Sweeeeeet gooooods we reached the tooooooop
And then neeeeeearly dieeeeeeed
When is that not a thiiiiiiiing
The majority of our trip up the Stalk of Rodentia has seen us exposed to the open air. Sure, we've passed through the occasional vaporous cloud, but most of the time we've had no choice but to stare at the world below as we slowly wind 'round the Stalk's twin vines. I took this as a mixed curse - it's much colder when you're inside a cloud, yes, but when there are no clouds you also have to look at the ground. I'll never get used to that view.
The things I do for love.
That ended shortly after breakfast today. We hadn't noticed it the night before, thanks to the darkness and the clouds above eclipsing the moon, but when we woke up Jeffrey pointed out that there was a huge bank of fluffy white above our heads. Very solid fluffy white. Our limbs sore and our wills sapped, we nevertheless continued onward through the mounted snow...
... and soon, we discovered that the clouds were not dissipating to our rights and our lefts. Indeed, we could reach out and touch it, and Fynn even stopped my heart by flopping down against a big bank of the stuff as though it were a vertical bed. I may have screamed overly much when he did that, but I don't want to have to rescue more fucking family members. Danged kid.
I feared the clouds might press in and bar our way to the top, but, as we'd been promised far below, they remained far enough away from the central stalk to allow us passage. We also found the trip much more agreeable, as the snow quickly disappeared from our path, the Stalk thawed, and the winds no longer threatened to sweep us to oblivion. Still took us two hours to emerge from the enormous, spongey fluffball, but I enjoyed the climb a great deal more.
Grylock was the first to pop his head out into sunlight, pushing through a dense cluster of clouds near the top. Judging by his shriek, I suspect he instantly regretted his role as spy - and the abrupt disappearance of his flailing legs suggested the same.
Rushing to Grylock's aid, we burst out of the top of the cloud and onto a vast expanse of white and sunlight. Nearby, standing perhaps a dozen times larger and bulkier than even Antonio the Gypsy, was a brown-and-grey dragon. Its long neck craned upward, supporting a thin, pointed head with beady black eyes. The dragon snapped at the air, seemingly at nothing, though as I watched it roar in frustration I realized Grylock was spinning around and down its neck. The hood of his coat had been torn clean away.
"DOWN!" he cried, pointing back at the Stalk. "DOWN DOWN DOWN!"
Jeffrey retreated immediately. Logan proved a bit braver, swiftly hauling his long, tubular blowgun out of the sling on his back and firing a dart at the dragon's neck. He didn't retreat until the dart plinked harmlessly off of the dragon's hide. I did not join them, as I was too dumbfounded and confused to move.
That was my mistake. The dragon eyed me next, slobber dripping from its mouth as it dipped towards me.
I raised a shaky hand, not sure what else to do. "H... h... hello?" I stammered, hoping it would respond. Perhaps even transform into a little form of itself and flit to me for a pleasant pantomimed chat. Like the old days.
Its jaws opened in my face. This, I realized, is not Barrel.
Then suddenly I was flying to the left, thrown by a heavy arm, and I tumbled across the clouds like a rag doll, bouncing and yelping. The ground was amazingly buoyant, and when I rolled to a stop I realized I was unhurt. The dragon hadn't touched me. The same could not be said of someone else in the party.
Antonio, once again my saviour, was standing strong in front of the dragon. He had his gloved hands jammed hard inside the dragon's jaws, just barely managing to hold them apart. Blood trickled down onto his bandana from his left hand, partially impaled as it was on one of the dragon's sharp teeth. Yet his smile remained, strained but unrelenting, and he snorted out a little laugh.
"You... you are... verthy prey..." The orc spat in the dragon's mouth. "Iz zhame I muzt end zis now, but... ve are... on... timetable... ya?"
The dragon didn't respond, not with words, but the look in its fierce eye suggested intense anger - and a great deal of confusion. I guess I'd be confused if I was an apex predator and beaten by my meal, too.
Roaring, Antonio pushed. The dragon's jaws separated by about a foot more - enough to allow the orc to plant one boot against its bottom lip. The extra leverage allowed Antonio to immediately pop the dragon's jaws upward, but before he could do too much it released him and pulled back. Its thin head shook, and its mouth popped loudly as joints tried to settle back to normal.
Antonio didn't give the thing a chance to strike back. Leaping up to his feet and throwing his gloves to one side, Antonio crouched down in a classic boxing stance. His fists came up, his legs parted, and as swiftly as Logan on a good day he drove his right arm forward. Green knuckles connected with the dragon's broad chest -
- and, almost instantly, a choked wheeze its final sound, the beast collapsed. Its long neck slumped against the Stalk of Rodentia. It twitched for three long minutes before its death spasms ceased.
Slowly, unbelievingly, the party emerged from the top of the cloud and gathered 'round Antonio. He was breathing hard, blood dripping down his fingers from wound and torn knuckles alike, but he looked as happy as ever.
Fynn was the first to break the silence. He'd been lollygagging, apparently, and had missed most of the fight. "Now I really don't wanna arm wrestle you."
Antonio laughed, wrapping a bandage 'round his maimed hand. "Iz okay. I vuld not aim for your heart if ve vere to vreztle. Iz bad form, ya?"
Ya. My gods, ya.
Though he's still hearty, Antonio asked for a little break. That break has since transformed into setting up camp for the day while Grylock carefully scouts the surrounding area. He's pretty abashed about not noticing a fucking dragon with that honker of his, and I suspect he wants to steal some of Antonio's limelight by finding Libby first. But, hells, it's tough to outdo beating a dragon in a boxing match.
Maybe I should ask for lessons. I'm pretty sure Jeffrey's already made inquiries.