Chapter 14 of the First Important-Sounding Book: Flying Things
By Leah Claire (formerly Emer)
After several hours, punctuated by comments like, "Davy HIT me!" and "Now I really have to pee," and "Never mind," Eldana was actually hoping they'd be attacked or run into a storm, or something equally as distracting. Surely the Pied Piper hadn't had to deal with this? No, he'd had his magic flute, the bastard.
Her legs were asleep-not conducive to staying securely on-and she, too, had to pee. Flying on dragon-back was not the glorious experience she had been led to believe. It was actually terribly uncomfortable.
This sort of thing would never happen in any decently run quest, she thought and mentally shook her fist at the fates. It did no good, of course. If there were fates, they were probably having a good laugh at her expense as they passed the eye around to watch events unfolding.
Quite aside from hanging on and trying not to listen to the small voices behind her, she had her work cut out for her in trying to simultaneously NOT look at the ground and yet make sure that her cavalry of recently liberated women were still keeping up under her. It made her queazy every time she looked, but it was better than worrying and trying to keep her neck in the same position for hours.
"Er, Argilagil?" she asked. Her words were stuffed back into her mouth by wind. For a moment she couldn't breath. "Argilagili!" she tried again, this time using some of her not-inconsiderable lung power. He should be reading her mind, anyway. Otherwise, what good were Mythical Companion Creatures?
What? said Argilagil shortly. In case you hadn't noticed I'm attempting to fly and work complex magic at the same time, which would be like you trying to run uphill and sing a drinking song in a foreign language.
"I'm fluent in all foreign languages, thank you. And, it's just that we all have to, um-" she stopped. Princesses were trained to say things like "use the lavatory," but there were a distinct lack of lavatories around here. Argilagil got it anyway.
Hold it, he said. So she did. She tried to distract herself by watching the women on horseback underneath them, but they were barely more than specks. She looked away quickly.
For a while, she dozed without meaning too, full bladder and all, but jerked awake sometime later in horror at the thought that she could have fallen off. She'd decided all of those ballads about riding dragons had been written by people who were heavily into drugs, or maybe just plain insane.
Argilagil finally coasted down at the feet of gentle, rolling hills, as the sun simultaneously set with Red Splendor in the distance. The small riders below them started to scatter to make room. Eldana had to shut her eyes against the rush of wind and clench her teeth so that her stomach couldn't fly out of her.
She hoped whatever Tanin was doing just now that it was at least as uncomfortable as what she was dealing with. She suffered a brief pang when she thought of he and Mandy, wandering around somewhere, hopefully either looking for her or finding the dragons for Tanin's curse. The girl-disguised-as-boy-falls-for-handsome-adventurer story line did occur to her, but frankly, she was the center of this universe, and if Mandy wanted to horn in on her action suddenly, she'd have to go through Eldana and her dragon first. Besides, Eldana had even shared several sacharine-filled moments with Tanin.
When she finally slid off, her legs nearly didn't catch her, and even when they managed that she walked funny. Her knees had been draped over dragon back for so long they'd forgotten what they were for. Maybe she'd do better to rethink this entire Mythical Creature Rider idea. Judging from that ride, it would not be a good match for her delicate constitution. The problem was, it was her destiny, so without that she might have to go back to her father and be really, really bored. She'd passed on the other options and was still glad she hadn't gone for the whole Girl-digused-as-boy-joins-the-army bit because that would have probably been even more uncomfortable, but it left her with very limited options.
She saw to it that the women were helping their children off of Argilagil's back. He took to the air right after with a short mental Finally and flew swiftly off into the night to hunt, or whatever it was that dragons did. Eldana stepped into the bushes.
And it was just like this annoying quest to catch her with her pants down. A dirty hand slid over her mouth and a hard hand gripped her upper arm. So, naturally, she kicked the owner of said hands in the shin as hard as she could manage. Then she kicked the other shin and the hands let go. She whirled around (sparing a moment to miss the way her hair used to flared out impressively when she whirled) and found herself standing over a wizened little old man. Well, she thought he was old anyway. What with all the gray hair that grew out of nearly every inch of skin that wasn't covered by ragged clothes.
Eldana snatched her pants back up and said, with as much dignity as she could muster, "Explain yourself at once, or I'll be forced to sic my dragon on you." The little man jumped to his feet, faster than anyone that age should have been able to manage, and dashed off into the underbrush. It was a clear sign to follow. Plots just didn't throw wizened would-be capturers in for no reason.
He led her through a bunch of trees, and more trees, and through a small clearing, and finally to the mouth of a cave. She halted there, because really, what self-respecting modern Princess went blindly into dark caves, the Plot be damned? But then she heard voices from inside and more than just what one old man could produce. In fact, one of them sounded like...
"Tanin!" she shouted.
"Elva!" a voice called back. And then another younger voice repeated her name. Mandy and Tanin! She stepped into the cave and went toward the noise. At a bend of the passage, she stumbled upon an odd sight. It was a round cave, lit by a orangish light with no discernible source. In it, ranged around the wall and sprawling out into the middle, were women of every shape and size, every clothing style, every hair color, and all of them were bound and gagged. But closest to her were Tanin and Mandy, bound together with both of their gags knocked off and hanging around their necks.
"We knew you'd come," said Mandy.
"That's nice," said Eldana. She hadn't known she'd come, but she supposed it would have ruined the surprise if she had.
"Right on time," said Tanin, twisting his mouth in a smile. "Now would you kindly untie us?"
"Oh, yes, of course," said Eldana. She knelt between them and started working on the knots. The women watched in unnerving silence. After five minutes, she got frustrated and took out her dagger which she acquired at some point during her journey because it is common knowledge that every adventurer has a dagger, even if they are never specifically mentioned as buying one. She sliced off the bindings and helped them to their feet.
"We can exchanged thrilling explanations for our present situation later," said Eldana. "I have some twenty women and their children waiting for me." She turned to leave and heard a murmured protest from behind, and a lot of rustling of crinoline skirts.
"What about them?" said Mandy, looking around at all the other women. Some of them wore crowns, some slippers made of gold or glass or silver.
"What about them?" asked Tanin. He cast a measuring eye over the lot.
"Shouldn't we, like, rescue them or something?" Mandy eyed the slipper worn by the nearest princess. It looked like the purest gold. Well, it wasn't Eldana's business what Many was stealing, as long as it wasn't Eldana's.
"Who are they?" asked Eldana.
"I believe they're kidnapped princesses," put in Tanin, sounding utterly bored.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," said Eldana. "What are they all doing here? This is my adventure."
The assembled princesses shrugged and muttered things behind their gags.
"Well, I'm not rescuing you all. You must have princes and brave woodcutters and seventh son apprentices just hours behind. Right?" She gave them all a hard look and after a moment there were a few shamefaced nods and a general shifting of beautiful clothing and hair. Eldana was no fool, and was a princess herself after all, and she knew that they were probably just annoyed by the beating their elegant clothing had taken during whatever kidnapping they'd been subjected to. And probably had to use the nonexistent lavatory as well. After holding it for hours, she wasn't completely without sympathy. But she also had a destiny to fulfill and it was her job to be a princess, not rescue them.
"Right. Tanin, Mandy? Let's go." Eldana waited for them to fall in with her and marched out of there.
"I do admire your flair for dramatic situations, Eld-va," said Tanin. "But I'd admire it even more if you had something to eat."
"I'm starving," put in Mandy.
"As it just so happens, my band of Amazons have undoubtedly hunted down some poor forest creature and my dragon is roasting it as we speak."
There was silence from her companions. Eldana wouldn't lower herself to look, but she thought their expressions were probably of shock. It gave her a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe this Mythical Companion Beast thing would work out after all.
When they stepped out of the brush into the clearing, it was to the very cheery sight of busy women and multiple camp fires, framed by the dying orange of the sky. They'd even set a watch, and-yes, there was some sort of dead thing spitted over the fire. She was immensely proud of her band of rescued women. At this rate, she might have an army of sorts to overrun the Evil One's Dread Villa with.
Just then, there was an awful noise from the sky. It was the sound of a thousand birds with respiratory problems, coming closer. They were simply black spots at first, but as they flew lower, it was possible to make out the vaguely birdlike shape, and then the unpleasant observation that they had scales and too many wings.
"Good gods," said Eldana. "If it isn't creepy old men who desperately need a shave, it's winged creatures from hell."
"At least they aren't barbarians," said Tanin, grimacing slightly. He drew his sword.
"Or Enchantresses," said Mandy, before she pulled out a small cross bow, that Eldana knew she hadn't had before, and melted back into the bushes.
Women everywhere were shoving their children to the ground and picking up sticks and rocks and whatever they could find. Eldana took the opportunity to throw her head back and scream, "Argilagili!"
You don't have to actually scream, you know, he said. I can hear you in my head.
"The screaming is therapeutic," said Eldana. Tanin gave her an odd look, but she had other things to worry about right now, like the attacking demonic avians. She drew her own sword and stepped out to help, trying to avoid the heaps of bird generated by the uncannily accurate aim of the women.
Really, it would not be a good idea to make enemies of these women. Maybe the gypsy camp had done them some good. Eldana swung slightly at random, but managed to chop quite a few of the birds out of the sky and step squeamishly out of the way of their remains, which had the unnoticed side effect of making her look like she knew what she was doing, when in reality it was just a strong dislike of dirty clothes and demon blood.
There was another, less-respitory-impaired scream from the sky and Argilagli came bearing down with fire. Eldana stopped, dropped and hoped to god Argilagli had good aim. She managed to grab Tanin's shoulder on her way down and could feel him laying flat beside her. She hoped Mandy had the sense to stay in the trees.
The avians gave an answering screech and turned to attack Argilagili. Eldana heard him scoff, mentally, as he let out another burst of fire and cut a swath through them. So absorbed was she and most of the others in that fight, that they failed to notice at first, the demonic avians lifting whatever children they could reach and soaring off away from the dragon fight as quickly as they could. But soon enough the women started to notice and had jumped up screaming in fury. The worst of it was that as soon as they got to a certain distance, there was nothing to be done. Hitting it with a stone or arrow would simply send both child and demonic avian crashing to the ground. Argilagili's fire was no use in that case, either.
Obviously this attack was more sinister than she'd thought. Perhaps the old man and the cave had been meant to draw her away so she couldn't help. In either case, most of the children had been lifted and were currently flying off into the distance.
"Argilagili!" she called.
Coming, he said shortly. He suddenly glowed slightly with a greenish fire. All the birds that had been attacking him suddenly stopped and fell, screaming, to the ground.
"Why didn't you just do that in the first place?' she asked.
Unsatisfying, he said, shortly as he landed gracefully beside her. She refrained from swearing aloud but he could hear it anyway.
She hopped on him and saw the women and Tanin about to follow suit when Argilagili pushed off into the air, snapping his wings open.
Children are one thing, he said very clearly before she could ask. But all of your little friends are a different matter. And I fly faster without them.
They were going at a terrific speed and if Eldana weren't absolutely determined that her Amazons would get their children back, she would have been quite sick. They were gaining on the black specks, which resolved themselves into the same scaly foes, except with screaming children dangling from each set of claws. The children weren't putting up much of a fight, but then, they were also very, very far above the ground. No one wanted to be dropped.
What's your plan, said Argilagili.
"Um," said Eldana, intelligently. A moment later, it didn't matter anyway. Simultaneously, with a slight 'pop', all of the avians disappeared, kidnapped children included.
Anagronax: Hee! I'm glad you didn't miss those. If you're still on, I hope you don't miss this. Took me long enough. Pft. Actually, the thing in the cave, if I'm thinking of the same part as you, was probably a troll. I love your ideas for Herbie the Happy Cow! Man, it would have been fun to write him. But seriously, the over-use of dragons needs to be addressed, don't you think? Every other freaking story has dragons! GIVE THE DRAGONS A REST, PEOPLE!
whohasthezebra: Hi! I'm on my way to read your story right now :D
Repair My Wings: Thanks. And I love the idea of the carnivorous plant. It will be incorporated!
Wesley The Dark Prince: Eh, that last chapter was so short because this one is so long! Actually it was probably short because I needed a transition chapter. Dude, every up-and-coming Evil One has a villa these days. Fortresses are just so last century. No one knows how to pronounce Argilagili's name. Mars is read because of it's rock. I think. Yeah, I think the recent chapters have a different feel because my writing style is evolving a little bit and I've been writing very American characters lately :D And holy crap, those are long character names. They hurt my brain.