That was my first time meeting a dragon. She was a rather imposing creature – immense, arrogant, and terrifying. I felt sorry for the cursed woman. She just had no luck on that trip, same with the Canto. Star-crossed lovers or something like that, you know?The Journal of Gotre
Place: Quatazo desert
The group spent most of the day at the pond. It was a wonderful get away from the constant walking.
“Why don’t we have horses?” Patch asked Rew as he plucked several long stemmed plants that were growing around the pond. He wrapped them in a drying cloth to help preserve them and then placed them in his pack. After insuring that the plants were safe he pulled a new shirt out of the pack and tugged it on over his tanned shoulders. He stowed his wet clothes in a co-cotton wet bag which helped the clothes not to mold before they could get washed.
“Yeah, why don’t we have horses? It would make this trip a lot easier, Rew,” Otly asked. Rew shrugged and turned to his brother. Wain was laying at the shore of the pond, staring at the drifting clouds, pondering about the universe and life in general. Wain dismissed the question with a wave of his hand as he rolled over onto his stomach. Rew, with his foot, poked his brother in the ribs. Wain waived him off, trying to ignore him. “Wain?” Rew pressed. Wain rolled back over and began getting up with an irritated huff. He had a headache developing and blaimed it on the sun and minor dehydration. “McAlister didn’t provide us with the money to purchase them,” he answered them. “How much I would give for a horse right now, believe me,” he grumbled over his pack as he pulled the draw string open.
They finally started off on their way again a few hours before evening. It wasn’t dark by the time they finished another five zines, but they decided it would be safer just to stake camp early. It would not do to try and pitch their tents in the rocky, barren landscape over a kidiger’s hole – a large hand sized poisonous insect or on a syntacas pad – a broad, spiny, relatively flat plant that resembled a door mat when full grown.
The night was going to be hot and muggy, a good change from the winter onset near Bashville and Higada. They pitched camp and made a small cook fire for the evening meal of goargut and wild hezmasa leaves. They ate in silence, the only noise was the clinking of the utensils on tin plates. Once the kitchenware was scoured and put away, the group retired for the night near the fire. Isis found the scales to be warm and didn’t see a reason to be near the fire which seamed oppressively hot that night. She had set up her tent near the fire, but decided that she would drag her cot outside and sleep under the stars on the outskirts of camp where she could pick up a breeze and maybe cool off a bit.
Isis curled up in a little ball and listened to the snores and gurgles from the men. A chorus of crickets rattled in the dunes and tumbleweed. She soon descended into a fitful sleep wrecked by memories of what had happened to her in her childhood. Fire and pain, the smell of burning engine fuel and melting metal and plastic swamped her.
The next morning she woke up to find a light blanket had been thrown over her. She could hear the men already up and eating. She couldn’t smell anything and the crack of the fire was silent – so they must have been eating a cold breakfast of left overs from the night before. She lay there in the predawn light and stared at the empty sky. Her eyes felt heavy and a yawn escaped her before she could reign it in. She hated it when she dreamed of that day. It was always liable to make her grumpy the next day. One would think that with everything she had seen, and the sins she had committed in her line of work she would have been able to get over those nightmares, developed an immunity or something. In the end though, those nightmares drover her, made her stronger, more resolute in her main overarching goal. With a deep breath she got up and dusted the sand off of her clothes. She walked over and joined the rest of the party for breakfast.
It took them until around noon of the white sun to reach the gate of Pasteur Mount. That’s when they first met the guarding of the gate, Arly, the albino dragon.
“You have no slav! What is your business here?” the dragon at the gate screeched at them, fire blazing fiercely in her pinked eyes. She started back to her cave. Across the gate entrance to the mouth of the cave were strewn bones and decaying meat and hides from slavbeasts. The air was rank with the smell, and the ground was slimy from the decomposition.
“We have come to find an underground lake that we have heard is inside this mountain,” Wain told the white dragon. Wain was not looking forward to having to go into another cave. The Kiskisk mines were bad enough, and they had been able to obtain maps for it, but the tunnels and extensive cavern complex of Pasteur Mount had never been documented.
“I would kill you where you stand, human, for such impertinence. I have killed for lesser offenses. Leave!” but Wain held his ground. The dragon eyed him warily before asking, “What do you have to offer?”
“I am sorry but we carry nothing that would interest a dragon of your rank and stature,” Rew buttered her up.
“Flattery is not the key,” Arly ticked at Rew, lifting her sickle like claw and waved it at him. He ducked as it came close. “If you have nothing then you will have to prove to me why you want to get by,” she smiled, her scaled lips curling to reveal her sharp sparkling white teeth.
Arly wouldn’t allow them to pass until they accomplished three strange tasks for her. They were to find a plant called Firelock, a stone the color of the red sun all the way through, and the last one she would tell them until they returned with the first two missions completed.
“Patch, have you ever heard of any of these things?” Penen asked.
Patch smirked at him, “Yep. Firelock and that orange rock, called Frore, can both be found in this desert. The only thing is, they’re just a little difficult to find.”
“Just how difficult?” Fado whispered to Patch.
“Not very hard at all,” Fado winked. “Remember that little pond? You can find both of them there. Actually I picked several specimens of the Firelock and picked up some Frore while we were there,” he said as he knelt next to his pack and pulled out a small sack full of the plants then another sack with rocks. He fished through the rocks and plants until he found a flaming red rock and a white weed with red thorns and small five-petal purple flowers.
Patch handed them over to the dragon proudly. It was nice to know that he was contributing to the group in some way other than meals for once. The other benefit was that the group was not going to waste their time on a useless mission. Arly snorted, the slits of her eyes narrowing. “Well then, I guess we’ll move on than…” she trailed off and pondered her options. She wanted to be rid of these pesky humanoids. Her eyes dilated as she thought of something clever, something she knew would be impossible. “Now for the last item, I want a scale from a Rogue dragon,” she said with her dragon smile, thinking that she was about to be rid of the group for good.
That peaked Isis’s interest. What would a dragon need with a rogue dragon scale? Arly turned around and ambled toward an alcove of the gate to the cave. Unaware of herself, she whipped her tail out and almost knocked Isis off of her feet. Isis dodged the sudden movement, but slid over a slime covered rock and landed on her stomach. There was a grinding sound of rock against scale.
The breath was knocked out of her. She gasped as searing pain ran through her body and a tear glimmered in her eye. Fado, closest to the girl moved to help her, but Arly was too fast. “What was that?” Arly screeched, turning around and looking at the woman. That’s when she saw the florescent black scales on the woman’s back. “You, you have the scales! How did you get those scales?!” she squawked. Small orange lights danced and twinkled in her eyes. She was becoming more malicious looking by the second. Isis gulped and tried to get off the ground once more. The monstrous creature, faster than the group could see, loomed over the woman. Solomon and the rest of the group watched in horror as the dragon pulled a scale out of Isis’s back like butter. The Canto knew that from that point forward he would never allow another person or beast to injure the woman.
Isis slowly drifted through layers of sleep. A cricket chirped in her ear. She rolled an eye open and looked around. It was dark and the stars were shining brightly. “Don’t tell me that I blacked out again, please,” she groaned to Solomon who was sitting next to her. He had been watching over her like a hawk since she blacked out. Even if this stroke of bad luck continued for the rest of the presently ill-fated trip, with the Corianada, she could depend on the Canto to always be there to protect her.
“Okay, I won’t,” he said as he held her hand. Her face turned a shade of pink but Solomon couldn’t see her cheeks in the darkness. “I feel so foolish coming on this journey. Man, I have blacked out twice and prolonged the journey more than a couple of weeks now,” she hissed. She had raised herself into a sitting position. She looked at the hand that Solomon held dismissively. The Corianada was beneficial, but it would not do to form an attachment to the Canto. He might be nice, but she had known too many two-faced liars and manipulative scoundrels that she would not allow herself to ever fall into such a trap again. Solomon, not taking account of Isis’s expression, squeezed her hand comfortingly and helped her to stand up. He knew the pact and knew that was all that bound them, but he could at least extend some form of comfort as a humanoid to a human. He led her over to the fire.
“Well even though you feel foolish you got us through the gate,” Solomon smiled reassuringly. “We’ll be going through tomorrow.” He handed her a plate of food and grabbed some grub for himself. She stared at it for a few minutes, trying to decide if she could eat or not. A leg of rock hen sat in a bed of roasted hezmasa leaves on the tin plate. Her stomach turned – hezmasa was not her ideal form of nutrition. It was stringy and acrid at best. Shed looked to Solomon and asked, “what happen? I remember a click and then a blinding flash. Then I woke up here.” She picked up the leg and sniffed it. It smelled good, but still her stomach turned. The hair raised on the back of her neck. She nibbled at the fat leg, downing a few tidy bites as she listened to Gotre.
“The dragon plucked the scale out o’ you easier than butter. You would have had to have pass out, all of those fresh nerve endings and scar tissue just beginning to grow. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t have. Arly said sorry, but I don’t trust that dragon,” Gotre told her as he picked up his plate of food and began eating. Isis watched the Ipty eat with gusto. She nibbled at the rock hen leg a bit more, but just couldn’t find her appetite.
“Hm” Isis mumbled as she thought over the information. She wondered how long it would take for her to become immune to such pain. Her mind ticked over the events of the day until it hit on one that stood out. “What did you mean that I helped you guys out? I just became more of a burden to you,” Isis asked, setting her plate aside. Solomon glanced at the half eaten rock hen leg and the partially nibbled hezmasa leaves. She generally eats everything. She isn’t a finicky eater. Solomon worried.
“Well, the dragon was rather sorry about what she did. From what I have studied, whenever dragon scales are not yet old enough to fall out and are ripped out of a dragon or other animal, well, that animal tends to be in a lot of pain just to say the least of it. If that leaves a dragon in a lot of pain it would have surely done you in. It was a-”
“Gotre, get to the point. What was the deal with the dragon?” Isis interrupted him. She wouldn’t have done so normally, but a feeling of unease was beginning to creep up her spine.
“It seems the dragon knows exactly where the coin is in the lake under the mountain,” Gotre answered her quickly. He eyed her warily. Isis would never interrupt the Ipty on any occasion. She was very courteous of aliens and generally let them run their mouths off. He could see her favoring her back and she was looking around worriedly.
“Alright, so we’ll have the second coin. I would like to know something, however: If the guy at the shop was a spy then why did he give true information?” she asked. Isis looked around the circle. They just shrugged their shoulders and continued eating.
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