New Plaid Identity

Discussion in 'BOARDANIA' started by plaid, Jul 8, 2006.

  1. plaid New Member

    yes and then the wall fell down

    The afternoon was chilly and still, pie-less. Will I have to start eating yaks, like the dragons? I wondered. At least the yaks didn't talk. As far as I knew.

    Tell me about the Dragonmother, I asked. The Dragonmother before me. 'Spiky, stay close to me, please.' The girl was crawling on her knees across the red, scaly shoulders of the dragon. If she fell...

    'She was born to be Dragonmother,' Jaccairn answered. 'Not like you. Her mother and grandmother were Dragonmothers. But she found nobody to love her. But she was a mother to us. And she kept the tribute. She watched over the island.'

    I'm sure the dragons could sense my ignorance, and my horror at the thought of babysitting a lot of large lizards for the rest of my life. I asked questions all at once-- Was there a Dragonfather then? When will I feel like I know what I'm doing? Do you really never die?

    More than one dragon answered me. 'We really never die,' they said. 'We don't remember the fathers. They don't stick around.' And, 'We've broken the lock of this large chest we found. Socks.'

    'Oh,' I sighed. 'They found the socks.'

    'I have a sock,' Spiky grinned.

    'I have to talk to Brad. And Buzzfloyd. And...' I wished Ba would say something. I wished I knew what was happening to the island. A few clouds wrapped themselves around the sunlight. People had spread themselves across the hillside, pointing at things, talking about things, tossing pebbles around. Jaccairn let us down slightly above the crowds and I led Spiky down, wondering what the point of bringing her had been. She was too young to convince anyone of anything.

    Jordan spotted us first and approached with his hat in his hands. Buzzfloyd wasn't far behind him.
  2. plaid New Member

    I handed the little girl off to the pirate and ran to Buzzfloyd, taking her aside and whispering.

    'Something's happening to the island. The mermaidens... they're losing their sight, and they want me to fulfill this tribute thing, and their goddess says...'

    'Mnemosyne? She spoke to you?'


    Spiky was screaming, and I could hear poor Jordan pleading with her to shut up and calm down and stop kicking him. I turned from Buzzfloyd for a moment and took the redheaded girl firmly by the arm. 'Spiky? Will you run quick and find Brad for me? Ask him if he can come meet us up here. Please?'

    Her screaming died down and her petulant face softened. 'Jordan, go with her. Don't try and pick her up, she doesn't like it.'

    The pirate spit and glowered at me, ignoring everything I'd said. Spiky ran off without him.

    'What do you want?' I asked.

    'What do ye want?' he parroted. 'What's 'appened?'

    'I don't know.' I looked at Buzzfloyd. 'The mermaidens can't explain it. Ba didn't say anything, the dragons' don't care... I don't know. I'm starving.'

    'Some of the boys went yak-hunting,' Buzzfloyd mentioned. 'There's been no pie all day.'

    I looked up at the sky. What is going on? Why do I feel responsible for this? 'The dragons have found the socks. Should they bring them here? And all the other things they recovered? The wardrobe... Where's Orrdos? Does he... Is he... What do you think? I... I don't think I'm staying.'

    Buzzfloyd stared at me.

    'Wha'?' Jordan said.

    'The tribute... the mermaidens... it's ancient. I didn't know, but...'

    They continued to stare.
  3. plaid New Member

    'Do the Sock Wars without me. It's okay. The dragons will bring the socks.' Bring the socks, I told them. And everything else you found. 'I'll just... I'll just...'

    'What tribute? Mnemosyne asks tribute of the dragons? Since when?' Buzzfloyd tugged at her hair and looked confused.

    'Mnemosyne?' I asked.

    'You said she spoke to you. The mermaiden goddess. Isn't that what you meant?'

    'She didn't mention her name... She only...' I found it a little bit hard to remember what the goddess had said to me. She'd asked so many questions... had it meant anything? 'The tribute was Mossfoot and Marcia... they said... it is real. The dragons remember. And they say it's important. And I am the dragonmother now, and I have to do it... even if I have no idea where to go...' A kind of exhausted panic began to creep into my voice. This island was all I knew, apart from a bit of a sunken pirate ship, and even with the dragons in my head, I wasn't sure I could do this. Alone. 'Look, just...' But I didn't finish. I walked determinedly away from Jordan, Buzzfloyd, and all the people near the cave. I climbed up through the forest until I could no longer hear their voices. And I sat against a large stone rockface, taking my coat and pulling it over my knees.

    I almost forgot that I'd asked Spiky to fetch Brad. Oh well. He can wait... I was thinking. The activity of the dragons had become so normal I devoted only the back of my mind to their comments, their points of view, their hunger and strange visions. With the rest of my brain I tried to remember. I counted backwards, from the mermaidens to the pirates to that strange empty morning on the beach, two slices of pie marking each day. My stomach growled and my head ached. Something was wrong. But the cause was tangled up in so many things that had happened. I shifted my toes in the sand, trying to pin down which had happened when. Yaks, zombies, cheating... Maljonic had died. That weird spork... and then the Words disappeared. Dragonmother was murdered. The Catface sunk, Ba had spoken to me. I just didn't know enough.

    Pat's old maps were still rolled up and stuffed in the inner pockets of my coat. While I got one of the dragons to go give the islanders a hand with their yak-hunting, I unrolled them, soaked up all the lines and labels. Om. How accurate are these maps? Show me. I'd seen the island from above, but the perspective had always been skewed. With Om I could trace the shore of the island on the map and through her eyes at the same time. If I'd had a pencil... did I still have that pencil? no... I could've made corrections. As it was I made them mentally and took vague notes on places that looked familiar, trying to remember everything I'd heard about them.

    It was while we were doing this that we came upon Orrdos and Tony Black, making their way along the treeline near the beach where I'd washed up. My hunger and achiness were replaced by a sharp panic. I hardly had time to wonder how that mangy pirate had survived before I knew he was dangerous. Eat him, I said to Om. No, don't eat him. Um. Watch them. What are they doing?

    Black seemed to be doing all the talking. Orrdos's face still held the tragedy of his elephant's death, but there was a cunning... a wondering... If only dragons' hearing were as sharp as their eyesight.
  4. plaid New Member

    Keeping one eye on this unexpected pair, I started making a list. I would need food if I left the island. I could leave most of the dragons here. Would they be alright without me? Of course they would. I would need shoes. I would need something to carry things in besides this old filthy coat. I would go alone, with Om, and the rest of the dragons would keep to their cliffs. The islanders wouldn't miss me. None of them needed me... They had their socks. They could hunt the yaks and they could...

    The sound of hooves scuffing rock broke my concentration. 'Brad?'

    The llama sauntered toward me through the bushes, a coldness in his eyes. 'What is it now, Plaid? They said you were leaving.'

    I looked down and fingered a few pebbles. 'You don't mind, do you Brad?'

    He blinked. 'I always knew there was little hope for me, but I kept playing the game. I never suspected it was the Sock Wars themselves Ba cared about.'

    I sighed. But this melancholy llama was far more tolerable than the one who thought he owned the world. 'Ba is a mysterious person,' I said.

    'You've really seen him.' I opened my mouth, thinking to protest or make some humble, vague, statement, but Brad continued. 'I can hear it in your voice. I don't know what he sees in you. You know so little of this island.'

    Staring at him, I couldn't help but agree with him. I shook my head and dropped a few pebbles from my hand onto the center of the map. 'You did horrible things, llama,' I mentioned. 'Those people...' But then, there was an antidote of sorts for the zombies, but nothing at all for the llama.

    Brad looked away and flicked his tail. 'The Sock Wars should continue,' he agreed. 'That's all they have to look forward to. But I can't do it anymore.' He began to walk back through the trees, but I had to ask.

    'Why not? Just because Malory's dead?'
  5. plaid New Member

    'It's nothing to do with you now, Plaid. You're abandoning the island in your own way. Don't worry about me.'

    And then he was gone.

    Orrdos and the pirate were at the edge of the beach, looking out at the reflection of the impending sunset.

    They're talking about you, Om said. And elephants.

    I shook the dirt from my map and folded it, swallowing hard to keep my guilt from turning into anger. Black was crazy. I had evidence enough of that. Orrdos was grief-stricken. Leave them alone, I told the dragon. Come back. It doesn't matter. As I stood up the whole mountain behind me grumbled and quivered, sending a shower of small rocks and dead branches scattering down the rockface. Among the debris was a perfectly round button, a bit larger than my head, with four holes in it, a little scratched but undeniably a button. Oh Ba, I groaned inwardly, just before the ground lurched beneath my feet, throwing me into a bush and smashing the button beneath a plummeting boulder.

    I opened my eyes, looked up into the blackening, smoky sky, and knew the name of the mountain. Garner. Oh no. I picked up my coat and staggered back down to the cave of words, suddenly very afraid. I didn't look back, but I could hear the mountain chasing me.

    As I broke through the trees I saw the sky full of dragons, drinking in the smoke. The sight of it, and the feeling of it, was intoxicating. I didn't have to ask to whom my dragons gave worship. They didn't eat pie and they didn't care about Ba. It was the island itself they honored, the mountain they prayed to. The power of that strange spork made more sense to me now. But I didn't need it. I had dragons.

    Ignoring the shouts from Buzzfloyd and the panic of the others, I ran down the mountain, straight north, stumbling over my own feet, the cuffs of my trousers, and the coat I still carried. It felt glorious to run, despite my growing hunger and the scratches on my arms from the trees. I remembered running after the doormen, and the fights i had endured on the Catface, and by the zombie river. The smell of smoke filled the air, but I didn't cough. I savored it.
  6. plaid New Member

    I didn't stop until the cold water of the bay was lapping at my feet.

    'The tribute,' I said. 'How long will it take?'

    I received no answer for several minutes. The reflection of Mount Garner's smoke polluted the surface of the water, but I didn't turn around. I could see everything they saw, the mottled afternoon sky and the deep filth of the crater... 'Om?'

    'There are seventy-two islands. It's never easy.' She swooped down and northward, coming to meet me.

    'Are they inhabited? Does Ba keep them all? I'm so hungry...'

    Om cracked her jaw and stretched one leg after the other. 'Ba is a fickle god,' she said.

    'What's happened? Why did the pie stop? The islanders... will they starve?'

    As she landed, Om shook her large head. 'Yak meat will feed them well enough. For a while. Are you worried?'

    'It's all so strange,' I said, walking to the dragon and leaning against her side.

    'You are different, from the other Dragonmothers. You are less... open.'

    I blinked, wondering what Om Kranti meant by that. In the split second my eyes were closed I thought I saw the shape of a pirate ship, dark against the water. It wasn't really there.

    'The elephant would have tried to stop you,' Om added. 'He knew things.'


    I sifted through the dragon's thoughts, trying to find what she was trying to say. All I could sense was a wide field of jealous loyalty.

    'Stop me from what, Om?' I insisted.

    Everything. It seemed as if we both thought the answer at the same time, and all the other dragons echoed it. Suddenly I wondered if I could trust them. What if the dragons were so wrapped up in their own dragonness, their own smoke-filled immortality...

    A chill fluttered across the shore of the bay and I looked around, taking a few meandering steps. 'And Doors? And Black?'

    'You needn't worry about them,' Om reassured me. 'Or anyone.'

    'Do you remember everything, Om?'
  7. plaid New Member

    I wiggled my toes in the pebbley ground while I waited for her, or any of them, to answer.

    They didn't. Suddenly I remembered the half loaf of bread I still had in my coat pocket. I'd only used four slices for Hex and Pat. The rest of it was a bit soggy and a bit dirty, but I intended to eat it anyway.

    'Yer not really leavin', arr ye?' Jordan asked, just as I'd crammed the first bite in my mouth. I turned around and glared at him. Om snarled and unfurled her wings. The pirate had a thick length of rope in his hands. 'Yer not leavin',' he repeated.

    I swallowed, nearly choking on the bread. My eyes darted from Jordan's face to the mountain, which was still spouting smoke, then to Om's claws and the pebbles on the beach. A small laugh escaped my throat.

    'Ye can't,' he went on. 'They all need you.'

    'Whatever,' I rolled my eyes. 'I've done what I can do. It's their island.' I turned away from him and reached up for Om's shoulder.

    'It en't arrs,' he said. 'Moon Cat en't no Captain.'

    'Take that up with her. She sunk the Catface. Not my fault.'

    Jordan took one bold step closer. 'Ye care about nothin' on this island?'

    I looked back. I stared. 'Why should I?' Om crouched a little, and I finished pulling myself on to her back.

    'Thar's more te life than mem'ries.'

    I could only blink at him. 'Who asked you to follow me?'

    The pirate didn't answer.

    'Go away, before I let Om eat you.'

    Ew, Om muttered, flexing her wings and shifting her weight.

    'But...' Jordan's face fell.

    'The other dragons are staying. Talk to them if you have the nerve. I'm leaving. Go back to your pirate friends.'

    With a few splashing footsteps Om took off over the water. Jordan shouted something but I couldn't hear it. I didn't even look over my shoulder to see the sparks from Mount Garner. All the dragons circled, carving intricate patterns in the smoke. Somehow I knew the volcano wouldn't erupt outright. But it was speaking, the island. It was crying out. How can I be leaving it? I wondered.

    The first few faint stars were beginning to appear in the east. The blue of the sky and the blue of the sea were washed all together way out where the horizon should have been. We flew higher, higher and higher. It was too dark to tell, but I thought I saw specks of land, piercing the ocean like the very tips of dull iron nails.
  8. plaid New Member

    the author of this monstrous thing kindly requests your participation in a rather inexplicably cryptic poll, the outcome of which will help her find a direction for the adventures of the plaid one and her dragons. thank you.


    imagine yourself, and a friend if you like, in a cool and dark cave, holding a candle up to a wall, upon which are engraved the following four fragmented lines:

    1. [FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]to be honest, including an old book by a Victorian[/FONT]
    2. [FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]what happened to the old man who was given[/FONT]
    3. [FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]can't be having with 'passports' and stuff like that. I'll leave it to you
    [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]they could break into chemical works that contain really nasty stuff

    then pick one. write it down on a virtual sticky-note and hand it in below.
  9. Ba Lord of the Pies

    *Etches number 4 onto a square of copper with a strong acid and hands it to Plaid*
  10. chrisjordan New Member

    3 please, Plaididio.
  11. mowgli New Member

    I'll second Ba on number four. Chemicals which can create nasty stuff are always a plot-advancer :smile:
  12. Ba Lord of the Pies

  13. Saccharissa Stitcher

    Plaidsy! You're Back!
  14. chrisjordan New Member

    Plaidsy...I'll have to remember that one.
  15. plaid New Member

    come now, is that all?

    Saccharissa, you didn't vote!

    for everyone's (i'm sure you're all dying for more, waiting breathlessly...) information, i'm trying to reread it all before i start writing agian. i'm afraid i'll have forgotten something important.

    so in the meantime, more people vote.
  16. plaid New Member

    I began this story in november of 2003. such a long time ago.
    now it has taken over my life, just about.

    here, have another plot synopsis:

    fine fine, let's just get on with it

    Nights of cold, gritty beaches took over. I did have the dragons for fire, but they and their scaly comfort could not drown out the roar of the dark ocean. That ocean has taken so much from me... I wallowed, questioning everything that had pushed me to such a decision and questioning again everything that questioned. What had I left behind? Nothing but a lot of weak connections and failing loyalties.

    I spent more time staring into the ocean's ominous waves, under a shadow I didn't understand, than I did working out where to come by any large glass spheres for the mermaidens. How would I carry them when I found them anyway?

    Om ached for the island. I don't know how she knew the difference. All of them had to be just as volcanic, just as desolate, just as... well I couldn't say just as crazy. Nothing so far had presented quite the same conglomeration of intrigue and superficial horror that had greeted me there. Maybe it was my memory, giving me so much to keep to myself about... Or maybe it was the dragons, frightening away all signs of strangeness before it had a chance to take us further away from our purpose.

    As I pondered and stared and pulled at the threads in my sleeves, I tried very hard to shut out the thoughts of all the dragons I had left behind. For the most part they kept to themselves as what the islanders and pirates called the Sock Wars proceeded in chaos along the shore.

    Every day I talked myself into believing I wasn't missing anything.

    'The tribute,' Om reminded me, swishing her tail back and forth in the surf.

    I dragged my finger through the wet sand. I felt so inescapably lazy.

    'You do remember why we came here,' Om said, making it so much less of a question and so much more of an accusation.

    Still I didn't answer.

    The day unravelled up and down the empty beach. It was late afternoon before my dragon spoke again.

    'You are less open. Less and less,' she sighed.

    'I just don't know where to look. There are no clues... nothing on the maps...'

    Om tensed and tilted her head as a rattling noise disturbed the endless stretch of dead, rotting driftwood.

    'Look again,' she said, as she always had. With that, she turned and crouched, facing whatever had dared approach this quiet section of beach.

    I had pored over the maps so many times. They were not made by mermaidens. They were made by a lonely amnesiac scientist. What would Pat have known of these mysterious crystals? She knew a lot of things, I admitted. But all seventy-two of these islands and whatever anomaly of geography that would create perfectly spherical globes of glass? She would have needed more time...
  17. plaid New Member

    I sighed as the dragon disturbed far too many shards of soggy wood and strings of kelp in her pursuit. Eat it, whatever it is, I told Om half-seriously. At the same moment I wished that what the dragons ate would appease my own hunger. Didn't that make sense? Shouldn't it work that way? As it was, all I'd eaten for days was fish. Ba... where is the pie? It seemed the god of unspeakable culinary acts had abandoned me here. Was it because I'd made a bargain with the mermaidens? Or, I stared at my toes, was it because I'd abandoned the islanders to fight their wars alone?

    'You could come back, you know,' the whisper flew from miles across the ocean. You could come back...

    And tell Marcia what?

    The dawn was glaring at me. I thought I saw a dark something slide in and out of the surf, but I couldn't tell what.

    Om dropped what appeared to be a large pile of laundry at my feet. It rolled over and growled a tired, barley-intelligible curse at both of us.

    I didn't want to stand up. I didn't want to say anything. I looked up at Om weakly.

    In the face of my silence, the woman propped herself up on one elbow and asked me what was going on.

    'You tell me,' I muttered, tossing a broken stick off to the side. There were millions of questions I could ask. Instead, I just waited, assuming the bulk of Om would provoke something useful to spill from the girl's mouth. She didn't look old. She didn't look young. Her robes were layered and colorful and almost too beautiful to exist in what I saw as such a filthy world. What I could see of her hands was covered with the faintest of blue markings.

    She was watching me just as intently. I raised and eyebrow and noticed that her eyes were just as warm and brown as I expected.
  18. plaid New Member

    I wondered if she sensed my recognition. Our staring at each other ended when she, with a cautious look up at the dragon, pulled herself upright, stuck out a hand, and introduced herself as Catriona.

    Swallowing a bit of grumbling, I stood up myself and shook her hand, scanning her face. She gave me a small smile and wriggled her hand out of my nervously tight grip.

    'And where are we?' I asked.

    'This island,' she said vaguely. 'North. I think a little bit eastish, too, all things considered. But that's not important. You seem to know who you are well enough. Where did you come from?'

    My gaze fell off to the right. The old island was nowhere. It only existed for me in the eyes of the dragons--smoke and rubble and confusion. 'We did come north, didn't we...' I began. Om nodded.

    Catriona pulled her robes tightly around herself and cocked her head. 'Well, there's shelter further up. You may as well meet the family... but could you...' she eyed the dragon, 'keep this one out of the way?'

    I pursed my lips and nodded. Om scraped her talons along the beach, coughed, and took off lazily to circle the island. Find it if you can. But I didn't count on much help from her. This was my tribute, not theirs.

    After a stretch of hiking after Catriona, I thought to say, "Sorry about Om back there. She didn't hurt you, I hope."

    'Oh no...a bit of terror in the morning can be healthy, I guess.' She threw a grin over her shoulder. I wasn't trying very hard to keep up with her.

    'My name's Plaid...I don't think I said that, did I?'

    She shook her head and turned around. 'And what is it you're looking for in this part of the world?' Something in her question worried me, and I gave her a thoughtful look. 'Through here, down a bit further. Come on.'

    What she'd called 'the family' was huge. And they all--everyone one of them, even the youngest children--bore resemblances of Moon Cat Blue. It wasn't just the tattoos and the golden hair; the eyes, the voices, the shapes of their faces...everything about them tied the pirate I knew to this island and this group of people. Why had she gone? Did they all know where she was and what she was doing? There would be so much I would need to find out.

    As we walked, I thought I heard music. Singing. It was disjointed and hard to follow, but it was music. The family filled tents and little caves and make-shift pavilions all scattered across a sloping valley. To what must have been the east was a rocky, plant-less rise, black and shiny and dead. No smoke issued from its jagged peak, but I knew it for a volcano and I knew it had the same name. Looking at it and feeling it somehow look back--no, look down-- I just knew. Garner.

    How ridiculous if all seventy-two are called the same.

    I chewed on my lower lip as Catriona interrupted their lilting melody and introduced me to her sisters Katcal and Gypsy.

    'My, we've been getting the oddest of visitors lately,' Katcall murmured. 'What have you come for?'

    I started pulling at the hem of my shirt, looking off into the distance as if the dragons would fly in any moment, showing them so much more than I knew how to put into words. This was not what I'd had in mind.

    Then what had I had in mind?

    I took a deep breath.

    'Plaid?' Catriona motioned for me to sit. Gypsy, the younger sister, sat down across from me while Katcal continued plucking the feathers from some smallish creature.

    'What is that?' I asked, suddenly fascinated with the movement of all the tiny green feathers in the breeze.
  19. plaid New Member

    fledgling surprise

    'Not sure...' Catriona answered when her sister refused to look up. 'We just catch them. There isn't much else to eat on this island, since pie season ended.'

    'You know Ba? You-- He-- Pie season?'

    All three of them looked suspicious at my outburst. 'Ba, the god of pie, yes. But his favor waxes and wanes. The seasons of pielessness can be brutally long. Sometimes it is hard to keep a faith alive on memories.' Catriona sighed as she spoke, a hint of anger coming through in her tone. I found myself nodding sympathetically.

    'It left our island too. There hasn't been pie for...' I tried to count and failed. '...a week or so, it seems. Days, anyway. It makes everything feel hopeless... But you said it's happened before, here?'

    'Lots,' Gypsy spoke up. 'Then we eat fish and birds and sometimes the bugs too.'

    Katcal laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh.

    'I-- What else is the same for this island? The volcano, I see. Are there Words? Are there mermaidens? yaks? zombies?' As I asked these questions I had partial answers from Om. This island is tiny. No yaks, no rivers. Hardly a speck of land. That meant probably no zombies or mermaidens either. An afterthought prompted me to throw in, 'Have you ever met a woman named Pat?'

    'Words...' began Catriona, looking into my eyes intently.

    'Mermaidens!' Gypsy exclaimed. 'They come in the summer. Sometimes. Mynona let me ride on her porpoise once.'

    'If you mean what I think you mean, yes,' Catriona said. 'Words. Do you want to see?'

    I shook my head. 'Later. When did the mermaidens come last? Do you know the one called Mossfoot? Have they mentioned any crystals?'

    'Who do you think we are?' Katcal interrupted. 'Gypsy, will you fetch me gramma's best soup pot?'

    The little one jumped up and scurried away, clutching her colorful robes up around her waste so she wouldn't trip.

    'I'm sorry?' I attempted, looking confused. 'I only--'
  20. Gypsy New Member

    Yay! More please!
    I can't wait to find out what i'm like...and I have an older (bossy) sister! XD
  21. Ba Lord of the Pies

    Ba wishes to know what these people have done to displease him.

    His memory's a bit spotty these days. He should really get a PDA. Make note of unbelievers, get contact information for worshippers, schedule smitings... It would make life so much easier.
  22. plaid New Member

    don't flinch don't flinch don't flinch

    I glanced anxiously at Katcal; she only glared and went back to picking feathers.

    Gypsy reassured me by placing a hand on my shoulder. 'Don't be. Katcal's had a bad week. I don't know about crystals. There were some old mines in the mountain somewhere. I don't know where--nobody's used them since... I don't remember.'

    I screamed. Om, who had been just flying over the mines Catriona mentioned and confirming their state of disuse, jerked herself around in midair and flew towards the valley, but it was useless of her. They're... they.. the... Trollmother. I grumbled this to Om in my mind, suddenly desperate and helpless, gripping the edge of my makeshift chair and digging my bare toes into the dirt. 'Trollmother! She can't!' I yelled. 'No!'

    'Plaid?' Catriona's horrified voice barely reached my ear. 'Are you-- What's wrong?'

    Visions of glass and blood and fire slid one after another through my thoughts. After a long, painful moment I found myself gasping. Gusts from my dragon's wings blew sand and leaves into everyone's eyes. No,'s too late...urrrrrrrrgh, what is she trying to do to me?

    The faces of several people looked down at me. Katcal's was one of them. 'What do you have to do with that Trollmother?' Her tone added, just a little, to the fear already welling in my heart. As I struggled to compose myself I noticed tears all over my face. I half expected blood to appear on my knuckles and ashes to smear my clothes. I wasn't sure I liked being the dragonmother anymore.

    'Ba, Ba, how can this happen? How is this possible?' My murmured pleas were lost among the yelling and confusion of the islanders around me.

    Everyone shouted, either in fear of Om or in panic at my outburst. Katcal was going on about an old hag I assumed was Trollmother, demanding that I admit my relationship with her. 'Did she tell you to come here? Did you follow her?' The anger curled around every word. Her yellow eyes were carving holes in mine. Everything hurt. It wasn't my pain, but it came at me like the sun, burning away everything else, pushing me to the edge of all blackness, and leaving no room for coherent thoughts. Tears kept coming, sliding down my face and ears and collar, stickifying my hair. Something inside me was beating a deafening rhythm, all red and desperate. It pulsed so much more loudly and fierce than my own heart, and all at once it stopped. Jaccairn was dead and all the other dragons filled in the ache she left behind. Through their eyes I saw her wings shiver and float to the ground, spread out so stiff and wide. Blood glistened across and between her crimson scales.

    Orrdos, another dragon told me, recognizing his presence next to the old woman before I could. I screamed again.

    Catriona held my shoulders. 'What's wrong? What's wrong?' she kept asking. My gasping, crying incoherence would not answer her question. I struggled to breath, not knowing if I could answer her question in words.

    I turned back to Katcal and her growling. 'No! Trollmother was here?' Istretched out a hand and pulled myself upright. 'When? How did... she...' the children... oh no... 'I had no idea. I... Tell me. I.' I wanted to kill Trollmother and not to kill Trollmother at the same time. My mind was hating her and trying to justify what she had done all at once. I wanted to run and to stay. I wanted both to fight and ask questions. They were taking knives to the lifeless dragon. Kill them, stop them...take her away...stop them! But my dragons kept their distance.

    'Are you okay?' Catriona whispered.
  23. plaid New Member

    With a few shallow breaths I attempted to calm myself. It wasn't working. I stood up, sat down again, wiped my tears, looked up at Om, and started sobbing again. I shook my head and moved my hands in an effort to tell them 'don't worry.'

    The family continued to stare.

    Om bent down cautiously, her steamy nostrils coming nearly to the ground. Come, she said. Slipping a few of her teeth through the belt around my waist, she tugged me out of the crowd and crossed the valley in a few steps. Not the beach, I managed to convey. The mountain.

    As we climbed I found myself wishing I could read the volcano's mind. Even though I wasn't sure it had one, I surmised that it would know better than I did why everything was so messed up.
  24. chrisjordan New Member


    I am really going to have to reread this thing at some point. There are so many shifting motives and allegiances that I've completely lost track...
  25. plaid New Member

    smoke mirrors and much coughing

    Om set me down on a smooth stretch of dusty, volcanic stone. On shaking legs I stood and strained my eyes trying to find some point of meaning in the clouds. 'Why would they do this? She told me you never died. But she's dead!'

    We don't die. But we can be killed. Everyone can be killed, with the proper weapons.

    They are mortal, after all... The words, wherever they had come from, wherever they had gone, haunted a thin place in my memory between the torture of recent events.

    'And they're taking her skin. Just taking it!' My voice cracked. 'Why aren't you doing anything?'

    Om was silent. I closed my eyes tightly and held back yet more screams. This was nothing I had ever imagined that I would have to go through.

    Broken images cluttered my mind. Every hesitant breath swelled with emotion--hatred, guilt, horror, and loss. Trollmother. I growled her name. 'Trollmother. And Orrdos... murderous... horrible...'

    It would be days before the other dragons could meet us, but I knew they had to leave that island. If they weren't going to fight back, I would just have to summon them here. And if Trollmother followed us here, so much simpler it would be to have my own personal revenge.

    Your anger will not serve you well, Om mentioned. You already miss so much.

    'What?' I demanded. 'What are you talking about?

    So much of the world would speak to you, if you just opened your head.

    I squinted, still taking in as much of the sky as I could. No response was forming in my mind. I tottered across towards my dragon without looking at her. My left arm stretched out, shaking but determined, until my palm met the slick scales of her foreleg. Only then did I turn my eyes up to Om's face. 'How high can you fly?'

    She knew I wanted her to take me there. Almost blindly, I climbed onto her back as she laid her neck down. With a terrifying flap, her dark green wings took us up. My cold hands gripped her scales tightly; my knees slid beneath me until I was lying flat, nearly hanging from the shoulders of this dragon as the rush of the sky overwhelmed me. I closed my eyes. I wished I could open them again.
  26. plaid New Member

    Om could see everything. Her eyes showed me every streak of wind in the clouds, every speck of seagull and every spiral of ocean around each of the islands below. I wondered were I to look down myself if things would look different. I am not a dragon, I thought. I heard Om laugh.

    'I'm nothing like the old dragonmother, am I?'

    Still we flew up. If there was a ceiling to the world, I was sure we would smash through it. You are nothing like her, Om conceded. So?

    'So I don't know.'

    We have never had a mother with no memories before, she told me.

    'Is that why I am less open?'

    The air shifted as Om dipped and turned. Any higher and you couldn't breath, she said, coasting in smooth curves back down several feet. I pulled myself up again, kneeling uncomfortably between the dragon's shoulder blades. With a deep breath I opened my eyes and matched everything from my perspective up with everything in hers. It looked smaller. With one hand I rubbed at the inner corners of my eyes, trying not to be dizzy. The other hand dug around in my coat pocket. I'm not sure what I was looking for.

    'The volcano...' I began. 'Garner.'

    The Great Garner.

    'What is he the God of?

    Of the earth. Nothing more.

    'And Ba of pie. And everyone else...of nothing. Or...'

    There is no nothing, Om said.

  27. chrisjordan New Member

    I was losing track of all the interrelations between the characters in this rather obese epic, so I decided to draw a helpful diagram. Obviously I had to limit it to the most significant characters. Plaid is the purple dot; all the others are in red, because the chart for some reason contracted the measles. I think it makes things pretty clear.

  28. Gypsy New Member

    Ahhh, now I get it. Thanks chris! I was losing track before that too!
  29. plaid New Member

    I scratched my ankle absentmindedly. Amid the beating of Om's wings and the rush of the wind, I thought I heard music. It took me a moment, but as it grew louder I recognized the riff--when a small horned imp of a person appeared lounging in the air, I wasn't too surprised.

    'Freak, what're you doing up here?' he exclaimed, jumping up from his reclining position. Eying my dragon's head nervously, he popped out of sight and reappeared just inches from my arm. 'You've gone mad, alright. But who can blame you?'

    I stared at him, all too aware of the drying tears all over my face. Pepster pulled out a slim piece of wood and began to chew on it while his eyes darted from my head to my toes and back again. I couldn't think of anything to say.

    The little imp paced around, apparently making himself more comfortable with the fact he was on the back of a dragon. I sighed and tucked my arms around my body. Let's go back, Om. I should explain.

    'This is certainly the most upset anyone's gotten about socks since they started these silly battles.' The way he stressed the words certainly and socks annoyed me, taking me out of what might have become an irretrievably despairing mood.

    'What do you want, Pepster?'

    'Me? Want?'

    I sighed again. 'You must have come for a reason. How did you find me? Where do you even come from, you--you---'

    'Well pardon me, Miss Plaid One. Such questions...'

    'You know things. What for? Whose side are you on?'

    The air grew warmer and softer as we made our way back to the island. Pepster started singing, his own reeling background music flying out of nowhere. I reached out and grabbed him in the middle of one of his backflips. His one free arm immediately started pinching my hand. My whole arm vibrated with fading chords. I shook him, but not as vigorously as I wanted to.

    'Tell me something useful!' I growled.

    'About what?' he squeaked.


    His eyes rolled around in their sockets, searching for someway out. With my other hand I gently tucked his free arm into my fist. Still he refused to speak, pursing his lips in defiance.

    'If you can just appear and disappear, why are you still in my hand?'

    Pepster grumbled. Freedom, Om said. The imps need space to work their magic.

    'What does that mean?' I demanded.

    'What does what mean, you big nobody? If you'd kindly let me go--'

    I shook him again. 'You don't need magic for talking. Talk.'

    He wriggled and squirmed and tugged and kicked for several minutes before settling down. 'What exactly is it you want me to tell you, miss?'

    I bit my lip. I started over. 'Where do you come from?'

    'We got our own island. A small one, you'd say. But we do what we like and nobody minds. Usually.'

    Bitterness was creeping into his voice. 'And whose side are you on?'

    He laughed.
  30. plaid New Member

    'Okay...' I said, overtop of his semi-choked giggling. 'You don't have a side. Like the mermaidens, right? Colonesque said you were their spy...'

    His laughter ended with a cough. With a glare he told me I could ask myself the same question. 'Whose side are you on? You and your dragons?'

    I swallowed and loosened my grip on him. 'Okay...' I repeated. 'What are you doing here, then?'

    He managed to fling one leg into my fingernail with surprising force. 'Being held captive by a madwoman,' he whined.

    'Before that,' I said in exasperation. 'What is it you want? Are you trying to make me angry or what?'

    Cocking his head, he grinned at that. Om shifted her weight from her wings to her feet with a lurch that made me slide forward awkwardly. Pepster continued to laugh. I almost gave in to the urge I had to throw him into the trees.

    'Have you been here before?' I asked.

    'Hmm... no.'

    'You're lying.'

    'Oh am I?' He laughed, this time with the sound of crashing music filling in all the spaces where he had to stop and breathe.

    I shoved him into my pocket, not letting go. Somehow I would get a straight answer out of him, even if I had to dangle him over the volcano's mouth.

    The islanders had seen me coming. Katcal rushed at me and grabbed at my hair. In the same moment, Om brought her nose right up to the woman's robed figure and hissed.
  31. plaid New Member

    'Stop it, stop it....' I pled and warned Katcal. The heartbeats of all my dragons were particularly clear in my consciousness, fierce and immense, coming closer and closer. 'What is with you?'

    'You...' she growled, trying to ignore Om. Before she could say anything more I slapped her. We both tumbled over in the sand, her fingers still tight around my hair. Catriona and another woman pulled us apart. 'You horror! You alien! You!' Katcal in hysterics continued to assualt me with shouting. It didn't make any sense.

    Catriona knelt down and peered at me with uncertainty in her eyes. 'I don't know why she's so upset. But Trollmother... if you know that woman...' I heard the same disgust in her voice as she spoke the name that had permeated so much of what Katcal had said. 'She did frightening things on this island. And if you are her friend...'

    I shook my head thoroughly, placing one outstretched hand on one of Om's talons for support. 'She's just...' I took a deep breath, 'just of my dragons.'

    Still, my denial did not seem to put Catriona at ease. She looked up warily at Om. 'Why are you here, Plaid?'

    I looked back at here with a similar look of mistrust, not sure what to say. 'I'll leave... I... If it's so...'

    She frowned. 'Dragons have never come here before. We've seen them... and heard stories...'

    'From who?'

    'The pirates. They trade here, fabrics and things. Never any trouble.'

    'But Trollmother--she was a pirate--'

    Catriona jerked her eyes back to mine. 'Really?'

    'She was on their ship... the Catface. I--'

    'So you do know her.' The flatness of her voice startled me. 'But you didn't follow her here?'

    'I had no idea where she was. She left the ship... we never saw her again.' I paused, thinking again of Moon Cat and her unmistakable, though perhaps now long eroded, place among this family. 'What did she do? Why is Katcal so...angry?'

    The sombre look on her downturned face made me nervous. 'Her daughter. Trollmother took Katcal's baby girl. No explanation, no warning. Nothing suspicious, even. She was just an old woman... but she stole that child from its mother. Who would do such a thing?'

    Pepster was kicking me. I jabbed my thumbnail into his throat as a gentle threat. I said nothing to Catriona, knowing all too well why Trollmother would have taken the child. I almost couldn't believe her to be that cruel. Something horrible was going on. So much more horrible than I had thought, even seeing her crazed desperation on the pirate ship that night.
  32. plaid New Member

    Hoping Catriona would take my silence for sympathy, I stood up. What can we do?

    Om stretched her neck. I reached out for the others' minds. One of them had stayed--Randywine... why isn't he coming? Where... What if... Dragon eggs. Of course. Just one more thing I hadn't been paying attention to. This is getting out of control. Maybe it always had been out of control. Why hadn't the doormen told me that spork would be so dangerous?

    'Everything's coming apart,' I said.

    'Can you get her back?'

    The suggestion startled me. The child and its blood were such a small piece of the everything that was coming apart. I could make no promises.

    'How long ago was Trollmother here? What did she tell you?'

    'Weeks ago... two or three. She wandered into camp, shared our food, told us stories. They were like legends... religious fables. Ba and baking, dreams...I don't remember. She seemed so harmless. So lonely. But then she was gone, with little Kat.'

    Pepster started squirming again. I hesitated to pull him out in front of Catriona, but there was little use waiting. I tightened my grip and lifted the imp from my pocket. 'You. You know about that spork.'

    Catriona's eyes went wide. Pepster tried to look innocent.

    'I know you told the doormen where to find it. Now just tell me what else you found out.'

    'From the mermaidens? They're awfully tight-lipped folk, they are...' he coughed.

    'Go on.'

    'They hardly believe in it. Mermaidens believe in themselves, most of all. And sparkly things. But Marcia, she can see... she sees everything anyone does on that island. Every bolt of lightning, stroke of thunder, every quake of the earth. Just a matter of asking the right questions.'

    I glared at him. 'If you ever want to move freely again, little one,' I said patiently, 'you will be a little more straightforward.'

    This humbled him more than can be put into words. At last he spoke again. 'The legends of the thunderspork find their way into every holy book. Your old friend Pat studied them. And the lightning. She sent me to do a little prying into the island's weather patterns. A little wine, a little flattery... Marcia was obliging enough.'

    'And why did Pat need to know? I thought it was the Doormen...'

    'Highest bidder. They all had their prices.'


    'What are you talking about?' Catriona sputtered.
  33. plaid New Member

    'No kidding--everyone wanted that information. Ba's infamous spork...' Pepster wiggled his ears. 'Who knew it would fall into the hands of that demented old lady?'

    It took me a moment to look at Catriona and register what she had asked. Pepster's suggestive tone... The blood of my dragons... The blood of a child... 'The...' But all words were failing me. I could only stare sort of blankly. My stomach growled. 'Was there..'

    Pepster tugged experimentally at his trapped arms. I could feel myself edging little by little into a hot dizziness.

    ' Don't...but...' I tried shaking my head, waking my senses. What is the matter with me?

    'Plaid? Plaid...?'

    My whole body went limp. A soft twangy trail of notes followed Pepster as he slipped from my hand and tumbled across the ground.


    I woke up to a greasy soup dribbling down my chin. A thousand anger-riddled dragon thoughts echoed and stretched through my mind.

    Catriona peered down at me. 'Sorry there.. it isn't easy feeding an unconscious person.'

    I coughed. She's following us. I felt like I could cough forever.

    The girl.. the child... did you see her?

    The answers came in various levels of no. Randywine was guarding eggs. How could he hope to guard them from such a horrible weapon? What good would it do? These dragons. Their huge scaly lives. However this relationship was supposed to work, I was having great doubts about my capacity to handle it.

    With my one good sleeve I cleaned my sand- and soup-spattered face. 'None of this is my fault,' I announced.
  34. plaid New Member

    The handful of blue people who had gathered around my makeshift cot upon my coughing fit simply stared.

    'I ... it was Nester who gave her that spork. And he didn't know. We couldn't have known. And now...'

    Catriona stood slowly, dropping the spoon into my unfinished bowl of soup.

    'But... she won't bother you again. I'll... we... we'll find a way...'

    She's following us, the dragons repeated. As if I would forget. I swallowed the taste of whatever island fowl had simmered in Katcal's gramma's best soup pot.

    'We'll leave. We'll...'

    'Sit back, Plaid. You're not fit to be so excited. Here.' Catriona pulled my hands around the bowl.


    'Shh. Father wanted to talk to you when you woke. I'll be right back. Just sit. Eat.'

    A bitter scratchiness on my tongue prevented me from talking back. All the blue people continued to stare. My mind raced through all the beaches we'd slept on, all the patterns in all the islands. There had to be something... But even these people I did not know I could trust.

    Where can we go? Will she follow us everywhere?

    Trollmother cannot fly.

    But we cannot leave her to mischief while we stay in the air.

    I sighed. Nothing was making sense. There were so many things I didn't know.

    'The mermaidens... you said you knew the mermaidens?' I asked.

    'Yes,' one of the blue men answered. 'Yes, the mermaidens are not wholly foreign to our island. But we do not call them allies.'

    I laughed.
  35. plaid New Member

    'I bet no one does,' I said. 'But have they been here recently? It's their fault... They... They think we have some kind of ancient truce. Whatever. And now--'

    Catriona's father followed her in, interrupting my disjointed questions. 'She'll be fine,' the woman whispered, 'but let's be careful.'

    They seated themselves and looked at me, then at each other, as if pondering how to begin.

    'Plaid. My name is Tephlon. Please, do not worry about imposing on our island or making right what wrongs we have suffered. But we would like to know what you're doing here.'

    I ran my tongue across my lips and pieced together the words I would say. There was no reason to be dishonest about this. Right?

    No reason at all, Om encouraged.

    'I--the dragons. I am their dragonmother now.' Looking at Tephlon I noticed the same gold flecks in his eyes. But age had tarnished them just a little, shadowing the warmth with so much experience.

    'There are more than one of them?'

    I nodded.

    'And they do your bidding?'

    'So far...'

    ' of them has died, we understand?' His voice was low and patient. The sting of that memory awoke as he mentioned it. All I could do was nod.
  36. plaid New Member

    Catriona reached out for my knee. I imagined my own sadness mirrored in their faces. After a moment of silence I continued.

    'All I... It's so confusing not knowing where I came from. But I'm trying to find a place here. The island, and the pirates, and the mermaidens... Should I just start at the beginning?'

    Catriona and her father left the question unanswered, mirroring that back at me too.

    'Well they started a war, over... well... socks! I still don't understand that part. But there's all sorts of backstabbing going on. The mermaidens sent me away. Their tribute from us is supposed to be one crystal stone from each island. It was really important to them... but I don't know why. I don't know why anything. That's what I'm looking for on the surface. Deep down... I'm not so sure. Things get more confusing every day.'

    Tephlon stroked his beard. 'Socks? That seems...'

    'Ridiculous, I know!'

    Catriona gasped. 'Socks. Of course...'

    'Do you have a... a sister? cousin or... her name is Moon Cat...?' This inquiry spilled from my mouth impatiently. I should have asked it before. I should have told them all of this before...

    'Moon Cat? You know her?' Tephlon looked surprised. 'How?'

    'She is one of you. You all look just like her... I met her on the pirate ship.' A soft chorus of whispers began among the blue islanders. 'It sank...' I added, before I could consider the tactfulness of such a statement.

    Tephlon's eyes flared. 'Moon Cat has been gone from us a long time,' he said. 'A long time.'

    'I don't know what happened to her. She could still be alive.' Without a memory.

    Catriona was scowling. 'She will come back if she wishes to. The sock wars though... we have heard about those.'

    'You have? From the mermaidens?'

    She shook her head. 'Remember father... that llama? And the scientist woman?'

    'Pat. Oh yes... that was many years ago. They came with many questions.'

    'They buried their socks... somewhere on the west shore. They asked us permission and then asked us not to meddle. Are they valuable? Should we...'

    'This is bigger than I thought.' I chewed on my tongue, thinking in circles. 'How did they get here? The llama?'

    'A very small boat, I remember,' one of the islanders spoke up. 'Asked my uncle to repair it. That motor on it was something else. Couldn't figure how it ran at all.'

    My brow furrowed with all the memories. Pat was a zombie now. The llama. What would become of him? Randywine, my only dragon on the island now, was wrapped up in shadows somewhere along the ragged cliffside. The chaos of that island was invisible to him now. Jaccairn's eggs mattered more.

    'But... the pirates... the pirates never came looking? Moon Cat...?'

    They both shook their heads.
  37. plaid New Member

    Ba's voice filled in all the tiny little holes in my thoughts and the blankness in the blue family's faces. The sock wars should continue.

    But why?

    I scratched at my arm.

    Once, one of the dragons said, the sock wars kept the humans from grasping at things they didn't understand.

    Ba wanted the sock wars to continue. Why did he need me to ensure it happened? What if what he wanted was not the only way? What if...

    'Wait, do I still count as human?'

    Catriona laughed. 'What?'

    My eyes fell to the comforter across my lap. I hadn't meant to ask that question out loud. 'I--sorry,' I muttered. I don't think it's working anymore, I thought. It is the war that breeds such desperation in these people.

    Yes, Om and the others agreed.

    'Find them yourselves,' I told Catriona and her father. 'The socks. Find them and burn them. It isn't worth it anymore.'

    I stood up, glad that my dizziness seemed gone. 'Will someone take me to those mines you were talking about?' The threats of the mermaidens, despite their treacherous deals with Orrdos and Trollmother, still frightened me. Something deep in those dragon hearts made me fear the death of the island if I failed. I would deal with Ba later.

    'I'll come with you,' Catriona immediately offered. 'Are you sure... That was quite the... You'll be okay?'

    I nodded. Help me. They said you would remember...

    They did. The stretch of these islands across this deadly ocean was home to the dragons. All the shadows and smoke of them painted the background of their minds. I noticed all these things in fragments, like a dream remembered again and again in the morning. I wondered if I would recognize my past when and if I ever found it, since these lizard memories were building themselves into my brain. After long enough with them, would I stop worrying about who I once had been? Would I acquire enough memories through the dragons to replace all my own I had lost?

    We walked through the valley and up to the abandoned mines while thunder rippled around the edges of the sky. I tried not to worry about the rain as I told Catriona about my life. Do I still count as human? The dragons didn't seem to understand this question.
  38. plaid New Member

    'Brad the wonder llama... you actually met him. And I bet he never told anyone else where he'd been or who was out here. He never cared about anything else. But I guess... if I were a llama...'

    Catriona listened, interrupting only to point the way. She asked no questions, voiced no judgments.

    'And that's the whole point of the sock wars. Or was. But the pirates don't care anymore. I think the only ones who care aren't even people.' I laughed. 'But we do what we can I guess. I've done a lot of...confused wandering about, mostly. Trying not to get killed. So far... well, the dragons help.' A small grin pulled at my lips.

    By the time we came in sight of the scaffolding and timberworks surrounding the mine, I'd told my silent companion all about Fred, the yak pit, the doormen, and the zombies. I wondered, as I consciously failed to mention the pirates in most of these accounts, if Catriona would want to hear about Moon Cat, what Moon Cat was really up to. Or at least what she had been up to. I wasn't sure it would be worth it for either of us.

    'You and your family seem happy here,' I observed.

    She nodded, pulling aside the branches of a tree and pulling her scarf up around her face. 'I don't know if you'll find what you're looking for, Plaid. This place is a mess.'

    There was a sharp and sickening smell surrounding the open pit that sloped away beyond the mine's falling-down railing. I stepped closer, not bothering to hold on to anything though the grass seemed slick with dew. Where should we look? My only instinct, as I gazed around at the old structures and half-healed scrapes in the earth, was to search as deep as we could.

    'Do you have matches?' I asked.

    Catriona looked horrified. 'You can't be serious. The... It's far too dangerous to bring fire. But--' she began shuffling her robes and digging through pockets, '--I might have a torch.'

    While she looked I eased myself down onto a narrow platform and wished I could see further into the blackness below.
  39. plaid New Member

    'Found it.'

    'You don't have to come with me,' I offered reluctantly.

    She grinned a sideways grin; she could see through my thin confidence. 'We used to play here... ages ago, before it went... icky.'

    'Were you born on the island?' I held out my hand to help her down. She clicked on the torch and flung its light off the edge of the platform. I thought I saw hints of orange and silver in the blurry spots it illuminated. 'And are you sure there aren't zombies?'

    'When it all got contaminated, we stopped coming here. Could be zombies... who knows?'

    Chills crept over my bare arms. 'If we do meet any, we'll need some toast, an onion, yak tongue and monkey brains. I don't suppose...'

    'Brains?' Catriona shook her head, letting the torch beam fall across my ankles. 'But the toast yeah. And onions.'

    'Well. No sense worrying about what we don't know yet.'

    So we set off, swinging carefully from platform to ladder to crevice, trying to stay away from everything obviously broken. The walls got slipperier and slipperier the farther down we went. I started hearing screaming, soft and distant but wrenching. It was worse because I didn't know if it was real or merely in my head.

    'Hold on--' I held out an arm to Catriona and we paused on a ledge in the dark. 'Pat must have something written about the waterfall... maybe we can find out...' We both leaned against the wet rock as I dug the crumpled and folded papers out of my pockets. In the shaky bean of Catriona's torch I skimmed the pages until the word zombie jumped out at me. Pat's scribbled notes on the subject surrounded a simple sketch of the two waterfalls.

    'Two rivers from the same spring flow in opposite directions around the volcanic...' my voice trailed off. A knot of worry tightened in my stomach. Om. Is this true? I took a deep breath. 'It says they're related. The same...whatever causes the zombies... it's the same thing that makes the mermaidens... but... how?'

    'A kind of fish...'

    We kept reading. Pat listed chemicals and reactions and theories, all outlined in chronological order. Her experiments sounded frightening and unnecessary. Why would she even think of spending so much time comparing vials of water, snippets of plants... but crouching as we did on the brink of who knew what putrid danger, I was grateful she'd bothered. If this could help us now, I'd be even more in debt to that crazy scientist.

    'What's this word--hallu--hallucinogenic?' my friend stuttered. 'Does that mean... what does that mean?'

    I made faces at the page in my hand.

    We are not a chcmical encyclopedia
    , Om answered. All we know are the legends...

    I should be listening, shouldn't I?
    I shook my head, not knowing what to say. I didn't know what Om meant about keeping my head open. It was obviously open enough to let these gigantic fire-breathing beasts into it. What more could I do?
  40. plaid New Member

    Pat's notes mentioned very little about smell. I couldn't be certain I remembered the exact odor of zombies, and in the dark I couldn't tell what shades of orange might be hiding among the rocks. Aside from our breathing and a few distant dripping noises, there was no sound.

    'Do you hear screaming?' I asked. 'I think I'm imagining it...'

    Catriona paused, shook her head, and gave me a frightened look.

    'I guess... We don't know. It might not be dangerous at all. Well, as far as zombies are concerned. I just have to find this crystal. Any halfway transparent piece of rock would do, I think. They weren't very specific.'

    As Catriona traced circles in the dark with her light, she evaluated my sanity. 'Well...'

    And then there was pie. I stared at it for a long set of minutes, certain it was a dream. But Catriona was eating hers, her eyes squeezed shut in delight.

    It tasted like fruit and nuts, mysterious and full of texture since we couldn't see it very well in the dark. When it was gone I wished for another piece. Catriona and I both gave longing looks to each other's empty plates and sticky fingers. Okay, Ba, I thought. Now help me find this dumb rock for the mermaidens.

    'The dragons are coming. But...'

    'Are they always... You're tied to them now, aren't you?' Catriona had pity in her voice. Her question scared me.

    'Here--' I took the torch from her hand and inspected, as best I could, every inch of the glistening rock, praying somewhat angry, impatient prayers.

    When Pepster started tugging on my hair, I was nearly empty of all hope. I thought as soon as I started seriously looking for these crystals they would be easy to find. I didn't think it would get harder. I swatted at the flying imp before I recognized the trill. 'Why did you come back?' I demanded. He had escaped so cleanly, I hardly remembered ever holding him captive.

    'Ever think a person might want to talk to you, Plaid?'

    I laughed. 'Talk. Right. Go on then.'

    He smirked, an expression I could barely make out in the dark.

    'Forgive me?' I asked, meaning it completely but hoping I didn't sound as humble as I felt.

    He mimicked my laugh and did a sideways flip off the rockface. 'There's somone who wants to meet you.' Pepster whistled a shrill but harmonious whistle and another little person appeared in the air next to him.
  41. plaid New Member

    I found myself rolling my eyes. In the back of my mind I wished I had some sort of butterfly net or gunny sack. That these imps could teleport wherever they wanted made me irrationally jealous.

    'What is this about?' Catriona and I spoke at the same time.

    After a long silence, during which the torch batteries died, Pepster introduced his friend Lyia.

    'Plaid, please don't be angry. We know so few things are making sense to you, but...' She linked her arm with Pepsters protectively. 'But you aren't helping.'

    My mouth fell open. Many objections to this simpering creature crowded my head. Me? Not helping? Not helping what? I didn't say any of them. Instead, I waited for her to explain herself. My dragons circled the island. I wanted them all here with me, all at once. I felt like I would always be alone without them.

    Lyia did not speak again. Catriona had taken the torch and was fishing odds and ends out of her pockets in search of new batteries.

    What is going on? Does any of this really matter?

    The dragons seemed occupied. It was hard to distinguish their awareness of me from their awareness of each other and the land and the ocean and the wind. Maybe I would always be alone, even with them inside my head.

    'It isn't safe here.' Pepster said this as if it were a joke. 'Can you smell that?'

    'What?' I grumbled.

    'Smells sort of like bleach. Maybe lemons.'

    The angry face of the god of pie and unspeakable culinary acts flashed across my mind. In the wake of that image was terror, compounded by a sinking emptiness. I hadn't felt this way since that day, so distant now, when I'd realized my memories were gone. It was a bottomless ignorance. Only this time I could still see the edges around the top and the colors and people I would lose.

    My hand reached out to Pepster, slowly, almost frozen with fear and uncertainty. 'Who are you? Who sent you?'

    He didn't answer. I dropped my hand and blinked several times. 'What am I doing wrong?'
  42. plaid New Member

    'You just don't remember,' Lyia said softly. 'But there's a reason for all of this.'

    My face tightened, holding back so much. Dragon voices filled in the background, laying claim to whoever I once might have been. I wanted to say Well what is it? or So tell me what it is already, but no words would come.

    'Look--' Catriona broke in, 'She's looking for some crystal things. For the mermaidens. If you can help us, great. If not, what do we need you hanging around for?'

    Pepster paced the air. 'You don't know the mermaidens like I do. Trust me--'

    I glared through the tears forming on my eyelashes. My fingers ached to clench themselves around his scrawny six-inch frame once again, but this time I was too afraid. This time he had company and I didn't know what she would do to me. As soft and sweet as she sounded, there were edges behind her voice.

    I give up, I thought. I give up on this whole thing. Take me back. I gave Catriona one brief helpless look and turned to climb back out of the mine. Om would be waiting for me.

    'Wait... Wait, Plaid.' Lyia was at my ear, her hand in my hair. 'Don't be angry. We will come with you.'

    I laughed, painfully.

    The climb up was no easier than I expected. My hands slipped several times and my feet caught on the cuffs of my trousers more than once. The smell of bleach grew stronger the more I tried not to think about it. Only the calm of the dragons in my head kept me from clumsily killing myself. Pepster, Lyia, and Catriona followed, but not too closely.

    It was raining at the top. Why hadn't we felt the rain in the mine? Had we gone too deep? I felt a sharp longing, all at once, to be everywhere and know everything. I closed my eyes, took in as much as the dragons' eyes could show me, and let go of some of my fear.

    'Pepster...' I could hardly hear myself. I didn't finish my question out loud. Is Ba angry with me?

    The gray sky seemed full of shadows. The shape of the fulgurite spork jumped out at me from behind the raindrops. There's nowhere else to go, is there? I looked up at Om Kranti with wide, tired eyes. She had been waiting there. The others clustered on the higher ridges, holding their wings over each others' faces. Jaccairn's absence stung, but what vengeance I had in my heart was eclipsed now by this lost fear and uncertain anger. I didn't know if it would be worth fighting back.

    "Stop worrying, Plaid.' Pepster glared up at my dragons and held up one hand. 'Just listen.'

    I glared back at him, shivering.

    'Plaid, you're cold. We should go home before the rain gets worse,' Catriona urged. Her hair frizzed and curled underneath the scarf she had pulled over her head. Home. But I couldn't stay here.

    'I can't stay here,' I whispered. 'I'm sorry.'

    Where now? Om asked, a sense of weariness pushing itself from her mind to mine. We had been to so many islands, across so many beaches. She had taken me up to the top of the sky. Maybe it was time to drown my confusion at the bottom of the sea. If I could make sure I were really gone... all of me crushed away, everything, not just my memories...

    You wouldn't...

    I wouldn't?

    'But Plaid...'

    'It's not just you the mermaidens have manipulated. Ba is very angry... It isn't safe. Lyia and I came to warn you, Plaid.'

    I tilted my head back and breathed quick, shallow breaths. It was getting colder and colder. 'Of what, Pepster? You're c--certainly taking your t-time about it.'

    He looked at Catriona, his shifty feet, and back at the dragons. 'It isn't safe,' he repeated.

    'Oh good grief,' I muttered. My coat was somewhere in the tents in the valley. I would retrieve it, give my leave to Catriona's father, and go back. There was one place I remembered just enough about to give it a purpose. Whoever was left, whoever cared to help me... I would just have to find out. If Ba had anything to say about it, I trusted he would let me know himself instead of sending miniature freaks who never finish their sentences.
  43. plaid New Member

    I climbed swiftly onto Om Kranti's back, not waiting for Catriona to overcome her surprise at my impatience. She was left to follow on foot. Maybe she would judge me unfriendly for leaving her. I hardly had time to worry about what she or anyone else thought of me.

    Pepster and Lyia had no trouble popping themselves from the edge of the mine up to where Om and I flew. Lyia immediately began explaining that I needed to follow them, find somewhere safe, and listen to their so-called warning.

    I ignored them. How could I trust them or anyone else anymore? Why they cared so much about me, if it was true I was in danger at all, did not make sense. They'd always minded their own business--at least Pepster had. He played both sides of the Sock Wars, I felt certain, handing out vague information to whomever he felt like and demanding whatever price his ugly hedonistic face could dream up. My thoughts grew so heated and fierce I couldn't hear the dragons anymore.

    Om landed among a group of shorter trees. I ran from there to the tent village, gasping for breath. Katcal glared when I burst in from the rain and searched the tent for my coat, but I barely noticed her.

    Just as I spotted the coat in the corner, I realized I was hungry again. If Ba was so angry, why had he sent pie?

    I walked up to Katcal, wiping rain out of my eyes. 'Tell your father,' I said, 'thank you. I won't bother your family again... I hope your... I...' But I realized I couldn't promise to seek revenge for her stolen child any more than I could promise myself revenge for my own loss. The future was so tightly twisted, neither of us could know if or how our hearts would ever heal. I gripped the woman's arm and bowed my head for the briefest of moments before slipping out of the tent and running back to Om's side.

    Reaching out to the dragons for their larger perspective, I thought I saw something round and transparent shining in the darkness. Randywine's eyes felt sleepy, his muscles worn out and tight. Going back to the island seemed even more important, but I didn't know why.

    There are many days before her eggs hatch, Om said, sensing my questions.

    I pulled myself up and struggled into my coat. Then what is it?

    You don't see?

    I swatted for a moment at the waiting figures of Pepster and Lyia. They looked as if they were going to haunt my dragons for as long as it took to convince me to listen.

    I continued to ignore them.

    Do you think the mermaidens were lying to us?
    I asked. What if I can't do this?

    We flew vaguely south. Along the way Lyia climbed gently up into my hair and started singing. I prodded at her and flicked at her with my fingers, but she came back every time. I didn't understand the words of her song, but what she and Pepster said about trusting them and finding somewhere safe came back to me. Running my hands over Om's dark, slippery scales, I wondered what safe really meant.
  44. plaid New Member

    Safe was something I couldn't remember. There'd always been someone looking over my shoulder. The pirates had locked me up in their crowded brig because they wanted to keep me safe. What good had that done? There were all these strangers with their shadowy agendas. And me without any direction of my own.

    Om flew swiftly. I napped between her wings, Lyia's music poking its fingers into my restless dreams. There were empty pie tins tapping against one another in the breeze, animals that looked like monkeys dancing in the background.

    If I had to admit it, I was probably just as frightened of going back to the island as I was of doing anything else. Were there no easy options? Was there no magical escape route?

    Of course there wasn't.

    I stretched and blinked. Pepster and Lyia had their arms draped around each others' shoulders, legs crossed. They swayed back and forth just a little bit. I could barely hear their song anymore, but it seemed a very intricate harmony.

    It took me several minutes to realize that Om was flying in a perfect circle. Her mind was full of the song, even some of the dream... All of the dragons followed an identical pattern, around and around, orbiting the same meaningless coordinate in the middle of the ocean. I closed my eyes and gently tugged. Snap out of it... We're going back, right? Jaccairn's eggs...

    But none of them changed course. I glared a very slow and deep glare at the imps who sat so comfortably in the air above my column of dragons. My heart began to pound and I slapped them both as hard as I could. It stung my hand.

    Pepster glared at me as he pulled his arm away from Lyia. I could feel a persistent rhythm spinning behind his eyes, tumbling from his mind into the air. What hypnotism was this? What did he think he was doing to us? I was too angry to speak.

    Apparently Pepster was too affronted to stay. He flickered out of existence, leaving his little friend to sing her way back into my head. As soon as he was gone, Om Kranti jerked beneath me and her mind was clear again. Faster, I pled. Don't worry.

    I determined to let the curly-haired, pale-faced imp speak first. She lowered her eyes against my silent, interrogating stare.

    'I know you don't believe it,' she began, so softly I could hardly hear, 'but there is a safe place. This is important to more people than just you.'

    'Safe from what?' I demanded.

    Her mouth curved into a wry but almost frightened smirk and her eyes scanned the sky. I blinked, remembering both the pale plaid lines and the smell of bleach together. She seemed so unwilling to put a name to this threat, so scared to tell me who she meant. My mind careened through every unpleasant memory I had accumulated so far, but none of them inspired in me the speechlessness that filled Lyia's countenance.

    'You don't have the words for it, it's that terrible?' I scoffed.

    Lyia pursed her lips. 'You must trust us, and your dragons must trust us. We will tell you everything, but not until we are safe...'

    I rolled my eyes, but a smaller part of me was curious. I bent my knees and sat cross-legged, looking briefly over Om's shoulders to catch the rising form of the island and take in the slanted, shifting angles of the horizon from the dragon's eyes.

    'Well?' I offered, laying aside just a few of my questions for the moment.

    She came closer, moving slowly and gently across the air. 'We would not ask so much if so much did not depend on you. We don't know why... but... we need you.'


    The tiny woman nodded
  45. plaid New Member

    coagulated misinformation

    Should I trust her? Who are these little people? Where do they come from?

    Om focused on our destination, reaching out to Randywine and his strict guardianship, on the effort of flying and on the burning dragonhood these great lizards all shared. Somehow I shared it too. But I didn't understand it.

    'For what?' I asked. 'What on earth do you want me to do?'

    Lyia closed her eyes and rubbed her elbows. After a long pause she explained, 'Not just us. Everyone.'

    'Everyone who?'

    She shook her head as if to say I wouldn't and couldn't understand. There was too much she could not bring herself to say.

    'Well,' I began. 'If that's all I get, I don't know what to tell you. This is ridiculous.' I looked away as she shook her head yet again, her little hands running through her hair and across her face. Her fingers pinched the bridge of her nose. Oddly, my own nose started itching.


    I chewed on my tongue for a moment, ignoring the itch and ignoring Lyia.


    I coughed, just a little. 'What about her?'

    'She failed. We did all we could but...'

    I grimaced.

    'But you don't have to fail, Plaid. If you'll listen. Just listen...'

    The need to sneeze crept up on me and centered most of my attention on my nose, but I tried to remember what I knew about Joyce Ogg. I had met her. She had confronted Dragonmother... but what had she failed at? And how could I possibly be considered to...

    'What,' I finally brought myself to say, 'do I have to do with any of that?' Scribblings in Pat's papers came to mind, memories of things she had discovered. There was so much in those papers... But none of it made complete sense.

    'You're not listening.' Lyia sighed.
  46. plaid New Member

    'Not listening to what?' I growled. 'I can't talk to you anymore.'

    The island was closer, filling up more and more of the horizon. My insides tightened with a nervous joy to have returned, even without the objects I'd left to find. There were people here I knew. People here that I did trust more than I trusted anyone else. Would I be able to find them now? Would they be willing to help me?

    Pie arrived as we descended. I wasn't hungry, but I knew I would be. Gripping the edge of the plate, I hoped I could keep it from fading away. What had Pat said about how long the pie plates lasted? I was sure I remembered reading about her experiments with them... She had done experiments with everything. Suddenly I wished she hadn't turned into a zombie.

    We flew to the cliffs. I kept my resurfacing anger at what Trollmother had done sufficiently bottled, biting my lip as we found Randywine curled against the shadowed side of the mountain. I closed my eyes but still took in the mangled, skinless carcass of the fallen Jaccairn through the others'. They surrounded what was left of her. Her bones were black, her skeleton so huge...

    Evidently there was no danger in being here. Orrdos and Trollmother had taken what they wanted and gone their way. I would find them. I would follow them anywhere...

    The dragons sighed long, hot sighs over Jaccairn. Her flesh burned slowly. I tried to shut out the image of it, thinking instead of revenge, of who I would have to interrogate or enlist to help me find them. But I found myself crying anyway. Just crying over everything I didn't understand.

    Lyia was still with us, pacing the air near the cliff's edge.

    Stil clutching my pie plate, I walked over to her.

    'You aren't eating,' she observed.

    I simply stared at her.

    'That's good,' she continued. 'You don't have to eat that stuff. Who knows what he puts in it.'

    I nearly choked on my next breath. Shaking my head, I turned to the east. The cliffs ended and the ocean began and there was nothing but thundering currents and rolling surf. My eyes watered relentlessly.

    By the time I quit crying I was starving. I stared straight at Lyia, every bite I took making her wince. I couldn't even tell what kind of pie it was.
  47. plaid New Member

    After licking it clean, I threw the empty plate at her. She blinked out of existence and didn't come back. I would have laughed, but all amusement was buried down deep under everything else. My senses were stretched out far beyond myself, taking in the smoke and dirt and melting, the smell of sparks and the seeping of chemicals from within that circle of dragons. I couldn't block it out.

    The island seemed to hum under my feet. Om, I pried, Om... help me find them.

    You're talking to me?

    I squinted off into space. Of course I am.

    Om Kranti stepped backwards and turned. I felt her tongue curl against her teeth. Who? she asked.


    I ran to her. Has this ever happened before? Anything like this?

    Her answer didn't come in words. I understood at once that as catastrophic and impossible as all the pain had been for me, it was nothing new to these immortal creatures. That doesn't make sense, I thought. It isn't fair, is it?

    My dragon coughed, saying nothing.

    So you know how to fix it? How to stop it?

    The answer to this, if it can be called an answer, was also wordless. My mind raced to make connections, predictions. I was feeling mostly helpless. Om reluctantly left the others and carried me over the trees toward the sandier shore.

    I took a few deep breaths, trying to prepare myself to face Brad the wonder llama again. If he didn't know what was going on, no one would. If he did know what was going on and wouldn't tell me, I would have him eaten. If he didn't know what was going on...

    I closed my eyes. So much blackness. So much emptiness being sliced and smoothed into so many separate bodies. I pressed the palms of my hands as flat as I could against her scales, laid my face against her throat, and whimpered. We left behind the softening skeleton of our fallen Jaccairn. Randywine led the others into the mountain, crawling through the caves and tunnels to where the dead one had left her eggs. I didn't have to ask Om what would happen next. I knew they would hatch, how long it would take, and what color the new dragons would be. But I didn't know what I was going to do about it.

    I let Om scan the trees, distractedly keeping my own thoughts half on her vision and half in my dreams. The world in my head was so much brighter. Things didn't make any more sense there, but they looked as though they might, eventually.

    There were hardly any yaks, we noticed. Many of the trees had been stripped of foliage, their branches broken apart. Maybe they were adding on to their underground fortress. Some faces I recognized turned up to stare at us as we flew: Buzzfloyd, Electric Man, Scrub and his friends. Om passed them all. I later thought we might have asked any of them for information about the llama, but soon enough we caught sight of him near the caves of the Words. I wondered if he would run, but he merely shivered and stood there, barely tilting his head at all to watch us land.
  48. plaid New Member

    on the corner

    Just as I'd imagined it, Om curled her tail swiftly but carefully around all four of his hairy legs and lifted him into the air. I opened my eyes to the sight of the llama upside-down and gasping for breath. This time I laughed and laughed. Still, it wasn't a very happy laugh.

    Brad couldn't speak, so I took as much control of the conversation as I could.


    I squinted menacingly. Om shook the creature, just a little. He croaked and gnashed his large yellow teeth. I scoffed at him, and reluctantly bade Om set him down again, realizing I wasn't going to get any answers if he couldn't breathe.

    My dragon leaned down and bared her teeth while I hopped from her back.

    'Tell me what I've missed, llama,' I demanded.

    He spent several minutes coughing. Long minutes. I nearly kicked him.

    'Took you long enough to come back, Plaid,' he grumbled. 'I'm sorry about the dragon they killed.'

    My skin burned on the inside, irked that he even dare apologize. Through clenched teeth I demanded again, 'Tell me everything.'

    His eyes rolled to the side. Om hissed. I stamped my foot and growled at him further.

    'It's really great you think I'm still running the show here, I guess,' he said, blinking. 'What I know is that great fool and his elephant have struck too many bargains for their own good. And his Doormen--what's left of them--they'll never fix it all, no matter how hard they try.' He laughed weakly and started coughing again. I glared.

    Puzzlement kept me from throwing further questions at him. Brad filled my silence, speaking shakily but loud. 'And the mermaidens are desperate. So desperate they've... they've gone mad, I think. I haven't a clue what they think they'll accomplish with their silly spells and dreams. Nothing seems real anymore. Go ahead and killl me,' he said to my dragon.

    My glare faded into a curious pity. I waited.

    'The island is falling apart, Plaid.' The llama looked up at me and ran his tongue across his nose.

    'What about the socks?'

    He croaked again, throwing a small glance back toward the north shore. 'Without a single filthy pirate around? Why bother?'

    I squinted at the ground. 'Well...' was all I could think to say.

    He clomped his teeth and flopped down in the grass. 'Yeah,' he answered.

    'Where did they go?' I asked.

    'The pirates? Meh. Ganged up and killed each other, mostly. Your guess is as good as anyone's about the rest of 'em.'

    'No,' I said. 'Trollmother. Orrdos.' The anger rose, just a little, behind my words.

    Brad laughed.
  49. plaid New Member

    I let him laugh without pressing Om into any further threatening poses.

    'Come on, Brad,' I grumbled. 'Tell me what's going on. Deals with who? What spells? And Fred... wasn't he... didn't I... Is it revenge? Or what? There's got to be a reason somewhere...'

    His laughing subsided, but he didn't answer.

    'You think you can figure this place out on your own,' he sneered. 'You assume the place of dragonmother and you feel like you deserve answers?' He snorted. 'Why don't you just take a guess at how long I've been on this island.'
  50. plaid New Member

    <author's note>

    is anyone there?

    I'll assume someone is.

    anyway, I want to keep writing this. but I'm not sure the boards are the best place for it anymore. I love the way it's been set up so far, and how motivating it has been in the past for this little writing project... but... I don't know. I'm not sure about much of anything regarding TPI these days...

    anyone else have an opinion? suggestions on what else I could do with it? where else it could live? why I should even bother? etc. etc. etc?

    </author's note>
  51. Hsing Moderator

    I don't know... everyone seems to be moving their stuff to wordpress or similar blog sites, and offer update alert via facebook...

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