Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Three: Obligatory researcher


The bellowed shout was not what we'd expected. Not up here, in the clouds, far from civilization or even hints of civiliation. But, ultimately, it served well enough.

We'd been picking our way across a complex field of geometrically-perfect rocks when the call came. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to step over a rhomboid, even more so when a man with a big, fuzzy beard yells out a hello. We all stared up at the rise surrounding the field, more than a little confused.

He waved. "Hi! My gods, it has been a time since I last saw anyone! Are you visitors from Rodentia? Have the snows receded? I wondered when they would. This has been a long winter!"

Not sure what else to do, I waved back - and asked the man to hold off while we tackled the rest of the rock field. He did us one better, hinting how best to circumvment a boulder with no definable edges. It, like the rhomboid, held unexpected challenges.

When at last we'd left mathematical precision behind us and crested a marshmallow hill, I shook hands with the man around his stout walking stick. He introduced himself as Evan, and, to my surprise, he was not a mathematician. 

"Evan the Dragon Researcher, at your service." He fiddled with a pair of thick glasses, tiny in his huge hands. Evan's a big guy. "I knew I'd heard voices. You're very much welcome to the realm of the clouds. Though it looks like you've been here a while, eh? Have you met the sky dwarves yet?"

I offered him a pained look. Everyone else did the same - save Antonio, who said "Pigeonz" instead.

"I'll take that as a definite yes." Evan's laugh boomed. "Ahh, but given the season, you must surely be up here to watch the Contest. Yes? Surely?"

I shrugged. "Contest? Whaddya mean, Contest?"

Evan's shoulders sagged the tiniest bit, though he tried to hide his disappointment behind information. "The Contest! Of the dragons! This is the time of the year for the selection of a leader for the dragons!"

"Oh." I thought back to the dragon we'd butchered near the tip of the Stalk of Rodentia. "That... that seems dangerous. They're like to eat us."

"Only if you watch rogues at play. I'm not talking about rogues." Evan waved a hand. "I mean the colony. Much more civilized. This year's Contest is pretty exciting! There's a newer greenback fighting with a veteran purplehorn. I've been waiting for months for it to flare up. Would you like me to show you the way to the staging grounds? Humans aren't usually welcome, but the colony likes me."

I twitched. Evan was up on the balls of his feet, wringing his hands in clear excitement. No questions about our destination, our origins, our intentions... we could be robbers set on plundering him for all his worth and he wouldn't even know it. I don't often consider people to be fools, but Evan...


Maybe I'm just pessimistic these days. Who knows.

"No, no." I offered him a hand. "Dragomir. Hi. I'm lookin' for my wife. Have you seen her?"

"No. Why? Is she here too? To see the dragons?" Evan gushed. "The purplehorn is the odds-on favourite to win. I can't speak draconic, but I've named him Ridges. Because he's covered in small, spiky ridges. Clever enough, isn't it? You know, I managed to collect some of his shed scales last year, and they're so remarkably resilient -"

"My but he gabs," Grylock muttered behind my back. He stepped out and snapped his fingers. "Human! Human! Pay heed a moment! The man has questions!"

Evan breathed deep, his face red, a wide smile tightening beneath his beard. "S... sorry. Sorry. I, ah, I don't have many people to talk to during the off seasons, so when tourists come up, I get, ah, a little bit excited. Many apologies. Many!"

He offered his hand again. I shook it.

"I'm looking for my wife," I repeated. "'bout as tall as me, dark, short hair, big muscles. Mighta come here on a, uh... what were they called again, Logan?"

"Micro-Dragon, boss."

"Yeah. Micro-Dragon. You know Micro-Dragons?"

Evan snorted. "Yes, Micro-Dragons. Ill-tempered, dumb cousins of the real thing. Lizards with wings. I used to train them for the Imperium's scouting division. Did you see Rodentia's roost? I lived in it for a few months."

We all fidgeted. Logan had described in vivid detail the collapse of the Micro-Dragon roost. I waved it away. "Neat. So, you... haven't seen her, then, I guess? Maybe?"

Reluctantly shoving away his chatter about dragons, Evan pursed his lips and considered. "Nnnnnno. No women up here since the last tourist season. And I would know, eh? Gets awfully lonely up here during the winter, eh?" He elbowed me a few times.

I frowned. "C'mon, this is serious. She's missing. Have you seen anybody? Maybe someone who could've been a woman, but, like, you saw at a distance and weren't sure?"

That earned a bristling shudder from Evan. He turned away from me, peering over a long, bumpy row of clouds covered in tangerine trees. "There is someone else. A wild man who's been running loose up here for near a month. But he's definitely a he. Definitely."

"How do you know?"

"He's always nude." Evan shuddered again. "Bloody nuisance has raided my garden twice. Keeps disturbing the dragons, as well. No idea what he wants or why he's up here, but he's no woman, I can tell you that."

"Vat doez he look like?" Antonio chimed in. He'd been skulking in the rear of the pack, watching for trouble.

"Shaggy brown hair. Covered in scars." Evan tapped his head. "Bandaged. I assume he's suffering a terrible concussion and has gone feral. That happens, you know."

Antonio nodded, his smile widening the tiniest bit. I haven't yet puzzled out why.

"But come." Evan pointed to the ever-present sun, which, for some reason, never moves out of the west when you're in the clouds. "It will be dark soon, and some of the fiercer creatures come out at night. It's not safe when that happens. Best you not run into any rogue dragons! They will rip a man to shreds!"

"But..." I looked at the rest of my party. They shrugged as one. "But it's never dark up here. We've been on the clouds for three days, now."

"Yes, but it's dark below, and for nocturnal animals that's all that matters." Evan ushered us along. "I'll show you to my house. I have maps of the clouds over Rodentia. Perhaps they will help us locate your wife."

I struggled with the logic, but, ultimately, we had little choice. We needed a guide. Evan led us back to his cabin in the clouds and fed us some choice greens from his garden, and now we're sitting in his solar, learning the lay of the land from his book of maps. Soon we will sleep, and tomorrow we'll set out to find Libby.

Hopefully find Libby.

Better find Libby.

A wild man covered in scars... and naked. Hrm. That doesn't bode well for Libby. She can take care of herself, but... still...

I'm off for now. Evan's an avid board game player, and his pet lemur doesn't provide the best competition in the world. He's anxious to drag us all into a round of Twelve-Man Chesterfields. We're short a few bodies, but Evan assures us that he knows some alternative rules that'll get us by.  


Dragomir the Wanderer

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