what his intentions were, she didn’t want to take any chance. He’s hot and a ruler, but that didn’t mean she was going to throw away her rule of not sleeping with the guys she rescued. Even if they tend to invade her dreams.
‘I apologise, I would be more than happy to teach you.’ His face scrunched up, reinforcing his apology. ‘Only descendants of the water crown are able to use the power of the Squares, so I am afraid you can not. I can of course show you how it is done and how it works, but you will not be able to practice it.’
‘I should’ve expected it. Another trope, only royalty can use magic.’ She barked a laugh. ‘Classic.’
She got back out of the water and whispered something to Blackie. The dragon winked at her in understanding. She knew she probably could’ve thought what she’d said and she would’ve understood, but that felt too uncomfortable.
About ten minutes later they set out on a walk, off towards the spiraling spinal spine pines. Not for the first time since talking to the zlurp did she wonder what her parents had been up to. Ensnaring her in her own tropes. And now, Earth might even be in danger. The biggest trope of them all.

Ch 17: Rocks
‘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.

Ch 18: the statue
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!

Ch 19: A tiny Meow
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, but no one would’ve been able to help me.’ 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 me. 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?’

Ch 20: voices
‘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.

Ch 21: Myths and legends
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.

Ch 22: Rum and rainbows
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.’

Ch 23: The ritual of drowning
‘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.’

Ch 24: Stories and a slap
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.

Chapter 25: The Order of the Red Knight

Kitty meowed on Nadec’s shoulders as she and her odd company of cat, dragon and gorwak, appeared in the entrance hall of her employers. At least, this room was what she’d always thought of as the entrance hall because it’s where she entered the building every time she skipped there. She’d never been through the real main entrance. She’d only ever stayed on this level.

‘Everyone alright?’

With another meow, Kitty hopped off her shoulders and strolled over to Blackie. He gave her two head buts against the claw, before flopping down to wash his belly.

‘Odd. Fine but.’ Blackie didn’t look as at ease as Kitty did. No wonder. Her long neck caused her head to be squashed up against the ceiling, though high as it was. The room was quite spacious, but Blackie wasn’t meant to be inside it. Fortunately, it was mostly undecorated.

Patat shook his head. The orange morning light—first light of the day—coming through the plain window made his wings looks like a mesmerising, iridescent sunrise. Wherever they had been before, it must have been a distance from here. Nadec cursed.

‘You might be stuck here, Blackie. I’m sorry, I should’ve thought of that.’

The window wasn’t large enough for the large beast, and the door definitely not. Blackie’s only reply was to wink at her. She could probably break through the wall if she wanted to.

‘Stay put, let me see if I can find anyone.’ She glanced toward Patat.

‘Skipping can be brutal the first times, you should feel fine again soon.’

‘Kid, this is not the grounding first time I burning skipped along. I’ll be dripping fine.’

She acknowledged him with a grunt and poked at Blackie’s ass, making her shuffle aside enough to be able to slip through the door. It wasn’t locked. A small flutter of butterflies stirred in her belly. Previous times, she’d always been invited. At this moment she felt more like a trespasser. How would they react? She knocked down the small pit of doubt, the sliver of mistrust. They couldn’t have been behind the attacks on her life.

A brush of Kitty against one of her ankles brought her back from the self-doubt. He must’ve slipped through the door with her.

‘Alright buddy, you can come,’ she grabbed his lead, ‘Don’t want to lose you.’

The plain plush carpet lining the small hallway’s floor dampened her footfall as she opened the door in front of her. The familiar room she stood in was even more empty than usual. There was only a plain table and a narrow, unmade bed, the walls bare. This was where she always been given food and a chance to rest, should she need it.

Back in the hallway, she went right. She knew there wasn’t anything to the left but some storage closets. After only a few steps, she stood on the landing, staring at the wall in front of her, the stairs to the right. A deep breath in. And out. She’d never been down those stairs. Her employers had asked her—not forbidden her—to respect their boundaries, and Nadec had never even thought of breaking her promise. Silly girl—she pushed through her trepidation and descended—too trusting towards people. She forcibly stopped from talking herself down. An old habit she still sometimes struggled with. This time, her employers were going to tell her all of their secrets. She had had enough happen to her lately. Besides, she had a dragon in the room above. Perhaps she could use that as a threat.

At the bottom of these stairs, another sharp turn to the right put her in a larger corridor, with another stairs underneath the stairs she’d just used. The door in the wall to her left stood ajar.

A quick look into the room revealed it to be a master bedroom. A large canopied bed served as the eyecatcher. It was gorgeous. She’d always had a weakness for furniture pieces like that, but stopped herself from lingering in the room after confirming it was empty.

The same was true for another room, which appeared to be a combination of washing room with a basin on a vanity, a tub in the middle, and a dressing room. There was a walk-in closet at the far end. A large stand-up mirror caught her eye. The design was beautiful.

She didn’t care much for her own image though. Pulling a face, she shook her head at the bad fit of her ugly clothes. The trousers did not flatter her wide hips at all. Frowning at herself again while she tried to wipe away smears of dirt, she embraced the thought of ugly clothes being better than walking around naked.

A smell invaded all her other thoughts, leaving nothing but a rumbling stomach. Hot food!  

As she stalked down, she froze midway. Voices floated up. Balls. She barely registered the paintings hanging from the wall. Still, they tickled something in the back of her mind. She ignored it—the entrance hallway was visible from where she stood. The butterflies in her stomach were out of control now. She walked on.

A double door next to the stairs would presumably lead outside. She put her back towards it. That caused her to look straight into another room. She could see them sitting at a table, eating. The fancy carpet felt more plush than the ones at the upper levels. She didn’t have much knowledge about carpets, but this one looked as if it belonged in a castle instead of this medium sized house. It wasn’t what she expected. She’d always assumed the area she was confined to was only a small part of a much larger building. It was much smaller than her imagination made it to be. She’d assumed this was an organisation, with many people calling the shots, and many others like herself. However, from what she’d seen so far today, it didn’t appear to be like that.

Nadec pushed through her hesitation and continued toward them. They weren’t wearing the rich, hooded robes they normally wore. Instead, their clothes looked more as if they belong somewhere in the seventeenth century. Or perhaps earlier or later—Nadec didn’t know enough of old fashion styles to pinpoint the correct era. It could’ve been a combination of several different styles, this wasn’t Earth after all.

This was the first time seeing their faces. The woman looked familiar enough for her brain to hurt trying to figure out why. They were talking to each other, but Nadec hadn’t been listening. The conversation stopped. Nadec focused back on them, she’d been zoomed out, her thoughts dwelling on what was so familiar about the woman’s face. She was looking straight at her now, jaw slack, eyes wide. Nadec imitated the expression. Her mom! The woman’s face looked eerily like her mom’s!

The woman jumped up, almost running around the table, her chair hitting the ground as she closed the distance. Nadec’s reaction was slow. Before she could step back, the woman embraced her in a tight hug.

‘You’re alive, praise the Squares, you’re alive.’

She was sobbing! Nadec moved her arms to push her away. They hugged the woman back instead. It had been too long since she’d had a hug like this. She violently repressed the memory of Wyny in the cave. That embrace didn’t count, not anymore.

The man appeared next to them and gently took the woman by the shoulders, pulling her away. Something stirred in Nadec’s chest.

‘Come Kridec, let’s give her some room. She might be hungry. Nadec, sit, please.’

He motioned toward the table. As Nadec sat down, she noticed a servant standing at the side, who walked away after the man whispered something. She sat across from where the woman sat before, and was sitting now again. Kitty jumped on Nadec’s lap. She stroked him with intent, glad to have him to hold her steady.

‘Kridec?’ Nadec’s voice croaked. ‘That sounds a lot like my name. Is that coincidence?’ She sipped the water they’d put in front of her. At least, she’d intended to sip it, but downed the whole cup in one go instead. And the next two refills. She let Kitty have a drink too.

The servant came back with a bowl of something hot. Nadec’s stomach growled again with the smell of the lentil soup. Soup as breakfast was one of the best meals.

Kridec glanced at the man. She took a deep breath as he nodded.

‘It is time we tell her.’ There was a soothing quality to his deep voice.

‘You’ve only ever known us as your employers, from the Order of the Red Knight.’ Her eyes rested on Nadec’s, searching for something. They were still dripping soft tears. She didn’t seem to notice.

‘That was a lie. There is no such thing as Red Knights. There is no Order. We,’ she hesitated, glancing at the man. He grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze, ‘made that up, to protect you.’

Nadec resumed spooning soup to her mouth, using it as a distraction. Doing everything she could to keep the anger at bay. It was difficult.

‘We are your family.’ The man jumped in, as the woman had choked on her next words. ‘Kridec is your aunt, she’s your mother’s older sister.’

The spoon stopped right in front of nadec’s mouth. Her hand trembled hard enough to spill most of the soup over the sides. She dropped it back in the bowl.

‘Keep on talking.’

Ch 26: Family and Foe

Nadec listened in stunned unbelief. No. That wasn’t right. She believed everything they were telling her. Stunned. She was merely stunned. Her parents had never told her about any aunts. They’d always claimed all relatives either lived too far away or were dead. In a way, they hadn’t lied. The anger she felt before kept simmering, but on a low fire.

By the time she reached the bottom of the bowl of soup, she knew the summarised history of her aunt and why she’d never heard of her. Kridec had decided to give her heirdom to her younger sister, Nadec’s mother. When she was seventeen, they performed a ritual to officially transfer the coming succession. She’d moved out of the castle, with sufficient funds to start a new life. Nadec wondered why she could stay, but couldn’t ask because she was in the middle of swallowing the last of her soup. Kridec talked right over her.

‘I travelled around and saw the world. Years later, I came back here, with Stetem,’ she pointed her head towards her husband and gave him a slight grin. ‘We managed to buy this house. By then, most of Paralelo’s population had almost forgotten about me, which was what we wanted. Everyone was doting over your mother as the next heir. She and I always stayed in touch, secretly. Do you want more soup?’

Nadec nodded. Before the servant could grab Nadec’s bowl, Kitty jumped off Nadec’s lap and began crying a loud and panicky meow. He stalked around, sniffing at places, his howls getting louder.

‘Guts, he needs a toilet. Do you have any loose sand area outside?’

She stood up halfway but Stetem gently pushed her back down by the shoulder.

‘I’m on it, you should listen to the rest of the story.’

He grabbed Kitty’s lead. Kitty hissed at him! Nadec told Kitty everything was alright. She didn’t know if he understood her, but at least he followed Stetem’s lead. Sort of.

‘Your mother and father got married while I was still away. They had trouble getting pregnant. So much so that they turned towards old myths and legends.’

She stood up and took something from a drawer. The servant came back with the bowl re-filled with soup.

‘Here is something you can eat after finishing your soup.’

Her face held a mysterious —and mischievous?—smile. She held out her hand, palm down, and dropped something on the table. A small box, rectangle-shaped. Frowning at Kridec, Nadec slowly slid it closer. It had a simple mechanism for opening the lid.

The gorgeous aroma of chocolate wafted toward her, overwhelming every other smell. Sweet, earthy, nutty. The chocolate was shaped like small triangles, stamped with a lighter square in the middle. Nadec couldn’t resist the pull and popped one in her mouth. The rich and deep taste of the cacao was too much. She rolled her eyes back before closing them. The initial bitterness kept lingering while a sweetness overtook it, perfectly paired. By far one of the best chocolates she’d ever eaten.

When it was all melted away, she let the bliss take her a bit longer before opening her eyes.

‘Chocolate helped them get pregnant with me? Perhaps I shouldn’t be eating chocolate then.’ She muttered that last, aware of all the measures she took to not get pregnant.

Her aunt laughed. It sounded so much like her mother’s laugh, goosebumps spread over Nadec’s arms and her eyes welled up. She blinked it away before Kridec saw it.

‘Now that would be something!’ Kridec’s glee was still obvious when she resumed her talk. ‘No, if you’re in the right—or wrong, depending on how you look at it—circles, you would hear about the myth of Earth. It had always been a legend talked about in the Ichau family. Madec somehow found the way to skip there. She brought me the secret to making chocolate. That’s how—’

‘You! I grounding recognise you. You’re Nadec’s burning employer? That either explains a grounding lot or makes it even more burning strange.’

Kridec’s eyes opened wide. So did her mouth.

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

Nadec couldn’t help but snort at that, despite her surprise at both Patat’s appearance and his words. He recognised her?

‘You, you… you…’

‘Yes, yes, dripping me.’

Stetem came in with Kitty. Kridec slowly turned her head toward him. He looked at her, frowned, and dropped the lead when he saw Patat hovering in the air behind Nadec.

‘Gorwak. That’s a gorwak! They’re real? They were my favourite mythical creature as a child, them and dragons.’

Nadec felt a combination of guilt for not having told them yet about Blackie, and anticipation for their reaction when she’d tell them about the dragon in their room. She exchanged a few quick telepathic sentences with Blackie to make sure she was alright. Kitty sauntered toward Patat, who landed on the floor to receive headbuts.

‘I told you about our childhood friend gorwak.’ Kridec narrowed her eyes. ‘You never believed me, did you.’ She huffed. The indignation was muffled by the way she looked back at Patat. She rubbed her eyes.

‘You had a childhood friend gorwak, and it was this gorwak?’

Kridec answered Nadec’s question with a nod. She wasn’t sure what to think of this coincidence. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence. She sighed. Stetem walked in a daze toward the nearest chair.

‘Burning right it was this gorwak.’ Patat sat next to Nadec. His head barely came above the edge of the table. He furrowed his forehead and gave Kridec a meaningful look. She jumped up from her seat, strode into another room, and came back with big blocks of firewood. They lifted the seat up enough for Patat to be at a better height.

He reached out and pulled the bowl of soup toward him. Kitty jumped up, lying down on his lap. It made eating more difficult, and it couldn’t have been comfortable—Patat being only a bit larger than Kitty. He allowed it anyway, and stroked him while eating the soup in between talking. Nadec grabbed the little box of chocolate, content to eat those instead of the soup.

‘This is good. It’s been too long since I ate hot food. Human food.’

‘Fifty-two years since my brother ran away with you.’ Nadec’s aunt had a faint smile on her lips, remembering childhood memories. ‘He only told us what he did afterwards. We never—’

‘Wait.’ Nadec had to interrupt. She had to!

‘Brother? I’ve got an uncle too? What else? Do I have a lost sibling somewhere? Is the uncle still in the castle? Is he the king now?’ Before she finished her sentence, she already knew it was a stupid question. She knew well enough who ruled Paralelo right now.

‘Oh no, he has passed away. Don’t be sad, it was years ago. He was supposed to be the heir, so when he died, it came to me. You already know what I did then.’

‘When you were seventeen,’ Nadec mumbled, trying to piece things together. It was all a bit confusing. Kridec nodded.

‘Your mother was fifteen at the time. She still had thirteen years until the Wooden Water Crown would appear on her head, but she was already ready for it. She actually got the Crown while she was far into her pregnancy from you.’

The Wooden Water Crown! That had been part of Wyny’s ridiculous tiles.

‘Pagewyn,’ Nadec paused when Stetem uttered a small growl. Kridec’s face fell into a careful neutrality, which screamed disapprovement in its suddenness. ‘Yeah, so, Pagewyn, he rules now, right, so is he a cousin? How is he related.’

The fake neutrality on her aunt’s face got replaced by a smoldering heat in her eyes, emphasised by reddening cheeks.

‘He is a fool, a puppet, put on the throne by usurpers. He is not related to us, at all.’

Nadec’s sigh of relief felt like a betrayal to the anger her aunt and uncle felt. This was going to be complicated, and her head already spun.

‘He doesn’t have the Wooden Water Crown yet.’ Stetem said right on top of Kridec. She continued.

‘The Wooden Water Crown only appears on the head of the person most suited to wear it. That means descendants of the Ichau bloodline, when they turn twenty eight. Or, if they’re not here at that time, or there aren’t anymore heirs, then it goes to the person sitting on the throne.’

It all clicked for Nadec. Partly. Her birthday was in a few days. If she was in The Other Realm then, the Crown would fall on her head. If she wasn’t, or dead, the Crown would got to Wyny. But why would that mean the end of the world, like the zlurp had said? She had a suspicion.

‘What else happens when someone gets the Crown?’

‘They get full potential of the Squares, Triangles and Lines.’

Nadec bit back a curse. The full power of the magic. With the wrong intentions, that might well become the end of world.

Ch 27: Emotional connection

The solution seemed easy. Although Nadec doubted things would not be more complicated. She uttered her thoughts anyway.

‘So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose I’m the most rightful heir at this moment? So all I have to do is stay hidden until my birthday, make sure I stay here, in The Other Realm, and in twelve days the Crown will be mine. It would just appear on my head?’

That concept sounded strange, but nothing here was ever the way she expected. A sinking feeling settled inside of her, and she almost faltered when she mentioned the Crown being hers. She definitely hadn’t had enough time to come to terms with all of this.

Despite her internal turmoil—and the other smouldering emotion in the background—she didn’t miss the look between her aunt and uncle.

‘What?’

Kridec nodded towards her husband, letting him do the talking. Stetem still shot awkward glances at Patat, his eyes blinking and swallowing roughly whenever he did. Patat was aware of it but didn’t let on. For once he didn’t utter any rude words, but pretended to be absorbed in petting Kitty. Nadec was certain he’d been following the whole conversation closely, she’d seen his shock at hearing of her uncle passing away, the one who’d locked him up.

‘We’re very happy to see you alive, Nadec, and you can clean up and stay the night.’

He paused, looking over at Patat again before glancing towards Kridec. His wide eyes eventually rested on the table. ‘But it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay here. This is not a good shelter. They—we don’t know how—obviously have figured out something about you and the Red Knight rouse. They might know of us, and, I mean, this is our house. You understand? We’ve been living here in relative peace for a long time. We’ve always promised your parents to take care of you and followed their instructions meticulously. But we can’t put more at stake. We’ll give you the box they left us to give to you, and much of what you need to know is in there.’

‘Surely you understand, Nady?’

Oh, that nickname. It slapped her right in the face. It’s what her mom always used to call her. How dared her aunt do that to her? How dared they do this to her? They’d just abandon her?

‘Coming, Nadec. You helping will I.’

Blackie’s voice boomed in her head. Before she knew what it meant, a thunderous sound came from above and outside. The grumble and clatter of bricks on the ground was overwhelming. People screamed. A whoosh of wind preceded the head of Blackie barging through the open kitchen window, splintering the frame and managing to break the glass. A few bricks came loose, tumbling along the kitchen bench to the floor, almost in slow motion. Dust pelted the air. Pots clanked as they fell down.

Stetem fell back and clattered to the ground, chair included. Kridec ducked down, moving to take shelter beneath the table before Blackie’s head was through the window. Kitty dug in his claws, and Patat yelped. Nadec blinked and waved her hand in front of her face, trying to dispel the dust.

She quirked an eyebrow at Blackie, who managed to look sheepish now that she saw Nadec wasn’t in any trouble. How did she do it, conveying so much emotion in her reptilian face? She plonked her head down on the table. It creaked in distress, but managed to hold on. Stetem knelt behind his toppled chair, peeking out from behind.

‘What happened, Blackie?’

Nadec asked it out loud, to make it clear to the others that she could talk to the dragon, and that—despite destroying part of their house—the dragon was friendly.

‘Heat felt I. From you. Pulsed did it. Never felt before, you in trouble I thought.’ The sending hesitated. ‘Not real heat, was it?’ She slightly cocked her head—still on the table. Kitty detached herself from Patat’s lap, gave Blackie’s snout a couple of head buts, climbed on top and formed into a fluffy cat ball between the horns. The whole display—short though it was—gave Nadec time to think.

Anger. Blackie had been feeling Nadec’s rising anger. That was another new development. She wondered if Blackie would be able to feel emotions from everyone if she wanted to, or if they had a special bond. Would that—

‘Burning grounds! What did she do that grounding for?’

Patat jumped in the air, and vibrated his whole body while flying to rid himself of the dust. He lowered back down on the chair. Stetem was still hiding behind his toppled chair, much good that would do, and Kridec slowly crawled from under the table. She appeared to have managed a modicum of control again. Nadec could see it was merely a facade, though.

‘You,’ she swallowed, purposely keeping her eyes on Nadec, ‘you can communicate with the dragon?’ Nadec nodded. ‘Unbelievable,’ the other woman whispered. ‘The Ichau blood must be very strong in you.’

Stetem’s voice came from behind the chair. ‘What does that mean? Surely this is nothing but a dream we’re all in? None of this can be real. Truly. First a gorwak, then a dragon? Nice try trying to pretend to talk to that gorwak too, I don’t believe at all that those harsh sounds mean anything.’ He sounded overwhelmed and on the brink of hysteria.

‘Not a dream,’ Nadec mumbled, at the same time that Patat said: ‘burning right they can understand me when I speak gorish.’ He then rolled his eyes. When he spoke next, Nadec could hear something was different, but couldn’t place a finger on what exactly.

‘I forgot most humans don’t burning speak our dripping language. That’s what bloody happens when you get isolated for so grounding long. I should’ve burning realised that’s what’s burning different about you.’ He glanced at Nadec. ‘Perhaps that’s how I guessed you were from the same dripping blood as Jodec.’

Jodec. She assumed that was her uncle’s name. Or had been.

‘So, languages are easy for us?’ She addressed Kridec again, who’d carefully righted her chair and sat down, a good distance from the table.

‘Yes. Yes, Ichaus naturally have the ability to understand and speak all, or many, of the languages. But that’s not important right now. Why is there a live dragon’s head on my table?’

With that, her calm mask broke a little. Her voice almost sounded more hysterical than Stetem’s. She uttered a nervous giggle. ‘Seeing Patat was a surprise, a big surprise, but I could still accept that. I knew he was real before. But this. Dragon’s aren’t supposed to be real! Certainly, it’s always been said that one our family’s Lines was talking to dragons, just like you have the Skipping Line, and I have the Need Line.’ She was talking really fast now, as if that could make up for the situation she was in.

‘Everyone of us has one, two or three Lines, like a little trinket of the Squares, Triangles and Lines, all but the one who gets the Wooden Water Crown, we already said they get it all. So I suppose you have the Skipping and the—what was it called again—I don’t remember the name of the Line, but it means you can talk to Dragons. Although they were supposed to be a myth. Not real. Not able to break my house!’ Her tone of voice gradually rose at the last sentences, with the last word sounding more like a shriek.

‘Dragons and gorwaks.’ Stetem stood up. He was no longer hysterical, awe had replaced it. ‘It’s real, all real. Can I touch him?’ He reached out a shaking hand, but pulled it back when Blackie’s eyes focused on him.

‘She’s a her, not him.’ Nadec checked with Blackie. ‘She says she never had this request before, and she’s amused, but she accepts. Don’t overdo it though.’

She couldn’t keep some venom out of her voice. These people were going to kick her out. Family she’d never known, the only family she still had, were going to abandon her, just like that. Blackie sniffed, stirring up a cloud of dust, causing Stetem to cough and step back in fear.

‘Again feel it, heat. Why?’

‘I’m angry,’ Nadec said in her mind. She continued out loud.

‘They’re the ones who put me through everything I’ve been through these past years. Couldn’t they have just told me the truth? Why make me—‘ she gasped as realisation for the core of her anger dawned on her. A guilt she’d been carrying slumping her shoulders, like a weight pressing down. She whispered.

‘Why make me kill all those people and creatures for a false cause?’

Ch 28: Lines

The room stayed silent, except for a servant—the same one who’d brought Nadec the soup—opening the door. He peeped in, the white around his eyes growing more stark at the sight of Blackie’s head poking through the destroyed window. There was a shouting in the background. The back of Nadec’s mind registered it while faintly wondering how many people had seen Blackie.

Guts, if this is a closely populated area, they might have attracted an audience. She forced down the tingle of panic at that thought. Many other things to think about. The connection with Blackie was growing stronger. The things Kridec had said, the Lines. She wanted to hear more, but her furiousness didn’t allow to ask about that. For now.

‘Oh Nady,’ Kridec finally said. She cringed back at the look Nadec gave her.

‘Never call me that again. You have no right to call me that.’

‘I… don’t understand why, but I’ll try to. Forgive me if I misspeak, I’m so used to hearing your mother say it.’

Nadec snorted. It somehow conveyed a multitude of emotions. Sadness for the mention of her mother, anger for this conversation, hopelessness for this whole situation, unbelief for her aunt’s lack of understanding while mentioning the reason, ridicule for asking forgiveness for this small feat and not all the rest.

Kridec glanced at Stetem, who’d been staring at Blackie and Patat, his head swiveling from dragon to gorwak. Blackie ignored him, seemingly content with her head on the table. Patat though… He pulled a different face each time Stetem’s eyes fell on him.

‘Stem, perhaps you should go outside and put everyone at ease.’ Kridec nodded towards the servant, who was still peeking in the room through the half open door. ‘You look as if your head is about to fall off.’ She nodded as he went outside. He looked a bit unsteady on his legs.

‘Don’t worry, we live outside of the city and we have walls, there are no neighbours who could’ve seen this. There are only our servants.’

Nadec started. The words were obviously aimed at her, but how had she known it was something Nadec had been thinking off? Logical deduction? Or something else? She felt as if she couldn’t trust herself anymore. Her thoughts were certainly a mess. There had been too much information at once.

An unexpected hug pulled Nadec back out of her thoughts. Shonk swallop! She knew she was supposed to lift her arms and return the embrace, but her arms stayed plastered in her lap. She was still mad at them, a hug wasn’t going to fix it.

‘We never wanted to do it,’ Kridec said silently in Nadec’s ears. Was she crying? ‘We never wanted to, we always thought it would’ve been better to tell you the truth, instead of this elaborate plan. It wasn’t only you who was being put at risk but us too.’

She let go and sat back down, wiping her eyes.

‘I’ve always wanted to remain in anonymity. The royal life wasn’t for me. I was happy enough to stay in the background when Jodec was still the heir, but when he suddenly disappeared and it was all going to fall on my head, literally so, I knew I had to get out. I’d rather say goodbye to everything I knew, than having to bear the responsibility. And it worked! When I came back, with Stetem, people on the street never mentioned me anymore.

‘Madec came to me one day, about half a year before her Crown receival. I told you we’d always stayed in touch. She’d been telling me they were having trouble conceiving. The day Madec came here, I knew she had something important to say. She confided in me that she’d found a way to Skip to Earth, which was how she finally became pregnant.  At first I didn’t believe her. Earth was a myth! She gave me the gift of chocolate. It was incredible, I still remember the first time I tried it.’ A twinkle in her shiny eyes proved her remembrance.

‘She said she’d give me all the knowledge to make this and build a blooming business out of it. On one condition. I had to promise to take care of you if something happened to them. She said she’d change the instructions yearly. And so she did. I thought it was all a bit silly and paranoid.

‘It had been so long, I never thought it was actually going to happen. But every year she brought me two boxes, one with instructions for us, the other to give to you after a designated amount of time, together with our box. We gave away our safety and anonymity to protect you.’

‘To protect me? You mean, to have a chocolate business, to make money. Not to protect me!’

Kridec flinched. ‘That’s not how I meant it. Well, we did it anyway, so that’s that. It’s probably already too late for us, I believe they’ll come for us soon, searching for you. That’s why you need to go. Stetem explained it in an unfortunate way, he didn’t mean it so harshly. We care. We do! But we know this isn’t safe for you. They’ll find you. Especially now. We only have a handful of servants here, and our chocolate production is elsewhere, but they are gossips. They’ll talk about the dragon, perhaps even the gorwak. We’ll do everything we can do buy their silence, but it might not be enough.

‘Oh, there is so much I wish I could tell you, but we should get ready. I’m afraid a bath won’t be possible at this moment. I’ll give you dresses, and my most trusted servant, Melia. I’d suggest you make your way to the city, and lay low there, until the day of the Crown. With a few full purses and the dresses, you can pass for a wealthy merchant. Wealthy enough to afford a good room in a decent inn. I’m really sorry I can’t do more. We’ll have our own mess to clean up here.’

Nadec had let her talk, wanting to interrupt several times, but always decided against it. She saw the sincerity in her aunt’s face. Despite her earlier feelings, and an ever-lingering smoulder of anger, she trusted her. She couldn’t help the sarcasm in her voice though.

‘Good speech. I can’t go into the city though, there’s no way to take Blackie and Patat with me. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to get into a city, better to hide away in a forest until the Crown appears on my little head.’ She moved her hands around her head.

‘You’ve got that snarkiness from your mother. Yes, I’d advice against taking them, and even your cat—whatever you do, don’t walk him outside where people can see him. It would be too much of a novelty. As for the other two… I might have a solution, but I need to talk to Stetem first. The only issue would be sneaking them in. If only we had Jodec’s Line of Deception. But, no matter. We’ll find a way. Little help though it may be, I will give you that.’

She leaned forward and grabbed Nadec’s hand, who pulled hers back. Even though Nadec had calmed down, she was still upset. But there was too much information to focus on instead of the anger. The Lines of deception, she mused. Something tickled in the back of her mind. She breathed in sharply.

‘Wyny! I mean, Pagewyn. He can do the Squares and Triangles thing. What’s up with that? You said he’s not related, how could he have power?’

Kridec tsk-ed. Her face showed disapproval.

‘Your parents really should’ve taught you all of this, it was the wrong decision to wait. But they wanted to uphold tradition and keep you safe. Traditionally, the heir who’s bound to receive the Crown, would be prepped, starting three years earlier. No, let me speak, I know it sounds odd. Royalty should get prepared from the moment they’re born, right? That’s how they do it in other kingdoms. In Paralelo, all siblings get a basic preparation. The Crown receiver gets an extra education, and that is mostly to teach them about the powers they’re bound to receive. Your parents were going to start teaching you about three years ago, but then they passed away. I always thought they should’ve introduced you to this world from childhood, but anyway, they had their own silly reasons. No one can sit on the Throne without a proper ritual, handing over the intent for them to become the Crown receiver. It’s very complicated and I don’t know the details. I assume that ritual grants the usurper—I mean, that person— one of the Lines. I think he should lose it once you get the Crown.’

That was again a much larger explanation han she’d thought he’d get. Nadec’s aunt certainly liked to talk. Even in situations like this. Kridec continued.

‘To come back to what you said previously, there are no forests in which you’d be able to hide in this area. Too many people walk here, too much chance of discovery. Besides, I don’t want you to live in discomfort, you’ve had a hard enough time as it was. And I am certain it is the best idea to be in the city when the day comes, nice and clean. That way you can have the people validate you straight away, and you can make that fool look like a genuine fool.’

Nadec had only been listening with a half ear, her thoughts still on what Kridec had said earlier. However, she perked up at the last sentences.

‘What? The city. Pagewyn is in the city you mentioned before?’ Her skin crawled. ‘I should’ve asked this before. Where exactly are we?’

‘Oh, well, I thought you’d have guessed by now. We’re only half an hour walk from the walls of Hexago, Paralelo’s capital city. I told you I came back here after my travels. I couldn’t live in the city of course, but I found a nice secluded mansion not too far away, and…’

Kridec kept babbling on, oblivious of Nadec’s shock. She really should have figured it out earlier. But her brain was too overloaded, it obviously had trouble keeping up. The capital city of Paralellogram. So close to Wyny.

Staying hidden in the forest first did seem like a bad idea now. She should go into the city and go check things out. After all—momentarily ignoring the mystery of the others who’d tried to kill her—it was going to be her new home, right? And perhaps she could figure out more of them there. Rumours were always in abundance, if you knew where to look for them.

Ch 29 Hexago

‘Burning grounds,’ Patat said when Kridec left the room. She was going to help Stetem to calm their servants down—more like bribe them, probably—and discuss whichever idea she had to get Blackie and Patat in the city.

‘I could’ve grounding told you much of that. I’m burning sorry, kid.’

Surprise lit up Nadec’s face. He apologised for saying things?

‘Don’t burning look at me like that. Gorwaks were supposed to burning be the ones who told humans everything. Multiplying doesn’t seem to be the only thing I’m burning bad at.’

If anyone would say such a thing, it would sound self-deprivation and a poor attempt at vying for compassion. Coming from Patat, it merely sounded like a statement of truth. 

‘I grounding forgot a lot of it either way, hearing it being said revived my burning memories. Going into the city feels like the best burning idea, I’ve got to agree with burning Kridec on that. Yes, I can burning curse her name, we go back a long dripping time. I’ll need to dripping tell you the complete, fuller version of my story some day.’

‘You better be holding Kitty when telling that story,’ she muttered, not knowing what else to say. There were too many questions, but this wasn’t the time to look for answers, not from Kridec nor Patat. 

A servant came in. The tall woman lifted the hem of her dark, wide skirts in a slight curtsy. The movement emphasised her slim figure. Although her face was covered partially by the blonde hair, Nadec thought she saw an expression on her face which didn’t quite match the subservient look Nadec hated. She’d always felt uncomfortable when people lowered their own value compared to her. Her confident form never quite matched up with what she felt on the inside. Still, she kept pretending. Nadec squinted at the woman. She looked familiar.

‘Mistress Ichau, my name is Melia. Madame Ichau has told me I’m to get you ready to go into the city. She said I would be going with you. She said it was preferable to leave as soon as possible, so we should get ready. It is still late sunrise so we should be able to get there and find an inn before late noon.’ She kept her eyes down the entire time. Her hands rubbed her skirts in a constant movement. ‘Madame Ichau also said to tell you they’d certainly have a solution for the dragon,’ her voice faltered a bit at that, ‘and the gorwak.’ She sounded as if she didn’t belief she just said those words herself.

That accent, Nadec thought. Nadec wasn’t sure about anything concerning languages anymore—she wanted to believe Kridec had been pulling her leg when she said Ichaus know all of them. That’s why she didn’t know if Melia was speaking her own language, while Nadec naturally understood it, or if she spoke Nadec’s language, but with an accent. Whichever it was, it sounded too familiar. Nadec almost had it, it was on the tip of her tongue, when Patat flew up, startling the servant.

‘Aah, I might as well burning see if I can help them with something. Blackie, you grounding coming too? You dripping broke it, so makes sense to give them a burning paw. Not literally though, no need to also light a burning fire.’

Blackie looked abashed before lifting her head and falling into a deep yawn, tongue rolling out. She laid her head back on the table to wait until Kitty climbed of it. He chose the long route, along the snout and taking his precious time, with stretches in between. 

‘Come on Kitty, let’s see which clothes they have.’

Several hours later, Nadec tugged at her corset. Again. She was already getting annoyed with it. The deep maroon fabric of the dress shimmered in the late afternoon sun. She was the first to admit that the dress was gorgeous, but preferably on someone else. Seeing the few stray cat hairs on it already made her regret the decision to leave Kitty behind. Hopefully tonight everything would go well.

A bump on the road jolted the ricksha, and she cursed. Melia flushed. She was walking along beside her. The cart was pulled by one of Kridec’s strongmen. Although Nadec called it a rickshaw in her head, the local people did not. They had named these type of carts quins. It had two large wheels and two handles at the front, in between which the person who pulled it, preferably a strongman, would position themself to tug the cart along. There was also a wide strap of sturdy fabric which made for some kind of halter fitting around the chest. 

Nadec had insisted she could walk as well and let the strongman merely pull her chest. But Kridec and Stetem insisted she’d not. Something to do with rank and standing. 

‘Mistress, we should see the city walls soon. If you would want to see the city, perhaps you would like to lean out a little?’ Melia glanced at her and said more quietly: ‘it would be proper enough to do so. For many first-times visitors the first view of the city is a spectacle. It has become some sort of ritual. So in fact, it would be more proper to lean out and watch.’

‘It would be proper.’ Nadec’s voice was as flat as it could go. Her natural instinct wanted her to stay seated as she was and don’t go along with what’s proper. But, she had a new reputation to make and it wouldn’t do to mess it up from the first minute of being out in public. She sighed, scooted closer to the edge of the seat, and stuck her head out. 

‘That’s different,’ she muttered. 

Massive towers formed the corners of the hexagon-shaped wall surrounding the city. She was close enough to see brass bells in the tops of all six round towers. She assumed the wall’s shape because the other side was hidden. The ground wasn’t flat. The terrain inside of the walls sloped up to end in a large triangular shape. At least, that’s what she thought it was. From her vantage, it appeared as if there were multiple walls inside the outer walls, dividing the city in several sections. She couldn’t call them rings, because they had definite corners, but it seemed random at first glance. Each corner had a tower, which got smaller closer to the centre.

‘Mistress, your face. I apologize, but people are watching. You don’t look properly impressed.’

Nadec scowled at Melia, who ducked her head but made sure Nadec could still see her roll her eyes. It wasn’t an annoyed eye-roll, but served as a way of pointing around without pointing.

She released the scowl when she saw the truth of Melia’s words. There were more people around them than Nadec had expected, and everyone who wasn’t staring at the city were shooting glances her way. 

‘I got caught up in trying to figure out the layout of the city,’ Nadec mumbled. ‘Perhaps you can tell me some of it. Maybe that way I can express proper amazement.’

She flinched at the tone of her voice. She should keep her frustration to herself, not work them out on this poor servant. Melia didn’t give any sign of being bothered by it. She nodded and her eyes lighted up.

‘Yes, I can do that. It’s utterly marvelous, a true mathematical wonder. Everything is man-made, it is said nothing about the shape is natural. Of course, there are always the linists, who insist that it is all natural, and early Hexagoers—citizens of Hexago—only built the walls and buildings following the natural shapes and slopes. Nonsense of course. Nature can be smart, but when it comes down to mathematics, nothing beats humans, right? Right.

‘Yes, that’s a proper bewildered face, keep that up. The outer wall is a hexagon shape, all sides have the same length. The moat surrounding it is a perfect circle. It has a same width all around, and only touches the corner towers with its water. Against the sides of the wall, areas of ground make sure of the equal moat width. They form a circle, so the city from above looks like a hexagon in a circle, corners touching the walls. Not that anyone ahas ever seen the city from above except for birds. But how wonderful must it be, to be able to see it from above, see the perfectly aligned shapes and—’

‘The city, Melia, how is the city divided? I still can’t wrap my head around it. Would you prefer I call you by your real name though? Fluetza? Or was that also a fake name? Don’t look so shocked, of course I remember you. Do you really think I wouldn’t remember someone whom I’ve rescued only a few months ago? My carpets were a mess when I came home from that one.’

Nadec hadn’t remembered her at all, not until she began the passionate talk about maths.

‘It’s fine, we’ll talk about how you got here later if you want. Keep talking about the city, we’re getting closer really quickly now’.

And they were, the downward road in between the bend they’d come from and the city gates, was only a small stretch. At this pace, it was only a matter of minutes to join the line-up into the city. 

‘I was covered in mud so, no, I didn’t think you’d recognize me.’ Nadec almost snorted at the truth of that. ‘But you are right, we’ll discuss it later. In brief, the first inner wall is a pentagon, the second one is square-shaped, and the third is triangle-shaped. The ground slopes up, following the outer shape. So in between the hexagon and pentagon, the ground slopes up following the sides of the hexagon. In between the square and the triangle, the ground slopes up following the square. It sounds like that should make for some awkward angles and streets, but you’ll see once inside, it’s hardly noticeable. The triangle wall surrounds the castle’s gardens and the castle.’

‘Yeah, I thought I saw some green at the top, but wasn’t sure, it was too far away.’

‘You were right. The gardens are on an extra steep slope. In fact, the castle itself has many levels completely and half buried underground. The castle itself is a circular, tiered tower in the centre—in the precise centre of the moat circle actually—and has three extensions pointing towards the triangle wall’s corners. The three points also have towers, and the tops of those—’

They halted, having reached the line into the city. Nadec was relieved. Without any map or ground plan in front of her, the description of it all spun her head. What an info dump again. 

Nadec leaned back in her seat and closed the curtain. It went all around the front and sides of the riksha—the quin—to enable the passengers complete privacy if they wished it. She’d had it open at the side so she could talk to Melia. Apparently the front section was seldom left open. Perhaps they didn’t think it proper to have to look at the strongman’s backside. From what Nadec had seen before, that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing to look at. 

The line moved swiftly. Soon she heard a male voice ask to ‘state your purpose’. Nadec’s skirt rustled as she shifted, annoyed at not being allowed to face the guard himself. Letting the servants do much of the talking was another strange custom here.  

Before Melia could answer, the guard spoke again, this time to apologize while he listened to someone mumbling to him. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘everyone can go in freely. Let it be known! The gates are open to everyone. Festivities for the coronation are to start tomorrow! The royal highness Pagewyn has decided to add an extra day to the traditional ten days. Come on, move along!

Coronation festivities? Her aunt hadn’t said anything about those. She didn’t think it was possible, but she was even more looking forward to opening the box her parents left her. What secrets would it reveal?

Ch 30 Skipping is easy

‘Coming!’

Blackie’s voice in Nadec’s head loosened up a knot between Nadec’s shoulder blades. She glanced around the corner of the alleyway she was in, towards the city’s main gate. The lanterns around it gave enough light to see the two guards standing around the guard post at the bottom. A third and fourth one sat atop the tower on each side of the gate. 

‘Says Kridec, ready get!’

The two guards on the ground turned their heads the same direction, almost as synchronised as if it was rehearsed. They walked away from their post, oblivious of anything else but the Need to investigate. Before the top guards noticed the absence of their fellows, both of them slumped down.

Nadec ran towards the gate. She turned the wheel connected to the chain to lift the two heavy beams. Once they were released from their supports and floating in front of the gate, she tugged the tow chain—a short length of chain attached to the bottom beam. The beams moved out of the way. She unbolted the five heavy locks.

When she could finally swing open the gates, a welcome meow was the first thing she heard, followed by Kitty jumping on her shoulder. A serious-looking Kridec nodded at her.

‘Well done. Come, let’s get this done. My Need can only do so much. I’m stretching it thin already. Blackie, make them wake up in an hour. That should be enough to get into the building and sneak back out.’

A vague outline of a shadow moved in the lantern light. A thin squeak of escaping air filled the otherwise silent night. 

‘How did you know she could change her wake-up farts?’ Nadec mumbled, partly to herself, partly to Kridec.

‘I didn’t. It was a good guess.’

‘How did you cloak her? Are we hidden too?’

‘No, only her. If anyone were to look out and see us walking about, it wouldn’t raise that much suspicion. A dragon is a completely different thing. I enveloped her in a cloud of Need. It makes anyone looking in her direction feel the Need to see a shadow instead of a dragon. It’s one of the more complex uses of this Line. This way.’

‘Mind manipulation. Huh.’ Nadec followed her aunt into the city, baffled by the options of the Line. She could only assume all the Lines had such a broad array of uses. If everything would go to plan, she’d have access to all of those different Lines soon. She’d really be all powerful. Once she managed to learn about them all. And if she were to fail… The people who were controlling Wyny were up to no good. She remembered what the zlurp had said. They want to conquer Earth. With all that power, there’s a good chance they’d be able to destroy it completely.

‘This is one of our stock houses.’ 

Kridec’s voice flustered Nadec. She didn’t know how long they’d been walking, so caught up in her thoughts she’d been. She stopped next to her aunt, in front of a large building. There was a double door, which Kridec was opening up.

‘Blackie might have to squeeze a little bit, but once through the doors, she should have plenty of space to stretch out. The stock house is empty right now because we’ve been wanting to rebuild the interior. We have a big plan, providing indoor rooms for several different shops. People would be able to come here on bad weather days and do all their shopping in a controlled environment, without getting wet or cold.’

It was pitch dark inside. The streets didn’t have lanterns or any other lighting. The two moons—the smallest one full, the other half full—gave enough light to see by on the streets, but didn’t reach inside of the building. The sound of flint and steel was followed by a small bright flash, and the steady flame of an oil lamp. Kridec must have dropped her Need around Blackie because she appeared like a black dragon-shaped void. The void filled the doorway, trying to push in. 

Blackie spoke to Nadec, making her gasp. 

‘What about food and water? And, even more important, poo and pee? I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before.’ She rubbed her forehead in annoyance. 

‘Don’t worry, I did. One of the best features of this building, is that it’s built around a well. See?’ She walked towards the middle of the open space. There was indeed a pool of water. ‘We want to make this into a key feature in the middle of the shop house. Integrate it with sculptures and the like… But that’s not important now. The well is neverending, so there’s your dragon’s water. I’ll have one of my city servants bring food daily. And carry off the poo.’

Nadec gaped at her. This plan felt foolish. She felt foolish She didn’t want Blackie to be locked up like this, even if it was only for a long week. She turned to face Blackie. She hadn’t noticed the creaking of wood before. Turned towards it, the sound reverberated in the otherwise silent night.

‘Shhhhh, Blackie, hush.’

Blackie stopped wriggling.

‘Fit not.’ Her voice was petulant and slightly panicked in Nadec’s head. Kitty yawned, jumped off Nadec’s shoulder, and head butted Blackie’s chin. He swooned down and rolled on his back, playfully touching the chin with all his toe beans. 

‘Balls. Kridec, the doorway’s too small. We’ll have to hide her outside after all. I don’t believe it would’ve worked to keep her in here anyway.’ She imagined someone bringing a load of food—and removing massives piles of dung every day—would be too conspicuous.

Kridec shook her head before Nadec finished the sentence. 

‘I told you before, not an option. Our home will get invaded soon, and once word gets out—which it probably already has—every area of the forest will be searched.’ She frowned at Nadec. ‘Just skip her inside. What a fool I am, we could’ve done this all along.’

‘I can do that?’

‘How else did you skip to our home? Of course you can do that.’ She grabbed Nadec by the shoulders, but released immediately ‘I don’t have time to explain everything so I’ll try to make it quick. Whenever I had someone slap you, I reached beyond Realms to grab the closest person near you. It’s complicated, but let’s say it’s all to do with fine tuning my Need. I transferred the Need of the task I had for you, to you, right at the time I made the person slap you. That’s how you could feel where to go and what to do.’

‘You injected me with the Need of the task?’ Nadec was incredulous. It all sounded too complicated, there should’ve been an easier way.

‘Something like that, yes. It doesn’t matter. Point of it all is, with the task ahead of you, you knew where to skip. We made you believe that’s the only way you could skip, from Earth to here and back. But your options are endless. I won’t get into it now. I’m sure the box your parents left has more answers than I could ever give you. Have you opened it yet?’

‘No. Patat is having a look at it right now. He asked and I said it was alright. He might be able to order everything in rank of what’s most important to know.’ Nadec’s mind spun. She could skip everywhere? The image of Patat being released from the chest which brought him into the city and inn as part of her baggage, softened the overwhelming feeling. That had been funny.

‘How did I skip to your home? I had Patat slap me because I thought that’s how I’d know where to skip to, and it worked. But it doesn’t feel like that should have worked, with what you just told me.’

‘I can’t be certain. Perhaps you knew all along and it gave you the confidence you needed. You’d skipped many times to that same place, so it is ingrained in you. Now, enough talking, let’s get this beast inside. Let her touch you—you’re able to transport others without touching and even without skipping yourself, but it’s not a good idea to try it now—activate you Skip, and keep the middle of the building form in your mind.’

Blackie looked miserable. Her head, neck and shoulders were inside. The rest seemed really stuck. Nadec lifted Kitty up, pecked him on the head, and moved him away. There was no need for him to skip along. No need to take the risk. Kitty sauntered over to a pile off sand in a corner and started digging. Nadec chuckled and got in position. She touched her foot against Blackie’s snout, and almost jumped away when something wet touched her leg. 

‘Really?’ She sent to the dragon.

‘Sure be. Want not you lose me.’ Blackie held her tongue firmly in place.

Hands on knees, Nadec began the process. Slamming her bent knees together while crossing her hands, she felt the energy build up. She focused on the spot in front of her, the center of the building, next to the pool.

They Skipped.

Ch 31 Dresses are stupid

Water enveloped Nadec. The dress she wore entangled her, making it hard to swim. The need to breathe in became stronger. She swirled her arms around her, trying to gather the skirt. Her legs kicked harder as they were somewhat freed. Panic was about to engulf her when she broke the surface. She took a deep breath and sputtered as she sank again. The skirt opened up around her as she let it go, struggling to use her arms in an attempt to aid her already burning legs. 

When one of her hands hit a solid edge, she turned and clung to it. Before she could wipe her eyes, a hot liquid slammed over her, accompanied by a terrible roar. It stung her closed eyes and smelled vile, as putrid as… as the spit of an alpaca. Like bile made of grass. 

‘Apologies,’ the weak voice of Blackie in her head.

Nausea curled Nadec’s stomach in a knot. She swallowed repeatedly. Keeping on hand on the edge, she ducked under water. Her other hand pushed the water above her head away. She hoped that would give her a somewhat clean area to emerge from. She broke the surface again, wiped her face, and opened her eyes. Her vision was blurred. The sting was awful. The smell was worse.

The dress was too heavy. She couldn’t lift herself out of the water. Her arms protested, her leg muscles seized up. Darkness. A tightness around her chest. She left the water. The tightness disappeared and the faint light of the lantern was back. A dark looming figure towered above her. 

‘Clean I. Hold.’

The feel of Blackie’s tongue licking her was something Nadec hoped she’d never have to experience again. At least she wasn’t naked this time. For a moment she didn’t have the strength to do anything but let it happen. When Blackie jostled her enough to turn her around, she got to her hand and knees.

‘Alright, enough already, enough.’ 

Blackie stopped licking her. She didn’t stop licking completely though, she continued to clean up the ground. Nadec purposely didn’t look at it. Her stomach was still unsure about the smell surrounding her. She crawled a little out of the way, and sat down with a sigh. Kitty nuzzled her. 

‘You mis-aimed by a meter. You had the area for Blackie right, but forgot to count yourself in. Don’t worry, you’ll get better. The dragon will get better at handling it too. Here, this one wanted to jump in after you.’

Was that everything Kridec had to say? Nadec almost drowned and got vomited on by a dragon, and she commented on the Skipping? Weird, weird woman. Definitely family. She was holding Kitty’s leash.

‘Do you think this stupid dress is salvageable? If I hadn’t been wearing it there wouldn’t have been an issue for me in the water, but still, it would be a shame to see it go to waste. It must’ve been expensive.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that. This was an old one, it doesn’t matter. I’ve put enough coins in your purses to commission several new ones. Melia knows to take you to my tailor tomorrow. What? What’s wrong?’

Nadec’s eyes widened. She jumped up, failed, fell over, but straight away tried again, slower this time. She frantically searched for the skirt’s pocket hole on the right side. Balls, I hope I didn’t lose it. When she found the slit, she shoved her hand in, opening and closing her fingers wide to get through the wet fabric. There it was. She brought her hand back out, holding the piece of the statue. The blue and pink strata were more vibrant because of the wetness. 

‘That—where did you find that?’ Kridec’s hand shook as she outstretched it towards the piece. 

‘We found a statue, a part of it. I’m not sure why I didn’t leave it in my room for the night, it just felt right to take it along.’

‘You found a part? Which part of the statue did you find? Which part?’

‘The asses. I mean, the middle. You know, hips and male and female body parts and all.’

‘The Bottoms. You’ve found the bottoms.’ Kridec sounded on the verge of laughter or hysterical tears. Perhaps both. ‘ Did you have your halberd? Did it react?’

‘It did. It got hot. What did it mean? It’s made by the Statue, isn’t it. Wyny told me it was called the Statue of the Originals. But because it was too powerful, they somehow divided it in parts and dispersed those.’

Nadec’s aunt blinked. She absently wiped away the tears which had jumped on her cheeks.

‘It’s close to the truth, but not complete. I was always certain the halberd was a PPW. I knew I was right. Can you bring me there? You’ve been there, so you could skip back.’

‘Now?’ Nadec barked a laugh at the incredulity of the request.

Her aunt snorted. Nadec snorted in reply, surprised at the unexpected sound.

‘Of course not. I’ll come back tomorrow around noon. I’d suggest you take Blackie along too. You could probably leave her there, it should be safe, if it’s far enough.’ The dancing light of the lantern cast a dramatic shadow on her questioning face. ‘There truly is no reason to keep her locked up in this building. I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought about the solution your Skipping could bring.’

Blackie sniffed. Both Nadec and kridec jumped. 

‘She doesn’t want to stay away from me, she wants to stay here.’ Nadec was astonished at Blackie’s attachment. It was a pleasant sort of amazement. She was glad the large beast wanted to stick around. ‘She doesn’t like the thought of Skipping several times a day to eat and everything else, but she likes it better than being stuck in here with her own waste. I’m sure the sickness after Skipping will improve after a while.’ She said that last mostly for Blackie. ‘You should probably get going, before the guard wakes up. Can you help me undress?’ 

Turning her back towards Kridec, she began unlacing the strings of her skirt she could reach.

‘Undress? What?’

‘You don’t think I’m going to walk through the city with this wet dress, and take it into my room to stink out the whole place, do you? No, come on, get this thing off me. You’ll just have to place a temporary Need on me like you did with Blackie. I have to go with you to the gates to close them again, remember?’

Silence was the only answer she received, and a tugging at the back of her dress. Undressing fortunately didn’t take as long as dressing. It still took a decent amount of time, enough for Nadec and Kridec to feel the pressure of time. When Nadec prepared to also remove her undergarment, Kridec stopped her and announced she wouldn’t be able to use her Need on Nadec. She had used her limit today, if she used more, she would fall in a spontaneous and unwakeable sleep.

She almost took it all off anyway, but then decided to leave it on; for now. She made sure Blackie was going to be alright. The black beast had already curled herself up in a donut—it looked empty without Kitty in the middle. They would be able to maintain their mental connection from a distance, which was a comfort. She walked Kitty toward Blackie for a last head butt, and out they went.

They ran. Kridec’s breathing grew heavy after only a few streets, but she persevered. She didn’t stop at the gates. A quick goodbye yell at Nadec who didn’t pause before slamming the gates shut. Heaving the beams back in place was more difficult than removing them—it was a two-man job for sure. She managed it at the same time she heard clanging from above. She stayed against the wall, sneaking the opposite side from where the other two guards where coming from. 

She got lost several times before finding her inn. To be certain, she checked the sign. The original dragon. That was it. Kridec claimed it was one of the inns most loyal to the Ichau family. Nadec wasn’t certain what to think of the name. It certainly felt fitting. 

She retreated across the street, to an alleyway. The location of her room was in front of her, on the second level. She removed her under garments; she did not want to bring them in her room, the acid smell would be impossible to remove. Only then did she remember to have a look around for other people. 

Kitty hissed at the same time, emphasising Nadec’s idiocy. A scruff-looking man straightened from where he’d been lying, too close. The light of the single lantern on the front door of the inn didn’t reach far enough to see the fellow’s face. It was obvious he was up to no good. 

‘Very kind of you to undress, girl,’ he cackled in a high-pitched voice. 

‘I am no girl.’ Nadec kicked out with her left foot, hitting him right in the stomach. He doubled over, bringing his face in perfect placement for her knee. He fell backwards.

‘Come Kitty.’ She scooped him up, putting him on her shoulders. ‘You better be gone from this alleyway by tomorrow, creep.’ She turned around, bent through her knees, going through the motions of Skipping, focusing her destination in her mind and view. A shuffling behind her warned of the man attempting to jump her again. ‘Gross.’ The last letters of the word sounded like a hiss coming from empty air.

Ch 32 A bath and a reputation

Kitty jumped off Nadec’s shoulders as she stumbled from appearing halfway on and off the bed. She picked herself up from the floor at the same time Melia came though the side door—a door giving access to Nadec’s room from the tiny attached servant’s hole. Nadec felt disgusted at it. She’d suggested paying for a full room further down the hallway. Everyone who heard had regarded her with shock. 

‘Mistress? Are you all right?’

Mumbling that she was, she asked Melia to get a bath filled. When the tall woman said she wasn’t certain if it was possible in the middle of the night, Nadec implored her to take a deep breath. When Melia stopped gagging, Nadec told her to wake other servants if she must, and make sure to pay them sufficiently for their troubles. 

When Melia left, Nadec pace the small open space she had. Her legs yearned to sit, but she didn’t want her bed sheets to reek of vomit. The oddity of having a bath drawn in the middle of the night would give her a reputation of being odd and demanding. Fine, she thought, that’s the role I’ll play. She hadn’t been certain how to act as a noblewoman. They’d decided to forego the wealthy merchant ruse, and instead do a visiting noblewoman act. It required no merchanting skill, which was good because Nadec had none of that.

‘You lucky little thing,’ she mumbled towards Kitty, who’d curled up on the bed to sleep. Nadec resumed her pacing. At least one question had been answered now. If she’d Skip somewhere and misaimed—say, in the middle of a wall—she wouldn’t materialise inside of it. The knowledge made her feel more at ease with the magic. 

About half an hour later, Melia walked in to announce the bath was ready for her. Nadec walked to the door, but the tall woman stayed standing in the doorway.

‘Mistress? You’re naked. You can’t go out like that?’

Nadec snorted. 

‘Of course I can. I doubt there’s anyone awake to see me. Come on, move aside. Make sure to close the door. Where do I go?

‘Down the hallway. But mistress—’

Not completely insensitive to walking through a public hallway in the nude, Nadec picked up her pace. Ajar doors, with dancing flames and shadows behind them, peeking eyes and whispers, proved her wrong. Plenty of people were awake. Struggling inwardly, she kept a straight back. Merely adding to my weird reputation. The thought made it easier to maintain perfect composure. 

The sigh of relief upon entering the bathing chamber, was not only caused by the wonderfully hot steam rising from the tub. She eased into the water, sinking in chin deep. The tub was large enough to have her whole body submerged. It bespoke of the inn’s wealthiness. 

Her muscles relaxed one by one. She loved showers, but taking a bath was on a completely different level. Her eyes closed. Her mind drifted. This was the first time in more than two weeks she allowed herself to relax completely. Not counting the week she’d been in the Blackie-induced sleep. 

So much had happened. Almost, she’d spilled everything to Patat when they first met. 

Water splashed over the sides of the tub as she sat upright. Patat. Where was he? He hasn’t been in her room when she returned. 

‘Melia,’ she barked, ‘where is Patat?’

The tall servant woman cringed where she stood, a meter away from the tub. She fidgeted her fingers as she spoke with hesitation. 

‘I apologise mistress, I do, I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t keep him back. It. Her. Them.’ She choked on her words, trying to come up with a proper pronoun for the mythical creature. 

‘What happened, where did he go?’

‘I… I don’t know mistress. He said he’d been locked up long enough, he wasn’t going to stay locked up again. When I refused to open the door, his voice changed. It became so very sweet. He said he merely wanted to look around the city to see what had changed. He promised me he’d stay out of sight. No one would see him. And then I,’ she faltered and lowered her eyes. She continued in a whisper. ‘I moved away from the door and opened the window. He flew out. I don’t know where to. ‘

The news brought new tension in Nadec’s muscles, too much for the hot water to relieve. There wasn’t anything she could do about Patat at that point, she thought, so she tried to enjoy the rest of her bath time. She couldn’t. She left the water before it cooled down. Melia offered her a bathing gown to wear for the walk through the hallway. This time, Nadec accepted. It had been a little bit too uncomfortable before.

Back in the room, she unhooked the oil lamp from beside the door and used it to light the one sitting on the small desk in the corner. With that light on, she saw the spread out pages. Kitty jumped on Nadec’s lap the moment she sat down. Nadec glanced at Melia, who’d put the door lamp back. 

‘Extinguish it and then you can go to bed. I won’t need you anymore. You should get some rest. And, I’m sorry for barking at you earlier. It would’ve been better if you’d told me about Patat earlier but I understand. It’s probably my fault, with my demands for a bath.’ She wasn’t actually sorry for asking for a bath; she knew she’d needed it. But sometimes the reality doesn’t matter when apologising.

‘Mistress, it’s all right. You should never apologise to me, that is not how a noblewoman treats a servant. Besides, you truly were in need of a clean. At least there was no mud this time.’

Nadec snorted. ‘You should’ve seen my carpets. I also wasn’t kidding when I said it felt as if I had mud everywhere. Days later, mud would still appear in areas I was sure I’d washed thoroughly before.’

‘Yes, I know what you mean.’ Melia chuckled. ‘Madame Ichau wasn’t impressed when she found flakes of mud on her slice of bread.’

That made Nadec laugh out loud. She’d forgotten how well she’d gotten along with this woman, even though they hadn’t spend much time together. About a week perhaps, a longer time than Nadec had expected the rescue to take. 

She wanted to ask Melia—Fluetza—what had happened after that, why she’d stayed with Kridec and Stetem. And as a servant nonetheless. Nadec knew she hadn’t been a servant before, not at all. But she also knew this wasn’t the time nor the place for such a conversation. There were other matters to concern herself with. Patat, what trouble are you getting yourself into?

It didn’t feel as if Patat would take the risk of discovery for no reason. Not merely to go sightseeing. Nadec hesitated. What did she really know about him? He was an old and mythical creature, he should have common sense. Was he old? Nadec doubted herself. What had Kridec said? Fifty-something years since her brother had put Patat in the tree? So Patat was at least that age, but how old was he before that, and most importantly, what is considered old for a gorwak? For all Nadec knew, he could be nearing the end of his life, or he could still be a teenager.

Sometime during Nadec’s musings, Melia bid her goodnight. It prompted Nadec enough to snap out of it and have a look at what was spread out on the desk. The contents of her parents’ boxes. She had been so keen to open them when entering the city. But by the time they’d found the inn and had settled in their room, Nadec hadn’t wanted to deal with it. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. 

That was something her mom had told her, half in jest, half serious. She’d said it wasn’t hopeless, there were ways to push through the apathy invoked by the task ahead. She’d even had invented a ten-step process to conquer the need to procrastinate. Oh mom, Nadec stroked Kitty, getting comfort out of the ritual, you always went above and beyond to help me, even if I was being a lazy piece of shit.

So Nadec pushed through the will to go to bed, and examined the sheets of paper on the desk. Patat seemed to have been busy ordering them. In what way, Nadec couldn’t say yet. From what she could see, most of them were written by her mom. She had a terrible handwriting. Nadec and she often joked about how it was a secret script only they could read. Nadec wondered whether it was intended as such. Occasionally, she could see her dad’s flowing, beautiful script. It befitted a king, Nadec could see that now. 

What was that? One of the sheets stood out. The type of paper differed from the others, the text on it short and obviously scribbled in a hurry. 

Dear Nady, this is a quick extra note. We do not know if it has any significance, but I insisted we put it in the box. Oh, how I hope you will never have to learn of these boxes. We have discovered something almost unbelievable. I shall not tell my sister yet, not until we are certain (I have already piled enough burden on poor Kridec, I do not want her to worry for no reason). Somewhere in these notes I talk about our brother and his death. We now have strong suspicions, incredible as it sounds, that he is still alive. Jodec is alive. Possibly. We will investigate more and when we are certain, we will update the box officially and notify my sister, your aunt. May you never see this note. We love you with all our hearts.

Stunned, Nadec sat back. Jodec, her uncle, could still be alive. That must’ve been the reason Patat flew out. But, where to? Oh no. Turning in her seat while cradling Kitty, she looked out of the window. There, in the far right corner, she could see the outline of the massive outside walls of the massive building on the hill. It made the most sense. The castle. That’s where Patat went.

Ch 33 Coronation festivities

 

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