Friday, April 4, 2014

Day Six-Hundred-Seventy: Thus endeth the Contest

That's one way to end a Contest, I guess.

Despite the promise of a rousing conclusion to the Contest, I was in no mood to watch dragons cavorting with other dragons this morning. The sight of Libby getting dragged off to gods-know-where by some nude dude kinda focused my attention on the important stuff in life. Antonio assured me that Traveller would do her no harm - he loves women - but the way he said it did nothing for my spirits.

Loves. Loves. How... lecherous.

Fynn agreed with me on that score. He's been a brave lad, but he wants his mother back. He wants to see her again more than anything, and I'm sure the desire is mutual on Libby's part. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to think we could spend at least an hour watching the end of the stupid Contest. Evan kept talking about how awesome it was last time, and despite Libby's mortal freaking peril, the rest of our band was swayed.

Fynn and I searched alone for almost three hours before giving up. We have no hope of tracking Traveller without Grylock. The little bastard tells me that Traveller's scent is... considerable. Enough to make him easy to find, anyway. After nearly running afoul of a huge band of roaming sky dwarves, I was forced to concede and slink back to the Contest grounds.

I haven't watched too much of the Contest, but Evan tells me that they were pretty neck-and-neck. Ridges, no doubt the biggest dragon in the local aerie, dominated the vast majority of the physical contests. He's a brute in purple. Barrel, by contrast, put the other dragons to shame in the mental categories, scoring an impressive win over Ridges himself during a two-hour-long match of Stringent Strategies. None of the other dragons came close to matching these two titans of dragonhood...

... and so, when Fynn and I returned to watch the end of the Contest, the contestants included only Barrel, Ridges, and a bulky yellow beast Evan calls Lemonade. And, uh, Lemonade was eliminated maybe five minutes after we began climbing towards our friends.

"Dragomir!" Evann whispered happily, motioning us over to our usual spot at the top of the cloud canyon. "Here, here! You're just in time! Did you see Lemonade there? Oh, he made a poor move in that last section! He was quite the underdog, but his lack of skill caught up with him! Oho! I knew it would be greenback or purplehorn for alpha!"

"Yeah, great," I grunted back. I glared at Grylock. "This shit almost done?"

The goblin nodded. "I think so. Anxious te get yer Libby back before she's wooed by that handsome beast, are ye?"

I bit back the urge to stomp Grylock's hand. "She won't be 'wooed' by anything, you bastard. 'cept me."

Logan patted me on the back. "Don't worry, boss. We'll find 'er."

I glared at him. "She might be here now if you'dve gone after that lunatic."

Logan held up his hands. "I told you, I don't wanna die. That dude's scary when he's freaked out. Right, Antonio?"

"Iz zo," the orc agreed. "Zere vuz vun time ven my brozer deztroyed vun of our vagunz becauze he voke up und found a cockroach zitting on hiz face. He threw ze cart into ze ocean vith vun mighty hurl. I love him, but he iz a creature to be feared."

"Yeah, well, so am I." I wriggled my fingers, wondering how well Traveller might stand up to a little Crimson Catastrophe. "I bet I could - "

"SHHHHHHHHHH!" Evan hushed us down with a frantic flailing of his hands. "It's starting, it's starting!"

Repressing the urge to belt Evan in the face, I turned to the spectacle below. Barrel and Ridges were now toe-to-toe, staring so deeply into one another's eyes that I thought they might kiss. Yet the heat of competition and need was so fierce and so primal that one was more likely to bite the other square in the face than to exchange courtesies. Their wings flared -

- and then both were in the air, swooping high and spinning 'round one another in an intricate aerial ballet. They curved in tight spirals, flying so close together that I knew they would collide. The final test, it seemed, was one of flying skill.

Or so I'd thought.

After five minutes of incredible flying, I dared a poke to Evan's ribs. He grunted softly; a dangerous sound. "Uh. Explain? They gettin' judged on style?"

"So beautiful," Evan murmured back. Tears wet his beard. "Hmph. Um. What? Oh. This isn't the competition. It's the ending ceremonies. They're wooing the crowd while another dragon sets up, obviously."

Raising an eyebrow, I tore away from the fabulous display above our heads and peered back at the aerie in the canyon. Most had their heads inclined to watch Ridges and Barrel strut their stuff - but a few of them, all former competitors, were lugging enormous, cloudy chunks of stone onto the playing field. 

"Oh, that." I poked Evan again, taking perverse pleasure in his irritation. I don't like Evan very much. "What're they gonna do with those rocks? They part of a puzzle or something?"

"Will you shut up?" Evan flailed his hands in my face. "Part of a puzzle! Pshaw! They're going to throw them! What else do you do with giant boulders but throw them? Be silent!"

My mouth dropped open a quarter of an inch. Throw big rocks? That was the final competition to determine the leader of Barrel's aerie? After all the majestic feats of the strength, the cerebral matches of intricate skill and knowledge, the displays of serpentine competition and camaraderie, it all came down to... throwing rocks?

Apparently so. Once the two stones were on the field Ridges and Barrel descended, each choosing a stone and alighting gently behind it. They tested their respective boulders, hefting them, tossing them lightly into the air, checking for any major faults in the facade. Neither seemed to be wanting for quality, as far as giant cloud rocks go.

"Wow." I stood, immediately sick of the Contest. "Wow. That's dumb. Outta here. Don't even care. Worst ending to a competition ever."

"SHHHH-" Evan began.

"SHHHHHHHHHHHHH," I retorted, spraying his face with spittle. "My wife is missing you bulky fuck, shut up with your SHHHHHHHHHHs. Don't give me another gods-be-damned SHHHHHHHHHH, you hear me? You do 'n I'll feed you to that fucking sloth roaming 'round Rodentia."

Evan''s eyes widened. "There's a sloth in Rodentia? What? What?"

"... never mind that." My heat turned to sudden anxiety. "Just fucking around. Point is, you're being obnoxious - "

"Hey, dad, look!" Fynn tugged on my pant leg. "Look, look, holy cow, look!"

Rolling my eyes, I looked. Far below, Ridges had thrown his rock. I didn't catch most of the motion, but from what I could tell he'd taken a dozen mighty paces, puffed out his chest, lifted the stone in both arms, and flung it with every bit of muscle he owned. I only saw the eggshell white stone for a few seconds before it disappeared, flying well past the edge of the clouds. I can but hope that it didn't squish anyone.

The aerie watched, oooohing silently. Barrel did as well, looking rather grim. Only Ridges himself demurred, his eyes on Barrel. He slid a clawed finger across his own neck, a more theatening gesture than anything he ever could've said aloud.

Barrel, sneering, lifted his rock again. He tested it a few more times, reforming his arms so they were longer and more suitable for hurling. He barked out a draconic command for more space, pacing across the cloud to get the perfect distance for his throw. He needn't have bothered - the aerie had receded to the fringes long ago.

He's nervous. It was a stupid realization, really, but valid. Behind the steely confidence in Barrel's eyes was a growing panic, something only a longtime friend could see, and every little motion, fidgety gesture, and glance back at his mate betrayed his unease. He doesn't think he can win. I don't even know what they're going for here, but Barrel thinks he's gonna lose. He knows he's gonna lose.

I immediately began to plan for the worst. Ridges changed from an object of curiosity to a target.

Barrel stretched. His neck joints cracked. He looked around several times, tossing the rock from one transformed claw to another. He paused to straighten his unruly mane. His tail swished from side to side, then up, then down. It left a furrowed impression in the clouds.

The crowd stirred. A huge grin stretched across Ridges' violet muzzle.

"Antonio," I whispered, "you think you could kill Ridges? If it came to that?"

The orc flinched. "Kill? You wizh to kill? Zat zeemz unzportsmanlike - "

"Shhh," Evan interjected. It was more of a suggestion than a demand. He pointed -

- and Barrel took several steps, his eyes closed, the rock clutched firmly in his claws - 

- and the entire aerie rumbled -

- and Ridges fanned his wings in triumph -

- and then -


The declaration echoed through every inch of the canyon, from our tiny perch far away to Barrel's ears down in the thick of things. He turned; we turned; every dragon in the crowd turned; and, most importantly, Ridges turned.

An enormous rock took Ridges' head off.

It came from seemingly nowhere, a titanic slab of darkish gray that looked to be part of Mount Thunderstorm. Much sharper than the other two rocks, it sheared Ridges' cranium from his neck so neatly that it took half a minute for the rest of his body to collapse. His claws twitched as though he were waving. 

As far as I know, the dragons aren't even going to bother looking for the head. It's gone. Someone on the ground is in for a nasty surprise.

"HOW WAS THAT, LIBBY?" The interloper's voice boomed so loudly that I feared my eardrums might explode. "PRETTY AWESOME, HUH? ARE YOU MY GIRLFRIEND YET OR SHOULD I THROW ANOTHER ONE? LOOK, THEY'RE ALL IMPRESSED TOO! I DO ROCKS GOOD!"

To a soul, the dragons lifted their heads to glare up at another rise in the canyon walls. Far, far in the distance, we spied two tiny figures on a perch similar to our own. One was gesticulating ferociously at the other, the flailing motions rather similar to punches. The other figure danced around them, though otherwise failed to retaliate.

Then the dragons came. Oh, lord, the dragons came. As one they hissed bloody betrayal, and the entire aerie rose into the sky, their enormous lizard bodies dashing for the two figures.

"OH SHIT!" The loudmouth declared. "IS THAT BAD? SHOULD WE RUN?"

The answer was, apparently, yes. The two figures disappeared scant seconds before an enormous wave of fire melted the rock they'd been standing on into slag. I'm somewhat fearful that Barrel's aerie fried my wife, but I doubt it. Her captor seems too vapidly stupid to die in such a way.



The Contest is over. Barrel is the winner. By default. Ridges would've won, but you need a head to rule an aerie. I wanted to congratulate him on his success, but... now doesn't seem like a good time. The dragons are in mourning over their fallen champion, Barrel included.

Also? Humans. Probably aren't happy with humans right now.



... at least we know Libby and Traveller are still up here? That's a plus?

Damn was that gross,

Dragomir the Wanderer

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