Nadec edited

The cleaned-up, slightly edited, and extended version of Nadec’s first draft. After each podcast, the chapter will be added here.

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Chapter 1: deadline

‘Gorwak guts!’

Nadec cursed when she glanced at her watch. She’d missed her deadline by half a day. A common side-effect of being too caught-up in the fight is losing track of time. Although the time wasn’t the main reason for the profanity. She kicked the tall grass as another swear escaped her mouth.  

‘Bloody thing,’ she murmured while tapping the watch a few times. She frowned. ‘I’m sure that had been more than 37 000 steps.’

No fitness trackers ever counted all the steps she took while in the air. It had always been a pet peeve of hers. With all of the technology available back home, it was frustrating how lacking it all still was. Of course, the first time she’d come to The Other Realm—just a little over three years ago now—it had been a pleasant surprise to see her stuff still working. She’d halfway expected things to have been crushed by the travel or freaked out by no longer being on Earth.

She surveyed her surroundings while dislodging her halberd from the dead creature’s head. That was something she’d learned after getting caught by surprise on a few occasions. Tall, knee-high grass swayed in the wind around her on open, rolling flatland. Yellow blending with light green as far as the eye could see. Many creatures could be lurking here, but no threat of xlurps. They were too large and clumsy, not to mention stupid, to hide in the grass. Their choice of camp—this spot must be the worst spot in the history of making camp—attested to their low intelligence.

Nadec tried to wipe her weapon clean on the garment of the last xlurp she killed. She grimaced as she struggled to do that. The clothes didn’t deserve to be called that; a cloth sounded more accurate.

It didn’t look like more than a narrow strap of fabric, with two holes at each end. Those were meant for the head. The tension while wearing the cloth, stretched the holes into elongated ovals. As for coverage, it provided the bare minimum. The only areas it covered was the lower spine section of the back, the middle of the front body up to the navel, and almost everything in between the legs.

The part near the ass was wedged in between the purple-haired, fiery orange buttocks. She did feel lucky that the cloth was attached tightly enough to keep its position. It already gave too much away. Fair to say that the sight had distracted Nadec a lot during the fight. And, she supposed, it would have been worse if it hadn’t worn any cloth at all. She’d been in that situation before, and it was not pretty. Almost lost her head once—dry retching while fighting was not recommended.

Wiping the pink blood off her weapon proved impossible by the tightness of the garment. She had no choice but to cut the cloth off near the neck with her side knife. 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.

This time the loud curse was directed at herself. Every time she told herself she’d never do it again, but each time she did it anyway. She shuddered in an exaggerated way and contorted her face in disgust. It would definitely have distracted her even more during fighting. As if one ball sack wasn’t enough.

She shortened the halberd’s shaft by holding it in a specific place, and flung it at her back. The magnets held on to it immediately, keeping the weapon in place. A protection cover shot out from the sides to cover the sharp bits. It had taken her a while to find a proper way of carrying the—kind of—oversized axe-like weapon.

At first she’d tried the traditional hip-carry. Because of the special shaft, enabling her to shorten it, she’d thought that would’ve been the best carry. But its large size and her rather diminutive stature—not to mention non-diminutive hips—disproved her idea.

After tripping over it several times and cutting herself more than once, she’d gone on a mission to find a better way. Seriously, how did the men in all those stories carry their axes on their belts? It was just not practical!

She’d tried finding a solution on Earth first, but that hadn’t worked out. Many recommendations had sent her to a tiny village in The Other Realm. The whole village had been—and still is, she assumed—dedicated to weaponry and the art of carrying them. They’d designed the harness. She’d come up with the magnetic aspect. Their ideas combined, and only three weeks later she’d been able to walk away there without tripping and hurting herself.

Having it on her back was perfect. The weight was placed in the most central and supported spot. The handle stuck out over her right shoulder, in perfect reach to grab with her right hand. She’d tried to have it at the left shoulder but that was too awkward.

She shrugged, letting the weight of it settle, and took one last look at the four dead, orange creatures around her. Poor buggers hadn’t stand a chance against her. A chuckle escaped from deep in her throat, banishing that other feeling. No one stands a chance against me. Ever since her employment in The Other Realm, not once had she been defeated or knocked out.

She stood there for a while, gloating over her accomplishment before suddenly remembering her deadline. Oh, and this job’s main goal as well. She hurried to the xlurps’ campfire and untied the man lying there. He’d been tied to a thick branch, ready to rotate on top of the fire. Although she didn’t take the time to properly look at him—her mind set on leaving—a small corner of her brain did register the naked fellow as not unattractive.

‘There you go buddy’.

She untied him without a second glance—because really, who has time for men when you’re constantly being called upon to save them. Nadec felt a constriction at the chest now that the deadline was back in her mind. Her fans would probably be whining again about the lateness of her blog post. It was past time to skip back home. Kitty would be waiting for her too.

She bent her knees slightly, slapping them against each other in quick succession. Her hands were 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. Home. With the next crossing of her arms, she found herself back in her apartment.

Kitty immediately came up to her, meowing and jumping up in her arms, purring as loudly as a cat-sized bumblebee. The headbutts he gave against her head were like little bursts of joy, spreading happiness around.

‘What just happened?’

She jumped at the unexpected male voice. Her furry buddy dug in his claws at the sudden movement. That definitely shattered the bliss and shrank it down to a pitiful state.

With a grunt and a scowl, Nadec looked down. There was the man she’d just freed, only now letting go of her ankle.

 

Chapter 2: Stranger

‘I have no time for this,’ Nadec announced to the man lying at her feet. He was looking up at her, eyes wide, lips parted. ‘I’m already past my deadline.’

Kitty detached his claws from her shoulder and jumped off, sniffing at the strangers’ bare knees. Nadec grabbed her halberd from her back, detaching it with ease from the magnet, causing the safety cover to pull back. While she did this, she saw all the pink blood on her hands and clothes and uttered a long and solidly vulgar curse.

‘I should take a shower first,’ she muttered.

She glanced at the man. He had pushed himself to a sitting position but still looked dazed. He better not vomit. She’d only just gotten her carpets cleaned. A trip into the Muddy Marshes had made that a necessity.  

Remembering the first time she’d skipped, she did feel sympathy towards him. Whatever he had to endure from the xlurps probably only added to his feeling unwell. Being on the brink of getting eaten can be an upsetting situation.

She couldn’t feel too sorry for him though, it was his own fault, he shouldn’t have grabbed her ankle and then he wouldn’t have skipped along! Her assigned job had been to merely eliminate the xlurps and free the captive. 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 eyes glazed over and narrowed. He mouthed something—Nadec was pretty sure it was the word shower. She ignored him, grunted again, and walked towards her bathroom. Despite the urgency she still felt, she did take a moment to pat Kitty on the head and tell him to keep an eye on the stranger. There’s always time for cat cuddles. Always.

The quick shower did wonders for her mood. She straight away went to work on her blog afterwards. Trying to explain to the stranger how the shower worked—and everything else—would be too tedious so she didn’t bother, for now. She worked on her blog, but watched the stranger from behind her desk. The large, open space containing the lounge room, kitchen and dining area made that easy. A mild annoyance at herself for watching him more than actually typing words didn’t stop her from doing it. He was too amusing.

He had draped the blanket on his back like a cape, completely missing the point of needing to cover him up. He’d been walking around the room slowly, head high, stopping at every little thing and looking at it several minutes a piece.

Nadec decided that he was easy on the eye, very easy even, especially considering what an average person of the other realm looked like. Her eyes kept drifting back towards his uncovered body. Definitely much better than what the xlurps had to offer. She snickered quietly. Even in modern day standards this man would hold up very well compared to other men. Dark hair falling in waves to his shoulders, unshaven chin and cheeks—something between stubble and a beard—tall, lean, obviously muscled in all the right places. A warmth spread from the middle of her tummy. She quickly averted her eyes and stared back at the computer screen.

A feline squeal, a male scream, and a clattering sound, made her look back at the man again, all senses alert. He had stumbled back from the window, 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. Well done, you’ve split your head open. Don’t look so horrified, it’s only a 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 intensely enough to heat up her cheeks. She was not used to being scrutinised in such manner. Her plain features weren’t a source for much ogling.

‘Ugh, fine. My deadline isn’t going anywhere so I might as well give you some attention. Maybe bake some cookies too, while we’re procrastinating. Do you have any other wounds? Did the xlurps hurt you in any way?’

Perhaps she should’ve asked him that before but she’d been too determined to make up for her missed deadline. No matter that it was self-appointed and no one was waiting for it. False accountability as a motivator did help sometimes.

‘No, I am quite 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 utterly strange, what are all those square structures around us? Are those all towers from this castle? It looks to be in a proper disarray. And I can not believe you have glass in all of the windows, and what is the point of having so many? That does not look ideal for defense.

‘I still can not fathom how we can be so frighteningly high? What were the colourful moving objects on the streets? For that matter, were they streets? They did not look like dirt at all, they appeared dark and hard. How is that possible? I saw a multitude of strange things, too many to name. For instance, what was the point of the tall poles? You must have exceptional archers here for them to be able to hit the tops? And many too, if you need that amount of poles for archery practice.’’

His effort to hide his discomfort and fear was a total failure. The rambling nature of his questions and the amount of white his eyes showed, told Nadec enough.

‘Alright, I’ll try to explain things to you,’ aiming to covertly move the blanket to cover his lap. Too distracting; it was pointing at her.

‘I’m a red knight, and was sent to rescue you. I’m called Nadec. I’ll tell you more of me and what I can disclose of the information my employers told me later. We’ll get you in the shower now, that will make you feel better. But first, tell me who you are, where you come from, how the xlurps 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. His posture reminded her of royalty characters from fiction books.

‘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.

Chapter 3: blurgh woods

‘This is wonderful!’

The voice coming from her bathroom sounded as if on the verge of climax. Nadec snorted in recognition. The satisfaction of a good hot shower is a feeling she knew well enough. It’s one reason why she kept returning to Earth. She loved being in The Other Realm; it felt like home. But she had to admit to herself that certain aspects of the modern world on Earth had their merits, among other things the hygienic options. Especially after spending a lot of time in The Other Realm, where the only option of washing yourself was usually a cold stream, a lake, or nothing at all. Most inconvenient when she was on her period.

Once Nadec had managed to come out of the laughter fit, she’d tried to get more information from Pagewyn. She couldn’t keep the giggles away though. Every time he started talking again, she could see him reciting his list of ridiculous titles. And that always incited another round of mad chuckles.  Master of the squares, defender of the triangles, what did that even mean!?

Eventually she gave up and showed him how the shower worked. The wonder on his face at seeing water—and more so at the hot water—coming out of the shower head, had been priceless. Like a little kid going to Disneyland for the first time. Or an adult, for that matter. He had marveled at the metal of many bathroom accessories, shouting out that this castle must be the wealthiest he’s ever seen. Before he could stare at everything in turn, she shoved him into the shower. He would spend the whole day gazing at things if she’d let him, but she had her blog to work on.

She went back to staring at her computer screen while munching on a cookie she’d made right after that. Dragon-shaped, because she could, and dragons are awesome, but unfortunately not real. When she first started skipping to The Other Realm, she’d hoped to see mythical creatures. Turned out they only have weird and unknown ones. She’d given up the hopes of meeting a dragon a long time ago. Kitty hopped off her lap, leaving an empty warm spot where he’d been. She smiled as he stretched, as cute as always. There has to a scientific explanation of why cats are so cute, she thought. The smile dropped when she saw the empty page in front of her.

The cursor was mocking her with its constant blinking. As if impatient to get going. Twenty words. Great, only four hundred eighty more to go. She vaguely wondered if this was going to be the beginning of the end for her blog. Will her twenty four followers now revolt because she missed her deadline again? Bah, they probably hadn’t even noticed. No one was waiting for her posts. 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 into her realm-gear in record time.

‘Kitty!’ Panicked, she looked around while slinging the emergency bag on her shoulder. Relief tightened her chest at seeing the grey tabby run towards her, meowing. ‘I know buddy, this sucks.’

She slipped on his harness and put him on her shoulders, grabbed the cookies, and ran to the bathroom to get Pagewyn. Before she got there, he came through the door, his face in shock, 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. Guilt churned for doing this while his training hadn’t been completed. She hoped he’d be fine during the skipping. It wasn’t the first time, but they’d prepared extensively before.

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, falling down on all fours.

‘Sorry buddy, skipping 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 had to hurry 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. It were the creatures in it which usually told her where she was.

Ah, there we go, she thought, looking at the two creatures lumbering towards them. It appears that we’re in the Blurgh-woods. She urged Wyny to his feet. He stood unsteady but he stood, which was the most important part.

The blurghs running, or stumbling—whatever you want to call it—towards her were about half as tall again 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. After stuffing the cookies in the emergency bag and tossing it aside, she grabbed the halberd from her back and shook it, lengthening the shaft.

‘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, he’s not trained well enough for it. Here, use this stick.’ She frowned at him as he looked at it in confusion.

‘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!’

Chapter 4: The Squares

The last one of the blurghs stumbled away in the direction the other had gone. The trees quickly hid them from sight. Nadec swung her halberd on her back before kneeling on the ground next to Kitty, congratulating the cat. He’d been the one to turn the second blurgh away, jumping against the knob in precisely the right way. It looked like the training they’d been doing was paying off. She didn’t think Kitty would’ve been able to jump as powerfully at the start of their practice.

Purring loudly and giving all the head bumps, he accepted the pats, ear scratches, and belly rubs with visible pleasure. His twisting and squirming shape, together with his cute grey tabby face and white ear tips, brought a big smile on her face. If only she could do this for the rest of the days. Spending eternity cuddling with cats sounded like a good deal. She supposed that was why so many people were able to watch cat videos all day long.

Unfortunately, that was not an option, for now. Her apartment got attacked and she didn’t know where it had come from. She obviously couldn’t skip back to Earth before figuring out what had happened. Perhaps it hadn’t been aimed at her. Maybe something had happened in the building, nothing to do with her, not an attack at all. That was difficult to believe.

She glanced at her emergency bag, which sagged against a tree. She’d been sent on an urgent mission before without prep time. After that, she’d made sure there was always a bag, ready to go. There was a map in there, which should help with figuring out where they were. Once she knew that, she might come up with an idea of where to go. She glanced to the side and sighed.

Nadec booped the cat on the nose as she murmured: ‘We better check on our walking trope-friend first.’ 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 she still grunted and rolled her eyes. She did tell him to stay away from their ass, didn’t she?

‘How often am I going to have to save this guy?’ With another sigh, she took the serrated knife from her boot and went to work on cutting the threads. They were quite thin but strong, resembling root vines. Not like yarn at all.

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 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. She kept cutting to open up a hole large enough from him to climb through. She wasn’t there just yet.

‘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. 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 he’d jumped up against the Blurgh, aiming for the sweet spot. Clever cat had seen that’s what Nadec had been aiming for as well. After only a few tries he’d hit the the red knob, right after the first one had left. The red knob numbed them enough to stumble off in confusion. It had all been part of her training, learning about all the creatures of The Other Realm and how to fight them. There was relief in the middle of her chest at the unnecessity of killing.

‘Why didn’t you fight?’ she demanded, 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, probably need to find a new apartment too. She knew it wasn’t really his fault—or was it?—but she had to vent her frustration somewhere.

‘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, even if it wasn’t in the contract, 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. He wiggled a bit, testing out how stuck he still was.

‘Paralelo,’ he cut in, swallowing visibly because of the fierce look she gave him. ‘I do not 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?! You should be able to crawl out now.’ So much for the sword-swinging gorgeous trope-king he was supposed to be. She turned around to get her bag.

‘No, of course not, swords are useless.’ Nadec grunted in agreement while he continued, sounding more confident with each word. He managed to get out of the rest off the blurgh-yarn-ball.

‘I told you I am the master of the Squares, defender of the Triangles, chief of all Lines.’ With that, he lifted his arms and made some strange movements, a bluish-green glowing mist tracing the pattern. Out of nowhere, a solid wooden Square appeared, floating in the air between them. With a few more moves—and the sound of wood sliding on wood—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.

Chapter 5: Laughter And Tears

The empty look on Wyny’s face added to her fit of hysterical laughter. Whenever it eased down into giggles, she made the mistake of looking at him and that set her off once more. He was amazing at keeping a straight face, sitting on his knees in front of the floating sticks. The corners of his mouth didn’t budge in the slightest. Must be a large stick up his arse. That thought didn’t help her attempts to stop the laughter at all.  

After the fourth time of almost escaping the cycle, she managed to think and kept herself from looking in his direction. Keeping her head turned the other way was good—the giggles scattered into an occasional chuckle. Her cheeks and belly ached. She wiped away the tears, squinting into the sunlight peeking through the treetops. Something moved in the corner of her eye. A crow? She shook her head in amusement, trying to remember the last time she’d laughed this hard. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed out loud the past few years, 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 realm-differences? Either way, I’m sorry for my reaction, I’m sure your sticks are great. Thank you, anyway.’

She wasn’t sure why she thanked him, and he probably understood even less. The apologies were sincere though; she’d been working really hard at trying not to judge people too harshly. Her own reaction to his sticks, something he obviously took much pride in, embarrassed her. Act like a bloody grow-up for once, N, she berated herself.

Attempts to reach her bag were futile while she’d been stuck in laughter, but now she leaned against the tree, rummaging in it. With vigor, she bit off the head of a dragon cookie. Fighting and, most of all, laughing maniacally, caused a big hunger. A few more digs in the bag produced a small handful of kibble for Kitty. She tossed it on the ground, grinning at the cat’s ferocious hunt for the pellets.

‘You are quite welcome.’ His voice sounded serious, not a single hint at the mocking she expected him to do. She hadn’t met any guy who wouldn’t at least tease a bit in these kinds of situations. He hadn’t even laughed along with her. What kind of person doesn’t also break into laughter at seeing someone else laugh as heartily as she just had? Her head shot up, all snorts and giggles gone. He certainly played his stiff nobleman trope well.

‘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. Her jaw hung slack, so she shut it and swallowed the accumulated spit. That man! That man… The nerve! Who did he think he was, a psychiatrist? He’d known her for half a day perhaps, half of which he’d spent caught in a ball made of ass-threads. She’d show him which unleashed emotions she really had! She flung her bag on her shoulder and prepared herself 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 precious. Here is what I could have done.’

He stood up, not caring about his glorious nakedness, and grabbed the L-shaped sticks out of the air. He held them on the short ends, holding out the longer ends. Kinda like holding a gun, Nadec thought, curious 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 grew before a piece dislodged itself and shot away. His sticks were shooting cubes! Unconsciously, she took a step closer to him, staring at the sticks. That was not what she’d expected.

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

He gave her a look she didn’t understand, and slapped the sticks together. Quicker than she could follow, he folded the sticks—the Squares?—on themselves a few times. Before she could blink, his hands were empty. A puff of bluish-green mist disappeared as quickly as it had come, like breath on a cold day. He kept looking 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 and resumed control over her breathing. She knew this wasn’t the elusive love-at-first sight, that was a trope too unbelievable to exist. She did, however, believe in lust at first sight. Never with the people she rescued though. She had a professional reputation to maintain.

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

‘Wait! Do not 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‘m fine. Stay. I’ll be back.’

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

Chapter 6: Blackie

The abandoned house looked more like a shack than the rich mansion it used to be. Nadec was at the edge of the walled domain, where the gate had long since rusted out of its hinges.

She blinked.

Wood creaked underneath her boots as she walked in through the servants’ entrance. The steady beating of her heart sounded loud and faster than usually.

She blinked.

Voices stopped when she barged into a room, halberd ready. She didn’t want to use it. In the empty fireplace sat a bound figure on a chair.

She blinked.

A man held his hands up in surrender as she stood before him. A coward. She liked that. The other person backed away from Nadec, towards the fireplace. ‘No matter what, keep your subject safe.’ The most important instruction.

She blinked.

Hesitation froze her halberd in mid-air. The fear in her opponent’s face chilled the air between them. Despite the woman’s terror, she swung her knife towards the captive.

‘I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’

Nadec still mumbled while the nightmare was fading. It had been a while since she’d had one, she’d thought them gone for good. This specific one was already vague, but she knew well enough what it had been. Her first retrieval mission after being recruited by her employers.

Nadec’s throbbing temple sped up the process into the waking world. Soon the last traces of the dream and the memories disappeared. 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. She could feel her limbs cramping up already.

Opening her eyes was more difficult than it should’ve been. Something sticky prevented them from doing so. Blood. Of course. Stupid… whoever did this. Or whatever did this, remembering what had happened. Something Wyny had said, triggering her enough to walk away. His words were lost to her now, knocked out by that massive blackness.

The ones who hit people on the head to knock them out, never seemed to realise how dangerous it was. It was all good in movies and the like, but in real life a head injury is more likely to cause death instead of only unconsciousness. Although this time she got lucky; she was still alive. Hopefully no concu—nausea assaulted her. In a burst of panic, she lifted her head—as much as she could, which wasn’t much—and moved it to the side before violently throwing up.

Her nose and throat stung from the vomit’s acidity. She blew 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. That wasn’t the most important issue though. 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. Despite the pain, she lifted her head and tried to move into a sitting position.

‘Let me help you with that, love,’ an amused, gravelly, and inhumanely deep voice growled. 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 it a pleasant experience. Thank you, gravity. At least this realm had less of a downward pull than Earth. It was fun to use it to her advantage while fighting. A powerful jump could take her places. Her mind drifted, day-dreaming about jumping up and staying in the air, flying, soaring above the trees.

‘Here boy!’ the voice called out, pulling her back to the present with difficulties. Nadec’s half open eyes were too bleary to see more than vague blots of grouped colours—purple, pink, orange, black, green. A wet rag slapped in her face. It moved upwards. It wasn’t smooth, not like what a rag should be. 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. He’d been on her shoulders when she lost consciousness. Nadec hoped with a passion that he’d managed to escape. All of a sudden she also remembered her other travel partner. Wyny. Did he know she was captured? Was Kitty with him? Was he going to try and free her? 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. Most of the dried blood was gone from her face, licked off 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, was not a good idea! Working hard to focus 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, it grew pretty much everywhere. Almost like an extremely hairy man. Except twice as large and proportionally wide. And deep purple—a gorgeous, saturated colour. Too bad everything else about the creature was hideous. She wasn’t sure what it was, even though she should know all of the creatures from The Other Realm. 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. Franking great.

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

‘So sorry princess, Blackie gets too wild some time. She didn’t mean to knock you over. She didn’t mean to head butt you so hard.’

‘Bl-blackie?’

The creature let one hand go from her waist, holding her up as easily 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! There weren’t any orcs nor trolls, no unicorns nor merman, no elves nor dwarfs, none of that. Yet there it was. It was real. Dragons were real!

The blackness of the scales sucked in the light. The darkness it caused made the vibrantly coloured eyes appear to glow. It wasn’t as large as she’d expected a dragon to be, but she still felt her eyes open wide.

‘Did he eat my cat?’

Chapter 7: Zlurp

‘I don’t know what a cat is.’

The reverse-coloured xlurp looked at her, confused, pronouncing cat in a funny way. ‘But it’s fair to think Blackie didn’t eat nought live. She,’ it emphasised the gender, ‘doesn’t eat live things, she only eats the waste. 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. Her head pounded.

‘Vegetirn? Vegtern. Veggenar? Hrrmm. Weird words you use. She only eats fruit, and milk, eggs, poo, and all else made by live things. She doesn’t eat the live things.’

That dragon had just licked her face. Was that why she smelled shit? Nadec shook her head in bemusement and denial. That was a mistake. 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. She grew even more nauseated from the smell of its breath. It then set her down, leaves crackling beneath her, and removed her ties.

‘You don’t look as if you can run, princess, so we can ease it up a bit, love.’

Her tear-filled eyes overflowed at the burst of pain coming from her released muscles. As predicted, her legs cramped up completely, but the creature didn’t stop what it was doing.

After untying her, it brought her wrists together in front of her and bound them there, leaving a long lead. It tied that around its 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 combined with the smell. Ridiculously 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 right instead of top and bottom. She counted at least 6 pimples, ripe to bursting, whiteheads about to explode.

There was no nose. Instead 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.

‘Now listen very 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 finally 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 stopped, she looked up at the zlurp, tears flowing, 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. She took several sharp breaths.

‘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 in my hands. I won’t give you any blades. As for your garbs, here, I’ll show you, come.’

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 start soon. 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’d loved this outfit. The design had come from the weaponry village, the ones who’d helped her with the solution for carrying her halberd. A tailor from Earth had made it from—at that time—hard to find mushroom leather and other precious materials.

He’ll pay for this! Her eyes narrowed and she prepared to jump up. Nadec wasn’t 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. Joy blended with annoyance; she was certain she would’ve been able to free herself.

She passed out once again.

Chapter 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. A tongue! Normal-sized this time. 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 left, slowly, 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 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 still ached as much as ever, her muscles sore from the awkward tied-up position. ‘What happened?’

‘Well, after you stormed off into the woods, I followed at a distance because I was not about to lose sight of you. Neither of us know where we are, you see, so I did not think it wise to separate. Are you alright to stand up?’ He stood up first to help her to her feet, but she shook her head, slowly, 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 seem to get along somehow?’ His voice turned up in wonder.

‘I followed them here, and saw the purple creature cut your clothes away and tie you up.’

Bloody heavens, how could I forget that I’m naked? Before the thought fully formed, she made an effort 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 an ideal 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.

‘Blackie, stop!’ 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 pur machine on, giving headbutts against the blacker than black claws. Nadec jumped back when a deeper and louder pur machine started. 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-doughnut, 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 completely. 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 from? 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 nudity? 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—around each boob, even lifting it up. She looked as if she was ready for a game of kinky bondage.

It was too much for her modesty so she tried to use one arm to cover them, while glaring at Wyny. He wasn’t looking in her direction anymore. She thought he did have a blush on his cheeks.

‘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 soundly asleep so quickly? 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. The rational part of her mind knew that walking around was a terrible idea, wounded as she was. But she wasn’t about to pass out again while naked and with Wyny here.

A loud growl turned her around. There, too close to where Wyny 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 while he took a step closer to her. As if he never curses, she thought. Those swear words 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 wa’ant said to bring you in live, princess’—there it was again, the word and the deep scorn while saying it—‘but it said naught bout how live. A bit live 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.

Oh!’ She passed, making sure. ‘You’re laughing! That’s the worst laugh I’ve ever heard.’ She made an exaggerated shiver sound, her body acting it out as well. The motion blackened the corners of her sight and she wobbled, as if being pushed and tugged by gentle ocean waves. A quick glance at Wyny assured her he hadn’t seen, fixed as he was on the zlurp.

The zlurp closed his mouth and scowled.

‘I trained a long time for that, my teach said me to be the best of her studs.’

Nadec couldn’t stop herself from snorting and regretting the snort. They train to laugh? The amusement was dialed back by the pain the snort caused. She cursed at herself, annoyed for being stupid enough to forget about current pain-causing habits. Her voice sounded thin and forced in her own ears.

‘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 from human tv-shows and movies. The awareness of an idea formed in her head in a fraction of a second. The zlurp harumphed again.

‘I need not hide my pride, why would I not show I top most?’

The creature’s face managed to convey sincere confusion at that. Nadec’s mind spun, and not only from her concussion. She wasn’t sure what to think of this zlurp. Zlurps hadn’t been among the creatures she’d been been taught about, although xlurps had. They seemed to have similarities but differences too, like a difference in intelligence. And if what this one just said was right, they had a natural hierarchy, based on… what? Their sex? The number of balls? Or something else? Nadec’s curiosity rose; she wanted to find out more.

The zlurp hadn’t stopped talking, saying all kinds of stereotypical 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 attention anymore. Wyny took a few steps away from the zlurp, but he still stood closer to him than she was. She looked toward him. He was about to hit the creature with… eh, whatever he was about to do. Squares, Triangles, Circles, Trapezium, Parallelograms, who knew?

‘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. We’ll just make sure to tie him up now.’

She was willing to let him handle this, as she felt herself grow weaker by the moment. If she didn’t know better, she’d think that someone was poking her brain with their finger. Seeing no reason to show that, she grabbed her halberd from her back anyway, lengthening the shaft to lean on it. Hardly a worthy battle stance, but she couldn’t care about that now. Even though the halberd’s weight was nothing like what it should be—she’d long ago stopped wondering about the abnormalities surrounding he weapon— trying to hold it up now would only result in embarrassment.

The zlurp kept on talking. She vaguely heard him say: ‘If you want me, come here and get me!’ Her attention was fixed on her travel compagnon though, the man who’d 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 that 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. Her long neck forced the zlurp to a halt.

‘Step side Blackie, I can do this. I will like to hear the princess’ screams of pain. I’ll keep her live nough to give her to them, as the wa’ant said. But there wasn’t any word how long she should still be able to stay live after drop off.’

The black beast, head only a bit higher than the zlurp’s—large, but not quite as enormous as she expected a dragon to be—looked from Nadec to the zlurp to Kitty. Utter black head swiveling in an almost hypnotic way, the fierce eyes taking everything in. She repeated that three times before breathing in, her chest puffing up.

Fire! I’m going to be scorched by fire! Nadec had never thought that was the way her life would end. She thought about running away, but all she could do was stumble backwards, 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, crawling toward Pagewyn. He was still lying where he’d landed after being tossed away by the zlurp. It was a wonder he hadn’t hit any trees while in the air. With some more luck, perhaps the soft underbrush had cushioned his fall.

‘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. In truth, she could hardly see him. Night had settled in and no moons were visible yet. There was a small fire, build by the zlurp, sputtering for survival, in urgent need for more wood. Shadows moved by the random rhythm of the flames. The sound of the ground under her hands and knees accompanied the crackling of the fire. Night active animals were hooting, cooing, japping, scratching. In other circumstances, the combination of it all would be satisfying. At this moment, it was a nuisance, amplified in her head.

She wanted to yell, force him to tell her he was fine. He had to be alright. If only because he was still under her care, no other reason. She couldn’t do anything but whisper, the pain of her concussion bad enough to double her vision. She stopped moving forward to throw up. Blackie immediately licked it up. That 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 reached Wyny—it felt as if she’d been crawling forever—he was sitting up, 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, thankful that it didn’t worsen her pains. The head buts made her feel like the most important person in the universe. The touch of his fur on her bare skin reminded her that she was naked. She ignored that for now. Other things demanded more attention.

‘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 after you let yourself get caught.’ 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, but in a deep slumber. Something gleamed orange on the ground near the creature.  

‘Huh, I dropped my halberd. When did that happen? No matter. Don’t know how long he’ll be out.’ She sighed as she knew what she was about to do. ‘Blackie burbed and he fell unconscious.’ There. She 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. You should get my halberd first though. Huh.’ Her eyebrows shot up at hearing her own words. She would never in a million years admit to someone that she needed sleep. And she would definitely never let anyone else touch her weapon. 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. He looked so funny. She booped his nose.

‘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, or so the legends go. 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 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 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 sleep.

Chapter 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, getting herself in an upright sitting position, stiff muscles protesting.

There was no headache. In a rush all the previous events 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 it 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 occupied 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 halberd—handle still out in normal long sized length—lay next to her, together with the harness.

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. She scowled inwardly at herself. What the hell, body, stop reacting like that. It wasn’t as if he was the first handsome Other Realmer 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 brought us 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 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, for which she was grateful. After a week of no use, her legs protested at bearing her weight again. As usual, Kitty jumped on her shoulders. 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. Nadec suspected his knowledge, came from the two examples he’d seen so far. She decided to take it with a grain, no, a bag, of salt.

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 bioluminescence. 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.’ He cleared his throat. ‘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 it before, although she’d stepped 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 else 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 will not 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.’

 

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