Discussion in 'BOARDANIA' started by plaid, Jul 8, 2006.
Like...woah. Also: what? Additionally: MORE!
everyone's a junkie
'What is he talking about?' I said. 'Wha-- How did you get in there, Black? It's... the tape...' I glared at him as accusingly as I dared.
'Shut up,' he growled, drawing his weapon just as I feared he would. 'Take me to 'im, Orrdos. You,' he threw me a glance, 'git outta 'ere if ye know whut's best fer ye.'
My eyes went to Doors's face. He looked utterly dreadful. 'Rincewind,' he said. 'Get Rincewind...'
My right hand was still clutching the tails of four monkey corpses. This was everything. Where are we going to boil it all? I wondered this as I walked into the corridor. Hex and Buzzfloyd were struggling to drag the flailing Rincewind back to his room.
'Rope,' Buzzfloyd managed to say. 'I know Doors has rope...'
I shook my head, unwilling to interrupt Black and his determination to see Fred. 'Black has him. Just let him go. Let's get out of here.' Holding up my collection of monkeys I jerked my head at Hex. We were so close to getting through this recipe thing. Something in me really wanted it to be finished, even though I doubted it would work at all.
Just then, a very large and orange Fred burst through the wall with a loud trumpeting elephant noise. The crumbling of plaster and brick was massive. Dirt and rock spilled out around the growing tear along the ceiling tiles. I was fairly sure somebody somewhere was getting trampled by those huge elephant feet as he marched along the hallway toward the staircase he would never be able to fit through.
Doors came hurtling after his elephant. Tony the Black was nowhere to be seen.
All the rising dust didn't help the visibility. I coughed and tried to find Hex, or anyone. Fred would trash the entire hideout, I imagined. What had Black done?
'Buzzfloyd? Are you alright? Are you there?'
'Wh-- what happened?'
I coughed. 'Black... Fred...' I wasn't sure what to say in answer. 'We'd better get out of here. If the stairs are still...' As I squinted over Buzzfloyd's head I knew they weren't. The back way then. 'Where's Hex? And Rincewind...'
OK, let me get this straight. Rinso leaps out of nowhere and attacks Doors. Plaid grabs the monlkeys and gets out out of the wardrobe. Black appears somewhere in between this and everyone gets out of the wardrobe except for Hex and possibly Rinso. Black yells for Doors to get Fred and he comes in generally destroying things and raising a cloud of dust. When the dust settles Black is gone. Is that right?
hm... i don't know. is it?
i just write the thing, off the cuff, and take very little responsibility for it making sense at the moment. but i'm getting there, maybe.
if you're of the optimistic frame of mind, you can always hope that my confusing plot will someday be explained satisfactorily. if you're of the extremely optimistic frame of mind, you can also hope that the plaid identity will be finished someday...
I think I'm of the extremely optimstic frame. At least I hope so.
frozen stolen baited crowns
'Not Tony the Black?' Buzzfloyd stuttered. 'How...'
'He's after Fred,' I explained feebly, noticing Hex lying dented beneath her. There were a few scraps of red flanneling strewn amid the rubble, but I didn't see Rincewind anywhere. 'I don't know how he got into the wardrobe. He couldn't have followed us...' He couldn't have gone in before us unless someone re-taped the doors. It was bewildering.
She coughed as I dragged her to her feet and stumbled along the corridor. 'Monkeys?' she asked, apparently noticing my handful of them. I could only imagine how confused she must be. I was fairly confused myself. No time at all seemed to have gone by while we were in that wardrobe.
'Hex?' I said, nudging her metal frame with my toe. 'Hex are you alive?'
Nothing happened. But then her eyes flashed open and closed, open and closed.
'Say something, Hex.'
Her jaw made a rapid series of clicking noises and then fell off. She seemed... I wasn't sure. Either she was fine and just couldn't move or she was...ruined.
'Can we carry her? We can't leave her... she has the yak tongue. She's...'
We ended up shifting the metal girl (and the four monkeys) onto my coat and dragged her painstakingly along. All the dust cleared the further down the hall, where it began to slope upward. When we reached the outdoors and fresh air it was still morning, not even close to noon yet.
I let Buzzfloyd down against a broken slab of concrete and dropped. 'It... how long had you left us there?' I asked. 'We...' I sighed a great big sigh and gazed up at the cool sky.
'It seemed like nothing. It must have been... for Doors and Black too...'
'You mean you went in?' Buzzfloyd asked. 'You really did?'
'Wait a minute--' I looked at Hex and tried to think. 'If no time passed, at all, while we were in there... then we all came back at the exact moment we went in. And so did Black. He must have followed us...'
Buzzfloyd was staring at me.
'He couldn't-- you didn't see him, did you? Unless... Rincewind... but... how?' It would've been child's play for Black to bribe the doorman, the same as he had for who knew how long...
I looked back down at Hex, wishing she could speak to me and help me figure this out.
On the other hand... did it matter what Black and Rincewind were up to? We had all our ingredients, didn't we? The zombie river wasn't far. Buzzfloyd could help me build a fire.
I knew all this, and it should've been fine. There was panic growing inside me though, at the thought of Fred's rage and the destruction. What was happening? What could anyone do about it? I couldn't do anything, I told myself. The helplessness fed a little bit of anger. My ignorance fed it some more.
Buzzfloyd groaned. I could tell she was seriously bruised, and I didn't know what to do about that either. I needed help.
I pulled out my spork and clutched it. I thought about smoke and spatulas and pie. I kept looking up at the clear blue sky.
'One, two, three, four, five...'
I looked at Buzzfloyd. She was counting. She didn't stop to acknowledge my questioning gaze.
'Six, seven...' and she kept going.
'I wonder if I can start a fire,' I muttered, looking around for anything to burn. There wasn't much apart from a few vines and long grasses. It wasn't going to be easy.
'...Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one...' Buzzfloyd had shut her eyes and was holding very still as she counted.
'Oh Hex,' I pouted, taking the loaf of bread and onion from my coat pockets. Her eyes blinked up at me with faint light. 'Will Pat be able to fix you?'
She didn't move. I felt extremely awkward, fiddling with her metal joints and trying to find which compartment she'd stored the yak tongue in. I had found the knife she'd given me. Someone would have to dissect those dead monkeys, but I did not want to think about that.
Hex's innards were cold. Half of me was sure I was breaking something, but the other half took comfort in the fact that a metal person could not feel pain. Could she?
Dragonmother's heart was in there. It didn't look a thing like the yak tongue, but I knelt there staring at it, all chilled against the dented metal of Hex's inner torso. Hex clicked. I jumped, and went back to looking for the yak tongue, found it, and then looked disgustedly at the dead monkeys off to the side.
I decided to start a fire first. The onion and yak tongue were first on the crumpled recipe Hex had printed; I could boil the monkey brains later...
My first four attempts at fire building died pitifully, and the fifth was snuffed out by an approaching dragon. Looking nervously at Hex, I stood and faced the animal. The green of her scales told me it was Om Kranti. She swooped over us and dropped the trunk of an old tree mere feet away. I yelped as it crashed into the rocks.
Buzzfloyd was still counting, apparently not having noticed the dragon. '...fifty seven, fifty eight, fifty nine, sixty...'
Om Kranti came to rest just to the left of Hex's damaged body. She looked at me with a glint in her big red eyes, proceeded to tear the tree trunk into pieces which she then arranged conveniently at my feet. The whole thing burst cracklingly into flame with only a breath.
I sliced the onion on a sort-of-smooth rock.
'Will Pat be able to fix you?' I asked Hex, wishing she could speak.
'...sixty eight, sixty nine, seventy...'
To my surprise the dragon nodded. And at the same moment I knew Buzzfloyd was going to stop at seventy two.
She did. It felt as if the sky's blue intensified for one instant; the fire roared.
I turned to Buzzfloyd and stared silently.
She was holding a pie.
A whole pie, not just a plate of one slice. It was a whole pie, in a pie tin.
'What did you do?' I demanded.
She inspected the pie carefully before declaring, 'It's not banana... hmm.'
'Where did it come from?'
With an impatient glance she stood up and asked me, 'Where does all the pie come from, Plaid? Ba.'
I remained confused. But not as confused as when Buzzfloyd walked over and threw the whole pie, tin and all, into the fire. She nearly smothered it altogether. Om winced and fidgeted.
'What?' I exclaimed.
Pieously intriguing, or this another very bad Buzzfloyd joke?
skinned peeled fried roasted
'What're you doing with the onion?' she said, as if pie-flavored smoke weren't billowing from the spluttering fire at our feet.
Buzzfloyd pointed, Om Kranti grumbled, and I just stood there shaking my head.
'Well,' Buzzfloyd went on, deciding to ignore my lack of response. 'I hope that pleases Him, anyway.'
'Ba. Are you okay, Plaid?'
'Am I okay?' I repeated, gaping. Hex was lying there in a state of dysfunction, Black had followed us somehow into the wardrobe and was now ruining the entire underground home of everyone who lived on this island, the Catface had sunk, plunging its crew into forgetfulness, the Words had disappeared, Malory was dead... where would it end? I continued to stare at her.
'It'll be alright,' she went on. 'Ba watches over us.'
No matter what I'd dreamed and no matter where the pie came from, I was not so sure of that. Her face and mine turned to the south, were I imagined chaos was tearing through the forest. Was that splotch of red the inflated elephant?
With a somewhat irritated, somewhat sad glance at Buzzfloyd, I turned back to the fire and decided to sauté my onion and yak tongue in the divine pie tin. I used my shirt to wipe the remains of its sticky crust out, and then set it carefully on a small rock in the flames.
Om shifted on her perch and curled her tail toward Hex's shoulder.
'You nodded,' I said to the dragon.
She nodded again.
'So... Pat will be able to fix her?' I paused. 'Even as a zombie?'
Om nodded, blinking once. I looked at Hex, who looked as dilapidated as ever, and I hoped Om Kranti was right.
'I'm going to go find out what's happening,' Buzzfloyd said over her shoulder as she walked (limping a little) away. 'Good luck with your... monkeys.'
The monkeys. There was no reason why I couldn't boil the monkey brains while i sautéed the rest. Om nodded encouragingly, nudging the monkey corpses with her great green beak.
I reached out and dragged one away from its fellows. Taking the knife from near Hex's knee in the folds of my coat, I breathed deeply, clenched and unclenched my left hand, and began to saw as cleanly as I could through the dead creature's skull.
It took longer than I thought. The yak tongue nearly burned. And at the end I wasn't sure I would have three whole gallons altogether. I prayed it would be enough, that it would still work. Using the lower piece of Hex's leg to hold the four brains added another layer of unpleasantness. Waiting for the brains to boil took up most of the afternoon.
Oh good, I thought. We'll be having zombies to visit in the middle of the night.
'How will I know when eight hours is up?' I said aloud as I tried to balance my crookedly sliced bread on the end of the knife over the fire.
The day had been hot and the breeze sparse. I was feeling very sunburned as I tipped the onion and yak tongue into the boiling monkey brains and used the long knife to stir it up a bit.
I lined up my four thick pieces of toast along the ground. I tipped Hex's disembodied leg and slopped the gooey mixture onto the bread with the knife. Too late, I remembered the note to avoid dripping the stuff on metal or wood. First my blade and then the metal of Hex's leg started turning a reddish color.
'Oh drat,' I muttered as my knife bent awkwardly. Don't let me have ruined it all.
I'd torn out the sleeve of my coat to hold the heated metal. It too was turning a weird color and growing very warm and moist, but I used it to pick up the whole mixture anyway and made sure most of the stuff ended up over the toast as the container gave way and dissolved.
Om Kranti shook her head, casting a large wobbly shadow over me and the mess. Enough of the goo had gotten on my hands to cause a familiar zombie-ish itch. I wiped it all off with the rags of my sleeve and then threw them into the fire.
'I am sorry about your leg, Hex,' I said pathetically. In response, Om Kranti roared once and flew up in a wide arc. I shivered and watched the fire die, waiting.
cute goat corpse
A few stars came up to crown the sunset. I almost didn't notice the afternoon pie--rhubarb again--and it was cold before I had a chance to locate my spork and eat any of it. I'd taken four reluctant bites before I realized with a sudden jerk that it had turned blue.
'Hex, my spork is blue!' I stared at it, pushing my pie aside and jumping up from the ground. 'It's blue! It wasn't always blue, was it... no... but it is blue now. Wh-- Why?'
Of course Hex did not say anything. I guessed it had been about two hours since I'd sogged our toast in monkey brains. Six more to wait. It would be late, but I wasn't letting myself get nervous.
My spork was blue... it had been a blue spork in that dream I'd had. The dream of banana daiquiris and cinnamon. I held the spork up and stared at it and at the sky around it. Beneath me, the ground grumbled. Something in me wished she knew where Trollmother was. Or Hermes... or Jordan... or Nester. Anyone. Anyone I could really talk to. Who could talk back without their jaw falling off, anyway.
As the sun faded away I thought over my dream at least a dozen times. I pondered what might have been meant by 'Master' and why the concern about Rincewind's parents... Everyone is talking about it, he had said. About me?
How crazy was I to say, even to myself, Ba had spoken to me in a dream? The God of Pie and Unspeakable Culinary Acts. My eyes lingered over the toast and its disgusting spread. Unspeakable culinary acts.
I wondered how this Ba of pie felt about zombies.
He said, 'Hold this...' and 'Come down here...' What does that mean? I smeared chunks of rhubarb around thoughtfully. 'There are a few things Ba has to do...'
'I never did tell him who I was.' I said this aloud but very quietly. Om was no longer here to interpret Hex's silence for me, and this wasn't her concern anyway. Staring at the bent and somewhat charred pie tin left me with a singularly chilling sense of deja vu. After throwing another handful of branches on the fire I stood up and stretched, trying to hang on to the last smeary patch of light in the far western sky. The ocean was drinking it all up, making it all dark. At least it wasn't too cold. Yet.
'No,' a voice began, 'the girl never did.'
I looked around. 'What?' But the voice was familiar, and when I saw him, the rest of him was too. Differently familiar... not as tall. Just as blinking... holding a spatula instead of a candle.
'The girl,' he said, nodding in my direction, 'she never told Ba who she was. Ba remains interested to know.'
I took a staggeringly deep, deep breath and knew that this was Ba. And there were the mushed remains of my afternoon pie at my feet. I wasn't dreaming this time. There were no italics but my own thoughts.
'Come, speak,' Ba coaxed.
I bit my lip before stuttering, 'I... I... '; the words 'I'm hungry' fell from my lips as simply and earnestly as if they were my real name.
Without missing a beat the god Ba asked 'For?', and I was again struck silent. But I did know, somehow, that it was for more than pie. More than food.
Ba nodded and a faint smile flitted across his face. 'Come,' he beckoned and began walking uphill.
I looked back at Hex. 'We-- But-- I can't just--'
'Ba will bring the girl back. Hex will be perfectly fine... The girl shouldn't worry.'
I remained hesitant but painfully curious. So I followed him. What seemed like moments later we were staring into the crater of the volcano.
'Mount Garner,' I said, wondering what would happen next.
'Mount Garner,' Ba said slowly. 'The smoldering soul of this decrepit island.'
From up here you could still see a few rays of the sun, but I shivered a bit nonetheless. 'Buzzfloyd summoned you, didn't she?' I asked quietly.
Ba looked at me and shook his spatula. 'Ba is never summoned. Ba goes where he will and does what he likes.'
The crater was less impressive than I thought it would be. Maybe it was too dark to see properly. Maybe in the day it was more ominously black, more frighteningly deep. At the moment it was a shadow among shadows, lit only by the faint glow that came from the god standing next to me.
I stretched my legs and traced the line of the mountain with my eyes, down this way and down that way, to the forest over here and to the cliffs over there. I pretended to notice the dragons roosting off in the east. I avoided looking too carefully at the forest where I knew the islanders had hidden themselves. At least, I thought, they will always have pie.
Ba took a few steps over the edge of the crater, then back. He chewed on the edge of his spatula for a moment and then shouted something unintelligible down into the depths of the volcano.
six hundred and eighty one what?
The sky turned a golden, toasted sort of white color. I squinted, rather annoyed that I didn't have a clue what the point of this was. And I lacked the confidence to demand Ba explain. So I just watched. And slowly lines started to emerge in the whiteness: a set of parallel brown streaks this way, a thicker band of pale orange-ish perpendicular to it. A few large buttons plinked into existence in the clouds and tumbled onto the rocks. I started trembling as I realized... the lines and colors in the sky matched perfectly the design on my now very grimy but nevertheless plaid shirt.
'What is this?' I whispered in a low, harsh voice.
Ba flung his arms wide and twiddled his spatula. The trail of smoke from the mouth of Mount Garner grew thicker, billowing up into the plaid sky.
'The Sock Wars should continue,' Ba shouted. 'Dead pirates or no dead pirates. Llama or no llama.' He looked straight at me for several seconds, the light of his coat standing out brilliantly against the dark smoke behind him. 'The girl will find a way.'
And then he blinked into nothing, leaving only a distant grumble in the mountain and a devastating stillness behind. The sky was still faintly plaid.
I hurried back to Hex, tripping several times in my distraction. Continue the Sock Wars. How?
Pat was waiting for me in the dark, crouched over Hex's dented remains, sobbing phosphorescent orange tears.
I nudged a broken tree branch into the outskirts of the fire and leaned on a large rock, totally at a loss for words.
'Who did this?' Pat said in a squeaky voice. 'When?'
'Well, Fred-- I don't know exactly how, or what was going on. Can you fix her?'
After a long pause, 'I think so. Partly. If you can ... help me ration the toast. If I eat it all too soon I won't be so lucid.'
I looked around and hoped she was the only zombie who would choose to show up at my campfire. At Pat's instruction I piled more and more chunks of tree into the fire until it lit up enough of the hillside. Pacing, I watched and tried not to watch as the slimy woman with eaten-away skin lifted Hex's face off and tugged at wires and things. It was a long night, sleepless, cold and clear.
At some point before dawn the metal girl could talk again. I weakly apologized at her and grew anxious when she didn't respond.
'Do we need the dragons anymore?' she asked.
'Uh... I don't know.'
'If you want, roast her heart and eat it. I can't keep it any longer with me. After tonight it will be too warm.'
'And the juices are damaging the resistors in her upper torso,' Pat added.
Once I'd recovered from the rush of disgust that came over me as I pondered what it might taste like, I turned over in my head all the things I might do if I controlled the dragons. I could fly. I could go anywhere. I could... Hex had communicated with them. Did the dragons talk? Did they know things? Could they...
But Dragonmother's heart. What sort of magic had tainted that organ? She had been so... insane...
'If not, just throw it in the fire. With her other innards. We'll be fine, I'm sure.'
Her voice sounded different, I noticed. Pat was taking pieces from Hex's arm to rebuild her missing leg. Still, I couldn't imagine the metal girl walking without a limp ever again. Repaired by firelight, by a zombie... What maddness.
Pat took a moment to slurp a bit of monkey-brain-slathered toast from the ground and then resumed her work.
'The Sock Wars.'
'What?' I said.
'I didn't say anything,' Pat and Hex chorused.
I looked up at the sky with a little bit of panic. Its clouds looked much flatter than they should have and I swear there was a shadow of orthogonal lines all the way down to the tree-clustered horizon. The Sock Wars.
'Pat,' I said, 'tell me...'
'I'm a fair bit occupied at the moment, girl.'
'But I only-- I need to know--' and then I remembered how Emma and Orrdos had explained them to me already. Llama versus pirates... but there had to be more to it. 'The Sock Wars. Do the zombies... ?'
'What are you talking about?'
With a sigh I looked back at the sky and bit back an annoyed curse. I blinked sleepily. Why me? Why me?
Pat and Hex were conducting a subdued conversation about her equipment, Electric Man, and Brad. I might have listened more closely if I hadn't been so distracted by what had happened to the sky and the prospect of eating Dragonmother's heart. Though I wanted to sleep I couldn't. Every time I sat down I got up again to pace. Every time I leaned against a tree I wrenched myself away from it, running my hands through my hair.
Before I knew it it was dawn. Hex, using a tree limb to lean on, hobbled up behind me and spoke my name in a tone that didn't conceal the fact she hadn't forgiven me for any of what had happened to her. I looked at her sideways, trying not to look indignant.
'Here,' she said, thrusting the small, bloody organ into my hand. It was cold and warm at the same time. 'Do what you like with it.'
Pat was licking the ground for the last of the monkey brain stew.
'Wouldn't she...' I ventured.
Hex's eyes narrowed and she shook her head. I supposed it wouldn't do to have a zombie in control of a bunch of dragons. And of course, Hex couldn't digest it and she couldn't preserve it anymore.
I didn't know how long the effect would last. I didn't know what the power of the dragons would give me. I didn't know if it would get me anywhere or tell me who I was, or even keep the Sock Wars going. But I was holding the thing in my hands, trying not to let it drip blood on my toes.
a. Plaid doesn't risk it, but tears the heart of Dragonmother apart in her hands and lets the pieces burn away to nothing.
b. Plaid carefully impales the heart of Dragonmother on a sharp stick, roasts it, and chews on it for the rest of the morning. She eats blueberry pie for dessert.
don't take all year about it. ready set go.
c. Plaid does the Macarena
okay, seriously I'll go for b.
A - 0
B - 2
(Or she wears it as a hat.)
Ba votes for the death of everyone Plaid has ever cared about. Except him, of course. That would be foolish.
alright. those two little votes will have to do.
The dawn diluted the darkness and Hex wished me a cold sort of luck as she walked away. 'I must repair Electric Man,' she admitted with a touch of reluctance.
I didn't know if she wanted a good-bye or a thank you or anything, so I remained silent, turning the heart over and casting my eyes about for a stick. Most of the tree Om had brought was still resting there, just waiting for morning.
The smell of blood and smoke reminded me of the Doormen. Rincewind was still alive, it seemed, but what about the rest of them? I decided that it might be a good idea to find Nester and Colonesque, veterans of the Sock Wars that they were.
It took almost an hour to cook the mushy organ, and another half for me to be able to will my teeth into its blackened membrane. Leaning against a rock I chewed on every bite for a long time, wondering if this were the right thing to do or not.
The morning was hot. After the dry meat of Dragonmother's heart I welcomed the blueberry pie and cream wholeheartedly, and I sucked on my spork all the way across the stony southeastern foothills. Somehow I wasn't even nervous about finding Doors, Fred, Black, or the others. Incredibly, I didn't notice the dragons flying along in my wake until the sun reached up to cast their shadows over me. I'd just reached the edge of the forest and all of a sudden, looking up at the giant hot-blooded lizards, I knew all of their names. I could feel their attention centered on me. For several steps I walked backwards, taking in the awesome weirdness that it was to have so much power.
Then I tripped over a vine, nearly choked on my spork, and lay sprawled among ferns and bushes for a long moment. I blinked several times. The dragons swirled in hesitation, dipping slightly lower in their flight. There was a plaid pattern just visible on the inside of my eyelids; closing my eyes i could see it clear as dawn.
I stood up. The Holy Book of Om had slid out of my pocket, along with the bottle of gerbil food and a the piece of paper with the recipe printed on it. Leaving the gerbil food, I picked up the book and gripped it tightly, the edge of my blue spork digging slightly into the leather.
Most of the dragons had settled into a slow spiral. Om Kranti dropped out of it immediately and crushed a large circle of bushes as she landed next to me. Her eyes glowed as she turned her smooth face toward mine. I put the book in my pocket and climbed onto the dragon's back. It felt much more familiar than it should have, oddly.
This is your book? I asked silently, taking it out again.
'Not mine. But it is a part of this island, as I am. My name and its name reflect the same truth.' The dragon's answer came into my brain as several soundless vibrations. I didn't know how this was working, but it was, and it felt glorious to at last have answers not couched in shoulds and ifs and whens and maybes.
Who wrote it? Where did it come from?
'The Book of Om is written by the whole world.'
'You may as well ask how all human life is fed by pie. Or how the trees grow. It is the order of things.'
Are the others alright? The pirates? The... everyone?
'No. It's just getting worse.'
Dozens of thoughts ran through my head. What's getting worse? We have to get to them. Help. The Sock Wars...
The dragons responded. Several flew to the shore where most of the crew of the Catface were milling about. One of them went in search of Moon Cat Blue, and Om took me swiftly to the cave entrance, where Fred was growing larger every moment and even Orrdos cowered in the bushes beneath his great purplish-red trunk.
I practically fell off of Om Kranti's back and onto Cynical Youth. 'What's happening?'
He looked at me like I was an idiot for asking. With a glance at Orrdos and another glance at Fred, he turned away.
'I came to...' I began, speaking to groups of islanders whose faces I didn't recognize. Realizing I had no idea how to help, I faltered and stopped talking.
'Doors!' I shouted. 'Doors, what happened? Where's Black?'
Orrdos turned and saw me, saw the dragons, and waded through a patch of ferns to meet me.
'He ate him. Fred ate that filthy pirate!'
I gasped, though stranger things had happened since I'd come to this island. 'That's what's wrong? But...'
'He's not talking to me. All he does is stand there, getting bigger and bigger.'
Will he talk to you? I glanced at Om and then back to the roaring, squirming elephant. The answer was no. The elephant doesn't belong here. What?
'Is everyone okay? Is there anything we can do?'
Doors straightened up and looked down at me. 'We?'
'Yes we...' I answered right before a great deal of self-consciousness hit me. 'Um. We.' All I could do was stare at Doors as he stared at me. Om's warm breath at the back of my neck felt like a song. Nester is wounded... Colonesque is dead.
'Dragonmother is really dead this time?' Orrdos guessed.
I nodded, paying more attention the strange thoughts in my head than to the conversation I was having. The beach is covered with mourning pirates. The cliffs are painted with somebody's blood.
'Where's Brad?' I said. 'Is he here?'
Orrdos has more than one buried past. Mount Garner is being subdued. Moon Cat Blue is on her way.
It was too much. I took a deep, deep breath and concentrated on Orrdos's saying 'No. I don't know where he is.'
I stared at the ground. 'The Sock Wars... but...'
'The dragons have never before interfered with the Sock Wars. But we are at your command now,' Om explained.
The dragons didn't owe anything to Ba, I knew. All this is not going to be easy. And it was too late to regret anything.
Who are these islanders that plaid doesn't recognize? Are they a response to my request a couple pages ago?
Several of the islanders were gathering to stare at me. Nester is wounded, at the cliffside... Rincewind? Rincewind is here. I didn't feel up to being anything but honest.
'Ba has spoken to me,' I grumbled. The day had grown cloudy. As I looked from the ground to the sky the absence of plaid in the sky seemed very unfair. Had anyone else seen the sign I had seen? How would any of this make sense to them... they who had their own problems and their own lost identities to mourn. I coughed. 'Ba says the Sock Wars should continue.'
There were murmurs.
I went on. 'I know it seems pointless...'
Nester is sobbing over his dead comrade. Dead Colonesque. Colonesque who my dragons have killed.
'I don't even have any socks. But Ba... the source of all pie...' I cringed very slightly in the face of all those stares. 'Ba has spoken to me.' That's all I can say.
'I believe her,' Buzzfloyd announced. A hush fell over everyone else, even the enormous elephant.
'You do?' Orrdos shouted. 'What did he look like, Plaid?'
The demand astonished me. 'Um... tall...' I said. 'Very white... He blinked a lot and he was holding a spatula.'
'Where did you see him?'
'On the mountain. Just last night. The sky... the sky went funny.'
'Plaid?' Orrdos guessed.
My eyes widened. The astonishment would never end. 'Wha-- Di--'
Orrdos nodded and shuffled around in a circle for a moment, looking at Fred and at me and at the sky. 'This is NOT FAIR,' he growled.
'What?' I said.
'Hold on, Doors,' Buzzfloyd cut in. 'What are you talking about?'
'Yeah, what are you talking about?' a few of the others joined in asking.
Orrdos hesitated, 'It's all happening at once. Fred, can't you do anything about this?'
'What's all happening at once?' I wanted to know. What's all happening at once?
The zombies. Words. Spork. Dragons...
'And he just won't talk to me! All of this, happening right now, and we're supposed to continue the Sock Wars on top of it? Has the great Ba gone insane?!' Orrdos was just about tearing his hair out.
I sighed and sat down on the mossy ground and tried to sort out everything that was pounding itself into my head.
Has Moon Cat found Trollmother? As soon as I asked it, I knew she hadn't, and a golden-red dragon took off to look for the woman. I took off my coat and rubbed my arms.
Why not bring Nester here? And it was being done.
And the pirates?
'Too many of them,' Om said. 'But they aren't far.'
Socks. The mermaidens?
'Plaid?' A pair of teenage-looking boys approached with a ring of keys and a pencil, and a bundle of papers rubber-banded together. One of them was wearing a yak-skin hat that reminded me painfully of Colonesque. The other was blond and boyish and reminded me so much of Hermes I nearly choked. I looked up patiently, continuing a leisurely silent dialogue with Om Kranti in the background.
'Hex and Buzzfloyd said to give these to you,' the hatted one said.
'Found them under the rug in Brad's room,' the other, blond like Hermes, offered.
'He's been gone for so long... Orrdos said...' the blond alluded.
'Hmm. And who are you?'
'HalfJack. Been here three weeks.' There was a very familiar emptiness behind his dark eyes.
I turned to the one in the hat. He quietly said his name was Scrub and held out the papers, pencil, and key ring. Taking them, not without a degree of uncertainty, I said, 'Thank you... mister Scrub.' I coughed to clear my through. 'Brad's really not been here at all?' Behind me Om clicked her claws against the pebbley ground; a deep blue dragon rose into the air and sailed away in the direction of the Words.
The boys shook their heads. A few other islanders had walked up behind them, eavesdropping. A girl with hundreds of red braids in her hair whispered, 'Are the dragons here to save us?'
I just stared at her. She couldn't have been older than thirteen. How could I have not met all these children before?
'From what?' I asked. 'Rincewind stay away from me!' This was shouted in response to Om's hint that the monkey freak was creeping through the ferns behind me. Standing up in a rage and whirling to face the scruffy, robed creature, I could not believe this man had not been trampled or caught. I didn't need to look at Om for her to lean down and catch the dirty terry-cloth of his robe in her large yellow teeth.
'What do you think you're doing?' I spit out at him.
All Rincewind could do was snarl.
'Orrdos!' I screamed. He pushed through the gathered few, gasped at the sight of his youngest Doorman, and then cursed, glaring at me.
'Let him down.'
'No.' I folded my arms and glared smugly back. 'He's psychotic. And he hates me.'
'It's not his fault!'
Behind Orrdos's fuming was a dreadful silence. Even the wind died down, stopping to watch.
As much as I was tempted to blink and let Om eat him, I couldn't do it. But I did let her toss him a few feet into a spiky bush.
Moments later, as Doors ran to Rincewind's side, Nester and Moon Cat were dropped nearby.
'Welcome,' I said, arms still folded in defiance.
Hmm, I hope Plaid's not letting the power go to her head...
lukewarm vengeance with cheese on top
'You,' Nester said. His shoulders quivered, with rage or sadness I couldn't quite tell. 'You?' It was an accusation.
'Plaid what do you think you're doing? This is--'
I winced and closed my eyes. There were a lot of things I could tell them. It wasn't me. It wasn't my idea. It wasn't my fault. But what difference would it make?
Backing carefully into the warm shadow of Om's smooth green leg, I asked her if Brad would be able to tell us anything. The dragon growled at Nester, Doors, Moon Cat, and everyone else who got too close to invading my space. This was beautiful, this power. This was cowardly. So what?
'Read the book,' Om said. 'I could read it to you, if you want.'
'But why? I don't see...'
'How it all fits together? Exactly. It might help.'
I took it out as I glanced at the crowd of people mere feet away. Most of them watched me with confused faces. Moon Cat's eyes pierced mine. Fred knows, she had said. And now Fred had eaten her rival for captain of the Catface.
If you can read this smudged copy, Om...
The dragon snorted.
Well? Can't you?
'Where did you get it?'
'Oh,' I said. She had been curious, Dragonmother had said. 'I don't remember. I always had it.'
'Unreadable?' Om curled her tail anxiously.
'Pretty much,' I answered, prying a few dried, fragmented pages apart. 'Yeah.' Having no real idea why I carried the useless thing around, I tossed it away and turned my attention to the keys and papers Scrub and Half Jake had delivered. 'There was a copy on the Catface,' I mentioned. 'Ironically the ship was destroyed, Om.' This last thought brought a smile to my face.
The smile wavered as soon as I saw, over Orrdos's head, the trunk of the psychic elephant Fred, as big as three trees together and scarlet as fire, reaching out to strangle my Om Kranti.
Thanks for that. Story looking great as always. I get a hat too.
welcome welcome, pathetic fallacy
A few raindrops fell, sizzling on the very warm skin of the dragons. Fred was astonishingly large--larger than Om and still growing. I stepped back, trying to give my flock of fire-breathing lizards room to fight.
'Orrdos, what is this?' I screamed at him.
He couldn't answer. People around him backed away as fast as they could; Buzzfloyd pulled him away with her as Fred's enormous foot came down and smashed a couple of trees.
The dragons started to look like pesky birds next to the fiercely red giant that was Fred. I hoped that though I couldn't tell, the elephant was bleeding from the long scratches Om and her fellows were sketching upon his skin. Every few moments one of those massive flapping ears would catch one of the dragons and send it hurtling to the ground. The pain of the animals invaded my head. I almost expected bruises to appear on my own body, the force of it was so sudden and strong.
It rained harder the longer we watched. In minutes the ground around us was soggy with diluted elephant blood. I noticed every shred of broken scale and talon. But there were more of us than there were of him, and though he could uproot three trees at once with that trunk of his, Fred couldn't win this. Seven dragons attacked from behind and tore ferociously at Fred's banana-tattooed flank. Four more of them flew circles around his massive head, scorching trunk, ear, and scalp, whichever was closest.
A lovely pecan pie showed up in the middle of it all. I tasted it without tasting it.
The forest was ruined. Ferns and bushes for miles were squashed. Tree branches floated drearily in the muck and grime of a mild flood. Trollmother is dead, the dragon I'd sent for her mentioned, diving into the fight as the crippled elephant wobbled. Great incomprehensible bellowing issued from his blackened trunk as he fell completely over.
'Don't do this, don't do this!' Doors was yelling. 'Don't don't...' I watched him plead with my dragons and felt very disconnected. His screams were barely audible but extremely earnest. I didn't move. I could hardly think.
'Trollmother is dead?' I muttered. The rain turned cold. 'And Brad?' I wondered in a panic, looking around for the llama. Can't find him...the dragon explained. But there's a sad-looking pirate up here.
I was hungry. There was a plate of pecan pie in my hands. My fingers were going numb, holding it. For? Ba's voice echoed among the bloodthirsty squeals of my murderous lizard friends. I wondered seriously if this had been a mistake. One of Fred's ears still twitched, and my dragons were settling down one after the other, digging their claws and teeth into his multi-colored flesh. There was nothing I could do about it.
I walked hypnotically to Orrdos and heard myself say the words 'I'm sorry, I--'. He stood up in a rage, slapped me hard, and screamed into the rain as I collapsed onto the cold muddy ground.
The gluttony of the dragons permeated my unconsciousness. I woke up unsure of who I was, where I was, what I had last been doing or saying. Everything was sopping wet. My hair stuck to my face.
'Plaid?' The faces of Jordan, Buzzfloyd, and Nester blinked at me as I sat up. The sun was setting on the damp island, on the torn up forest and on the great bony carcass of Fred. My dragons were nowhere in sight. They'd gathered to the cliffs for the night and I had no strength to call on them at the moment. A few tears escaped my eyes as I looked around for Orrdos. 'I'm sorry,' I echoed myself. Where is everyone?
Jordan coughed. 'Ever'one's followin Brad back to th' Words... Ar ye...er...'
'She looks fine to me,' Nester scowled.
Buzzfloyd nodded slowly. 'Will you come with us?' she asked. 'Or...'
I closed my eyes and tried to think. After a moment of silence I stood up and looked around. The sky was streaked with a bright, dark red. My face was streaked with mud and crying. 'Dead.' Trollmother is dead. Colonesque is dead. It was all I could think. Turning back to Nester, I wanted to explain to him. Make it stop feeling like a huge mistake. But how could you explain the God of Unspeakable Culinary Acts? 'Oh Ba,' I whimpered.
'It's okay, Plaid,' Buzzfloyd said. 'Orrdos will cope. I know him.'
I couldn't answer her. I couldn't say anything. It was hard enough to breath normally and to hold myself upright. My dragons... Each of them slept, emanating a calm and implacable silence. Nodding vaguely, I took a few steps toward the soggy carcass of what had been a most remarkable elephant.
'I can't believe this,' Nester scoffed. 'What is she doing now?'
There was a cold breeze and the tang of nightmares in the coming twilight. Banana daiquiris... I stood there for a moment, taking it in, looking right into the messy red innards and the shadowy bones, thinking about death and memories, still unwilling to speak. Blinking away the last of my tears, I told myself it would be okay. Somehow. It wasn't me who had been torn apart by dragons, after all.
The others took up the pace and we walked. I counted every step, going up to 72 and then starting over again, again and again.
It was dark enough long before we reached the cave. All four of us stumbled, and Jordan ran straight into a tree once. We paused at the entrance to the Words and I took the moment to say 'What about the socks?'
'Socks, Plaid?' Jordan said. 'Malory's dead and Black is dead.'
'And the Catface is sunk. So what?' I asked.
'So it doesn't matter anymore,' Nester grumbled.
'But...' I hesitated. Far away on a dark cliffside Om stirred
'Ba spoke to her,' Buzzfloyd came to my defense.
'Ther Catface?' Jordan gaped. 'Ther Catface?' The young pirate leaned against the entrance and hung his head.
'Ba? Sure.' Nester ducked into the cave without us.
'Yes... ' I said softly to Jordan. 'That was... our fault too.'
The three of us stood in silence as the first stars peeked through the windswept sky.
Stay, I said to Om. Peace. 'Let's go,' I said. 'They might worry,' I lied.
The fire in the heart of the Words had died down considerably, but it was enough to see that the walls were still blank and smooth as the sand under the tide.
Beyond a mild curiosity as to why this had happened, I didn't care. The Words had never meant anything to me. The Sock Wars. Would Brad listen to me?
It was a restless, murmuring night in the cave of wordlessness. I shoved myself into a place nearer the light and looked again at my unreadable holy book, the papers they'd found of Brad's. Why did they give them to me?
All of the surviving pirates, I knew, would be here as well. Half of me wanted to look for Hermes. Just see him. It'd be pointless. It'd make me feel worse.
[FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]people, who want total control, more or less, of
The way it had looked, brown and shadowy in the stone. I could still remember. And the pain of hot wax on my hands... [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]They are mortal, after all. Just Words. Unspoken, jumbled. Gone. I was crying again. Samantha Vimes, and Keli, and Pat... and it wasn't going to stop. Nothing could keep us alive here forever.
Even with the dragons it was hard to know anything directly. So much happened in hidden corners, in faraway places. There were whole islands I didn't know about. When will I get to see them?
I surmised, looking over Brad's papers, that they had been dictated, probably to Hex or Pat, and typed out in copies of three. They were records of various transactions... 'to Doors, 49' and 'to Emma, 12,' and 'from Mynona, 37.' The print was tiny and the data meaningless... I needed more context, but it would have to wait. In the meantime I used the barely-sharpened pencil to add up each and every number. If the amounts equaled socks as I suspected they did (there was a line with my name, 1), then the islanders had 552 socks altogether. If only I knew where to find them all. It would surprise me if Brad knew. But I had to try. Ba had spoken to me.
The pirates would need a leader as well.
Moon Cat Blue.
And as I looked up, wiping tears from my tired face, thinking I would talk to her before trying to get anything out of Brad, the tattooed woman was right there, taking a seat on the ground next to me.
She didn't say anything. Her golden eyes watched me carefully, all distant and knowing.
'I didn't know this would happen.'
Moon Cat cocked her head as if this were no excuse at all.
'You didn't find Trollmother. The dragons say... the dragons say that she's dead.'
'Is there... was there... The Catface... it can't be saved now.' I don't know what sort of hope Moon Cat might have discovered or reawakened. She nodded again.
'But Ba spoke to me.' The plaid on the inside of my eyelids was still visible when I closed my eyes tight enough. This was something I could not let go of. 'He did,' I insisted when Moon Cat raised her eyebrows skeptically. 'Really.'
'So?' she asked.
I bit my lip. 'I'm so confused,' I admitted.
At this I could only stare. A smile crept into her face.
'I saw him die, too, yes. But that isn't the end.'
It was my turn to eye her as if she were crazy.
'My trousers are soaked in elephant blood, Moon Cat. I can practically taste his burnt--'
'Stop, Plaid. Just stop. You think you know so much, taking the place of the Dragonmother.'
I stopped, hung my head and rubbed at my eyes.
'If Ba spoke to you,' she went on, 'everyone here will know it if they care to. You just might find yourself in horribly powerful position.'
And with that she got up and walked away, stepping thoughtlessly on the sleeping forms of several islanders.
All of a sudden I had choices to make. Courses of action to decide upon. Plans to weave out of thin air. I looked around for the llama.
'Brad?' I hissed into the dark corners of the cave. 'Brad?'
I found him in the darkest possible place, pacing around in a tight circle, each step a soft, slow click against the stony floor.
'Brad, the Sock Wars. Ba insists they continue.'
'Shh,' he whispered.
'I have to do this, Brad, no matter what you say.'
'So go on. Why bother me with it?'
'Someone gave me these records... Buzzfloyd found them? I'm not sure... but... Brad, you could help us.'
'Oh you're an us now?' The llama laughed. 'Buzzfloyd's got far more presence of mind at the moment than I do. I let her take over. It's hopeless for me.'
I chewed on my lower lip for a moment. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for Brad the wonder llama. 'What.. er... what will you do? '
'Well I don't know, Miss Plaid. Could I talk you into letting one of those dragons eat me?'
He clomped off, leaving me with none of the information I wanted. I shoved the keys and papers into my pocket and decided to sleep. In the dark parts of that cave, one could sleep forever and never know when dawn arrived.
dark damp and cozy
I slept very uncomfortably. The voices of dragons in my head kept me awake. Ever moment it seemed my eyes were opened to some fairly meaningless piece of information. We've eaten Colonesque's corpse. Mount Garner is steaming more than usual. The sun looks pink. My wings ache. The dried elephant blood on my talons tastes like mud. Flashes of various bits of landscape painted themselves into my dreams.
I eventually got up, stirred the remains of the fire, and looked around for Buzzfloyd. I found Half Jack and Scrub first, chatting with Hex as she tugged and clicked and puttered with the pieces of Electric Man.
'Hey,' one of the boys said. Hex ignored me, intent on her work. I leaned against the wall and watched for a moment.
'That was wild, wasn't it?' Scrub looked up at me. 'You're okay right? Orrdos went nuts.'
I nodded, sort of lost in thought. The air is cool and there is an aftertaste of storm. The wreck of the Catface is drifting in pieces onto the shore. 'What...' I began. 'What next? Has Buzzfloyd made any plans?'
Half Jack handed Hex a handful of wire and shook his head. 'Nobody expected Fred to die. And the Words being gone... that's serious.'
With a sniff I thought about what Moon Cat had said. She and Black had had so much faith in that elephant, even without seeing him or knowing he existed. The dragons had said, he doesn't belong on the island... Had he come from somewhere else? In that case, where had Doors come from?
I didn't bother my two new young friends with these questions. Instead I asked them if they knew anything about where all our socks were hidden.
Scrub screwed up his face and thought. 'There are a few behind the false panel in Brad's old quarters... The rest of them have been spread out all over the island. The papers...'
'Yeah, they list socks? I thought so. Is there... Hex, did Pat have a map of all the hiding places?'
Hex's lighted eyes blinked, but she didn't look at me and she didn't answer.
I kicked the wall half-heartedly and wondered whether or not the dragons could talk to the zombies.
No, Om answered telephathically.
Come here, I replied.
The crowds of people in the caves were beginning to stir in greater numbers. Not very many of them were people I could put a name to. But Buzzfloyd said she believed me. She had to be able to help, somehow.
'Where is Buzzfloyd?' I asked the boys.
Scrub scratched his ear. 'Actually she was looking for you...'
'When?' I hadn't slept that long, had I? It was impossible to tell. Not bothering to wait for Scrub to answer, I strode away and hissed Buzzfloyd's name into the dark, hoping she would hear.
'Plaid,' her voice came from behind me and she put her hand on my arm. 'Plaid, I've been looking for you.'
'Scrub said. I-- Well, what are we going to do?'
'You have the things we found? The keys are to an underground vault. I'm not really supposed to know where it is, but one hears things... With access to the socks we can start all over. It'll be like the first Sock War again...' A sighing sort of joy accompanied her words. She really wanted this.
'What will it take? Where is it?'
She put a finger to her lips and cast her eyes around the caves. 'Outside,' she said.
So we made our way up to the mouth of the cave and found a place to share secrets where only the sunrise would notice us.
'The very deepest levels of the hideout, where nobody ever went because it was so quiet and dark and deathly, that's where brad locked up the socks during peacetime.' Buzzfloyd picked at the holes in her trousers as she spoke. 'When war came around again, he would divide them up. There are other hiding places. I suspect, after seeing his records--' she gestured to the papers still gripped between my cold fingers, '--some of them are with the mermaids.'
'Mynona was in league with Malory though, I know that.'
'Hmm. I should've known it would be complicated.' She blinked up at the sky. 'Ba really spoke to you.' That wasn't a question. The words were glazed with admiration.
I nodded, then turned over my shoulder to see Om, at last, winging her way over the mountain.
Buzzfloyd went on. 'I guess Moon Cat will be Captain now? Good. I hope... I hope Fred's death... and Black's death, too... I hope she'll be alright. She will be.'
'So... when?' I asked.
'Today,' Buzzfloyd answered. 'Why not? We're all here.'
'Everyone?' I gasped. 'What have you told all the pirates...?'
'Not all of the pirates forgot what they were. There's Jordan and Moon Cat and a handful of others who remembered the Catface.'
'Really?' I took a deep breath, and asked about Hermes.
Buzzfloyd shook her head, admitting she didn't know.
The sun winked above the far off ocean horizon. Om's wings beat a rush of air against our backs as she landed.
'Good morning,' she said.
Is it? I wondered.
'I don't understand why you did that, Plaid.' Buzzfloyd eyed Om nervously. 'Why take the Dragonmother's place?'
'Someone had to,' Om commented. 'We need a mother.'
I looked at her and reached out one hand to touch the end of her wing. 'I thought,' I told Buzzfloyd, 'I thought I would be able to find out. And Hex... Hex had used them so... with such purpose. I didn't know how confusing and weird and awful it would be... or what would happen. Dragonmother said things...'
I stopped. Buzzfloyd was frowning at me, a soft and sympathetic frown.
'What?' I asked.
She shook her head and left the question unanswered.
'We needed a mother,' Om repeated, whispering.
I looked away, blinking into the light of the sunrise. 'The Sock Wars. Where? Everywhere? All I've seen of these Wars has been so dull. And sockless.'
Buzzfloyd shook her head again. 'No... the really business of the Sock Wars is one-on-one and all about socks. We'll need lots of space. But not too much. The north of the island... i think. Unless...'
'If Brad's given Mynona socks, they may expect to play. We will have to get somebody to talk to Mossfoot.'
Om. We need to get to the vault, underneath all the rubble back at the hideout. All of you, help.
'Well,' I said as the dragon climbed into the air, 'What first? Do you think they'll all be willing? Not everyone believes me. And Brad... poor Brad...'
'Don't poor Brad that llama,' Buzzfloyd snapped. 'If you only knew half of what he's really done to us.'
I didn't ask. And if you find the wardrobe, I added to Om as the colors of the other dragons approached us, bring it carefully and keep it shut.
'The mermaidens said socks didn't matter to them,' I remembered. 'Or does Marcia not truly speak for them all?' Asking that question out loud made me feel a bit stupid, but they couldn't expect me to know everything, just because Ba had turned the sky plaid for me. Confusion on this island had no beginning and no end.
In response Buzzfloyd only glanced at me sideways, turning to walk back down to the cave.
'Listen carefully,' Om told me as she flew up to join the rest of them. I watched her for a moment and then turned back to Buzzfloyd, choosing not to explain what my dragons were doing.
As I followed, Buzzfloyd made a few reassuring comments. 'They don't all have to believe you. Most of them remember the good days of the Sock Wars, and the rest will be as curious as you are.'
'Should we wait,' I ventured to say, 'until we actually have the socks then?'
She thought about this. And very astutely she observed, 'That's where your great lizards are headed. To dig out the wreckage?'
I nodded, though she was walking ahead of me into the cave and wouldn't see.
'Good,' she said. 'Yes, we'll wait.'
'Is there,' I figured I would find out, 'any thing else you want them to look for? I asked them to bring Rincewind's wardrobe...'
She turned around at that, with wide eyes that glinted in the grey shadows. I expected her to give me a skeptical 'What?' or a worried 'Why?' or something. But she only studied my face, then turned slowly back and continued down into the crowded cave.
A handful of islanders had woken and were wandering out into the chill morning. The faces each squinted at me briefly, and some of them looked like people I'd seen before. But nobody said anything. Leaning against the wall I closed my eyes and let the stunning dawnlit landscapes seep from dragons' brains to mine. Marred though it was by the destruction Fred (and I, I admitted painfully) had caused, the view was still beautiful. Suddenly it seemed like there was so much more we had to do, so much that was more important than socks.
But how could I discount the words of a god?
Buzzfloyd had gone who knew where to rally who knew who. Brad had gone from slightly crazy but effectual leader to moping suicidal llama. How had that happened? Jordan had been with him... maybe he knew.
Everything had fallen apart. I hadn't had that much to rely on anyway, since I washed up on this island, but what with zombies and sporks and dragons and monkeys, what did I have left?
The sleepy faces that passed me just inside the mouth of the cave grew brighter and less sleepy as the morning went on. I was hungry. I was not alone and perhaps would never be alone, my brain wired weirdly into the dragons'. The plaid lines were fading from my eyelids, but the voice of Ba still echoed. Why me? Why me when Buzzfloyd seemed so much more prepared than I? Why me when I'd made such a horrible mess of things...
Orrdos's face appeared, and I could tell he was trying not to look at me. I tried not to look at him in return, but once he had passed I followed his tall shape out into the sun. He walked, not unexpectedly, southish. Into the forests toward the place where those giant elephant bones were being picked clean by a few very dirty seagulls and two of my dragons.
Don't, I said to them. And keep the seagulls away. At least for now. Please.
The blue and the silver lizards reluctantly lifted their jaws, their wings, and flew back to the work I had given them. They hissed and flicked their tails at the gulls. It gave me a headache to watch through their eyes the digging and burrowing and gnawing of rocks. Wiping my face with my collar, I returned to the dark, looking vaguely around for someone to talk to. I didn't want to make any plans, I didn't want to think about why I was here or there or anywhere. I wanted a plate of pie over which to chat meaninglessly with any other conscious being capable of speech.
Once my eyes got over their encounter with sunshine, I saw Cynical Youth trying to scrape the remains of the night's fire together.
'I'm glad you didn't come with us after all,' I said by way of greeting. 'It was a bit crazy.'
'You killed Dragonmother, sank the Catface, and got our hideout entirely destroyed. More than a bit crazy.'
Right. Now where's the pie? 'Er... it was Moon Cat that killed her, not me.'
'But you still ended up with the dragons, eh?'
I crouched down and tossed a few dead leaves into the embers, trying to appear helpful. 'And that was Hex's...idea... sort of. I...' But I didn't think it was worth the bother of apologizing. It didn't do any good.
'Did it work?' Cynical asked.
'Oh. Yes... Pat fixed Hex after Fred stamped on her. It did work... Zombie repellent stuff. Pretty weird. Is Hex alright do you know? She isn't... She hasn't... I haven't...' What had I wanted to see Pat about anyway? Why couldn't I remember?
'I dunno,' he answered. 'Probably.'
A shifty quiet fell down around our conversation. My stomach growled. All I had was the vicarious taste of dead magic elephant to go on. When would the pie come? Good grief, Ba, I prayed.
The little redheaded girl was skipping along the edge of the wall, her braids bouncing wildly. She'd thought the dragons might have come to save her... Her red hair reminded me of Emma. Poor islanders who get turned into strange and frightening things... llamas, zombies, dragonmothers. It didn't seem there was anything to be done about it.
I didn't notice until she switched from skipping to hopping on one foot that she was wearing a long, thin, threadbare sock, with lace around the top.
'Hey,' I beckoned. 'What's your name?'
She peered at me, a smile worming its way to her lips, before waddling over from the wall. 'Spiky.'
I smile rose and fell from my own face. I felt almost too heavy to smile. 'What do you remember?' I asked. Before too long I began to wonder if I would've asked, had I know she would begin a tangling childish ramble of her entire life on the island.
She talked about people. Buzzfloyd who had plaited her hair. Half Jack and Scrub who always pulled on her ears and laughed at her freckled face. Cynical, who reluctantly held her hand whenever she was afraid. She talked about the forest, and wondered why the only animals were seagulls, yaks, a llama, and Fred. Oh, and dragons. And mermaidens. And some pirates sometimes.
'I don't know... all the other animals don't remember. It's too quiet.'
She talked about all the things she had seen. The dirty, sloping shore and the fearsome onslaught of the ocean against it. The water scared her. When it rained her only comfort seemed to be that pie would always follow.
'I'm hungry,' she said. Her voice was soft and high, shaping all her words into tentative question-like sounds. 'Will there be pie soon? Always I can think I know when Ba will send it but he makes us wait. If you talked to him you know don't you? Did he tell you?'
I shook my head, feeling a bit lost as I gazed at her bright face and big trusting eyes. She'd put her elbow up on my knee and was leaning onto my lap, her little blue skirt getting wrinkled up in the dust and ashes.
'Ba told me only a few small things. About socks, and about the island. And about me,' I realized this last part only as I said it to the little girl. Cynical Youth's fire was resurrecting itself, crackling among the twigs and branches. He looked up at us as I turned to the light. Despite his name, I thought I could see trust in his eyes.
'He said I would find a way,' I said, more to myself than to Spiky. 'Where did you get that sock?' I asked then, looking at her intently.
She stretched her leg up and tugged on the lacy edge. Her face grinned a grin of someone who has a secret to keep. Then she hopped up, did a clumsy little twirl, and ran away.
Too stunned to call after her, I refolded my legs and scooted myself closer to the fire. The stone floor near it was warm from the larger fire there had been before.
'You believe me?' I asked Cynical Youth, fairly certain of his answer but wanting to hear him say it anyway.
Silence. We both stared at the fire, me thinking about the dragons, noticing they were finding all sorts of things from these islanders lives, he thinking about whatever he was thinking about.
Keep it safe, I told them. We'll come back for it.
There was a rustle and chatter rising in urgency at the mouth of the cave. Along the cut staircase people had abandoned their conversations and turned their faces up. Something was happening. I resisted the impulse to rush up there and see what it was. I resisted the impulse to call Om Kranti back and have her investigate for me. I resisted the impulse to yell. All I did was stand up, blink tiredly at Cynical Youth, and wait, and listen.
They were yelling Buzzfloyd's name. They were shoving each other out of the way. I chewed on my lip and wished it weren't so dark up there. After several minutes the shouting died down, the rush of people thinned themselves out, and Scrub, with his hat in his hand, stumbled down the crowded staircase and breathlessly called my name.
'Plaid... Plaid... its-- oh just go look. Hurry. He's mad. They're all mad.'
'What? Mister Scrub calm down a minute. What do they need me for?'
The boy continued to twist and mangle his hat, his breathing at last slowing to more a normal rhythm. 'The mermaidens. Buzzfloyd is trying to ... but she doesn't know what to say... she promised you'd... you have to come!'
'Come where, mister Scrub?'
'With me,' he answered, motioning with his head toward the stairs.
I rolled my eyes. I was starving. 'How far?' I insisted on knowing.
Scrub was about to answer when Jordan's unmistakable voice cut him off. 'Plaid, git yer face up 'ere before there's a blasted riot!'
I considered this command. I looked at my fingernails for a moment. And then my curiosity got the better of me and I strode up and out of the cave to find out what was so important. After squinting into the day, shoving Jordan for good measure, and reaching out to Buzzfloyd's arm, I noticed the fish person.
Unable to take my eyes from the absurd arrangement of his lower half, I didn't recognize him as Mossfoot until he spoke. His face was pink and drawn, his eyes a cold blue. He stood with the help of a large coral scepter studded with shells, and one human leg. His long, slender tail split from the leg and rested uselessly on the ground behind him, sticky and greenish and covered with grass and leaves. Buzzfloyd said my name and the man turned to me, expressionless. Before he even opened his mouth I understood the fury exuding from his weird misshapen self.
'The Plaid one,' he intoned. The sky seemed to shift, and a cloud drifted over the sun.
'Mossfoot,' I returned, nodding as graciously as I could.
'I forfeit my life coming here,' he said, with a glare directed at every single person on the hillside. 'But my people have no other. If Ba has spoken to you, as Marcia has seen, then you can help us.'
I fidgeted. Me? What has Ba done, turning the sky plaid? What has he done to me?
Mossfoot moved his staff forward and took one flopping step toward me. 'Ba has spoken to you? That much is true and has been seen aright?' His eyes, shadowed, implored me to answer. To confirm something within him that had been shaken or ruined. I nodded and blinked, feeling rather than seeing the plaid lines in my mind.
The man exhaled and reached out one cold, damp hand to mine. 'Send the rest of them away,' he said. 'As Ba spoke to you, our gods will speak to you. We know not where else to turn.'
'I-- ' I stammered, but Buzzfloyd had already herded the onlookers back to the cave. Jordan stood at the entrance, leaning casually against the rock, watching the feet of the islanders walk inside. 'Must I come alone?' I asked. 'Must these gods speak secretly?' It worried me, the burdens I had taken, the burdens I had been given. How much could I bear?
Mossfoot paused and his face hinted at great anger. 'Ba trusted no one else. Therefore how can we trust them?'
'He has spoken to Orrdos,' I asserted. But I knew he was technically right. I couldn't trust anyone. Jordan looked up, his face a carefully constructed portrait of just the right amount of disinterestedness. I couldn't trust anyone. Not Jordan, not Orrdos, not even Buzzfloyd, yet.
But I didn't want to be alone for this. I didn't want another tide of disbelief thrown at me when I brought further tidings from beyond normality.
'Let me bring the little girl,' I begged. 'She is so young. How can you not trust innocence?' This final comment was manipulative and I knew it, but it worked and Mossfoot softened. 'Jordan, will you fetch her? Spiky, the redheaded girl. Please? Quickly.'
With an uncertain glance, he did so. They returned, Spiky in his scrawny pirate arms, kicking and squirming until she saw me and the half human fish. Her wide eyes--green, I noticed--glinted as she gaped at Mossfoot. Jordan set her down and she immediately put the pirate between her and the monster.
'Spiky,' I coaxed. 'There's something I want you to see.'
'You and I,' I smiled, somewhat nervously. 'And Mossfoot. Do we have to go far, Mossfoot?'
'I cannot,' he said. 'But I will take you as far as the mountain.'
'The dragons could take us. Wherever you want.'
Mossfoots face collapsed into an expression of horror. 'What things we have not seen! What ruin has been hung over our heads! The dragons now answer to you?'
'They do,' I admitted, feeling somewhat ashamed.
'Then of course we must make use of them. And their tribute must be paid, even if in vain before the destruction of all mer-kind.'
I took Spiky's hand and distracted myself from the shock of Mossfoot's wailings by asking Om Kranti if there were any of my firelizards available for carrying three people over the mountain.
'What tribute?' I asked. 'Is it this serious? What's happening to you?' The mermaidens had been so thoroughly aloof when I had met them. That they were so worried affected me. Mossfoot's concern was catching.
The merperson's knuckles were turning a deep purple, so tightly were they gripped around his scepter. A strong young scarlet dragon sped over the trees and landed next to us, speaking eager obedience to me and laying her head gently along the grass in anticipation of passengers. Mossfoot began to drag himself to her, breathing heavily, his face still a symbol of grief.
'Jordan, tell them not to worry. And make sure Buzzfloyd doesn't... rush things...' Spiky had wrapped herself around my leg, but I sensed more surprise and wonder in her small body than fear.
'Aye,' Jordan said, his eyes twitching with questions, his hands tucked into pockets. 'An' watch yersef,' he added. 'Trouble or no, mermaidens be reckless creatures.'
Mossfoot and Spiky both were trembling dreadfully while the dragon was in the air. The merman would not tell me anything more about where we were going until the crater of Mount Garner winked at us from beneath its smoke. 'You want to go down here?' I asked. 'Or should we continue to the lagoon?'
He only gazed at the mountain in silence, almost hungrily.
'What tribute did you mean?' I pressed him, as we flew on. The waterfall glinted below us, thrilling me with the great freedom there was in being able to fly. 'Since when have the dragons owed tribute to mermaidens?'
We do not, the dragon beneath me instructed. You do. Her name was Jaccairn and I began throwing questions at her as I took a deep breath and eyed Mossfoot suspiciously.
'Marcia will explain, if you prove yourself,' he said breathlessly. 'I have no time, and this is not the place.'
The mermaidens and the dragons covenant, Jaccairn told me, to honor the holy things of the island. They pay tribute to us as well, when they die. It is part of the cycle of this place. It is the only reason we can stay here.
This vaguely made sense, but I couldn't help feeling that I'd gotten in over my head with this. It was too late to go back. Leaning back on my hands, I scanned the clouds in the sky and listened to Spiky's intermittent comments about their shapes. Where is the pie? I wondered. The morning was nearly gone.
We circled around as we dropped lower over the south of the island. The sun dappled the smoke from the volcano into soft, expansive dreams, the cliffs faced solidly east and ignored us, while the music of the waterfall grew louder and louder. Unlike the zombie river, the mermaiden's was clear and bright and three times taller. Jaccairn flew straight through it. Suddenly we were heavily drenched with frightfully cold water. Spiky screeched and gasped and dug her little fingers into my arm.
There was plenty of room behind the falls for the three of us and the dragon. She perched herself on a narrow ledge. Trusting the water was deep enough, since Mossfoot had thrown himself into it seconds before, I gave my coat to Jaccairn to hold, took Spiky's hand and assured her we would not drown. She wouldn't have jumped if I hadn't, and when we'd both resurfaced she shouted angrily at me. But we were both alright, if impossibly wet, and we swam to a rock and took deep, happy breaths in the roaring silence of the seaweedy cavern. Mossfoot had disappeared.
'Ew, ew,' Spiky muttered. 'It smells very weird in here.'
'Hello?' I called. 'Marcia? Mynona?'
Pie, pie, pie. It's all about the pie with you isn't it? Well we want more PI, with added extra tribute story.
to where you are
Jaccairn scratched her nose against the rocks, dislodging a few long strings of seaweed. All three of us waited. Spiky and I were cold, and I asked the dragon to come down to us and let us huddle next to her hot scales. One side of my coat was almost sort of dryish when Mossfoot's head emerged from the water.
'You will have to come into the karst,' he said. 'It isn't far, but you will have to swim. And there will be no room for the dragon.'
'Will you be okay, Spiky? Is this water like the ocean?' I asked Mossfoot. 'Is it dangerous?'
Mossfoot smiled the kindest smile I had ever seen on his face. 'No,' he told us. 'The spring the river flows from is sweet and harmless. Nevertheless, don't swallow too much of it.'
I took Spiky by the shoulders and promised her I wouldn't lose her. I told her she was exceptionally brave. I hoped that everything Mossfoot so desperately needed to show us would be worth it.
'You may hold my tail,' he offered,' lifting the limp fins just barely above the surface. Wrapping my fingers around the slippery base of it, and my other arm around Spiky, I gave Jaccairn the order to wait for us and then nodded our readiness to the merman. We slid swiftly beneath the dark lagoon, deeper and deeper, and then up again until the cave opened up again into a long, narrow cavern lit only by a few glowing glass spheres. I remembered Pat telling me that this place had been off limits.
Little Spiky climbed over my shoulder and put her arms around my neck. She was murmuring something into my hair. 'Shh, we're alright. We're just fine.' Mossfoot had pulled his tail away and turned to beckon us further. It was hard to follow with the girl hanging onto me, but we managed to keep up.
The rest of the mermaidens were waiting for us. Mazekin and Marcia were curled around two of the glass spheres, shivering noticeably. Mclaren was stretched out along a great flat rock, with his head hanging off into the water. Mynona watched us from an alcove higher up in the wall, one hand gripping another of the glass balls in her lap.
Mossfoot spoke softly, announcing our arrival. Only Marcia stirred, looking up tiredly and sighing as she stretched one arm above her head.
'You see,' Mossfoot turned to me again, 'we are in dire straights. Buzzfloyd has told us the Words have vanished; it is the only explanation we have.'
'Have for what?' I asked.
Thank you Plaid. I've always wanted to be a dragon :biggrin:.
Mynona began to hum.
'For this... this blindness that has stricken us. Nothing his horrible has ever happened to merkind, not since the beginning of time.' Mossfoot clung to the rock next to Marcia. I imagined it wasn't very easy for him to swim, with one human leg and one thin tail. But then, what did I know about being a merperson?
'And I... I'm supposed to help?'
Marcia sighed. Mazekin rolled over and took up the song Mynona had begun. The strange music rippled through the cavern, echoing in every smooth hole of the walls.
'We don't expect much,' Marcia said softly.
'But Marcia,' Mossfoot leaned close to the queen. 'She has taken Dragonmother. One of them brought us here.'
The muscles in her black tail tightened; Marcia bit her lip and her pale eyelids fluttered in my direction. 'The tribute,' she said. 'But what use will it be?'
I was getting impatient with all this allusion. 'What do I have to do?' I demanded as loudly as I dared. 'Just explain it, please?'
'The dragons and we share the burden of this island,' Marcia explained, lifting her body from the rocks. 'It is an ancient agreement... and without it the island suffers. Mount Garner is no doubt restless already.'
I wish I had known this. 'And?'
'When I die,' Marcia went on, 'the dragons will consume my body and inherit the swiftness and wisdom and memories of my soul. They will never die so long as the covenant is kept. And when the Dragonmother dies, her chosen successor must bring us one stone from each of the islands in this ocean of forgetfulness.'
I simply stared, imagining Marcia being eaten the way Fred had been. The voices of Om and Jaccairn in my head substantiated the whole idea. That indeed was the way things worked on this island. Immortal dragons, lazy mermaidens...
'When?' I wondered. 'How long?'
'Do I get to come?' Spiky asked.
Marcia just shook her head sadly, blinking a few shining tears. Mazekin flicked a pebble at Mclaren, who jerked and flung water all over the place with his hair.
'Why you...' he growled, twisting his tail into the water and shoveling more water into Mazekin's face.
'Stop!' Mossfoot shouted. 'This is not the time.'
Mclaren shuddered. 'Don't talk to me about time,' he said.
'Listen,' I interrupted. 'I have more than you merpeople to worry about. Are you going to tell me what and how I have to do this thing? Or are you just going to mope around in the dark?'
Mynona stopped humming.
Marcia held up the round glass stone she had been curled around. 'The stones,' she said, 'like this. They aren't easy to find. But we need them. Used to need them...'
'We've lost our sight,' Mclaren sighed. 'I can't read the histories of people like I used to. Mazekin cannot follow their wishes.'
'Even the Queen of the mermaidens,' Marcia whispered. 'Even I cannot see anything beyond what my own eyes take in.'
Oh. This information sunk in slowly, reminding me of all the mysteries I had yet to figure out.
'But--' I said.
'The stones we use to guide our visions, but without the power within us, what good are they?' Marcia's hands gripped the round ball tightly and then released it, letting it drop to the ground and slip off into the water.
'Well what happened?' I asked. 'The Words... Really?'
'What else? We have lived on this island for eons. All our lives. And nothing has blinded us this way.' Marcia was weeping as Mossfoot stroked her arm.
The legged merman coughed and looked back at me. 'It is,' he explained, 'up to you how and when you complete the tribute. Although... we have our doubts at this point... it would not be unappreciated. Your dragons will remember the way. And if... if you must contact us... the dolphins.'
'I'm not sure why...'
'Oooh, dolphins,' Spiky murmured.
'I'm not sure why... Ow, don't do that.' The little girl had tugged on my hair rather hard.
'Before you go, however,' Mossfoot went on, 'tell us what you have heard about the fulgurite spork.'
'The spork?' Who had told them about that? 'The Doormen used it... and then Trollmother. I don't know where she found the blood of a child. Unless...' I reached up to Spiky's hand and held it. 'But Trollmother is now dead. What does this have to do with anything?'
'You must have seen the spork has powers also,' Mclaren said. 'You must know more than you appear to.'
I glared at him and his messy wet face. 'What will happen,' I said carefully, 'if the tribute is not kept?' I asked the dragons as much as the merfolk.
The answer was death. And more weeping from Marcia, once proud queen of these fishpeople. I bit my lip and fingered one of the buttons on my shirt. Thinking about Buzzfloyd and the socks, the pirates and the llama and the island, I closed my eyes, still holding Spiky's small hand, and listened.
The Sock Wars should continue, Ba had said. They could not continue if the island were dying. It was too much. How was I supposed to care about everything all at once?
'Take us back,' I said. 'I will pay this tribute if I can.' Tempted though I was to commiserate with them on the loss of their sight and the pain of their cold isolated lives here I couldn't say those things. I perhaps owed a debt to the mermaidens, but I was not one of them.
But the mermaidens insisted on knowing more. What Ba had said to me, why he had come, what had happened to the sky. They asked questions that reached further back than I had any power to remember. What I had seen of the island. What I had seen of the Catface. I gave clipped and impatient answers. Did they imagine I could find some solution to their pathetic blindness? Not everyone is used to seeing so far or so much. They were just like any other person now.
The dragons had told me, in the shadows and background of my words with the merfolk, that for endless generations the tribute had been paid, and the lives of the mermaiden royalty had given power and immortality to the dragons. It was how both races lived above the sweat and blood and dirt of the island.
I, for myself, wanted to see the islands beyond this one. Now I had to ask myself if I really needed this tribute thing for an excuse to fly away. But at any rate, I had it. Buzzfloyd would have to understand.
Spiky tugged on my hair again. This time Mclaren led us back to the outer lagoon. The others remained in the karst and sang a prayerful, haunting set of melodies, all intertwining and slippery.
'It may not matter in the slightest whether you return or not.' Mclaren tossed these words over his shoulder just before he dived away.
Spiky and I swam over to the rocks were Jaccairn was waiting. Just as I was lifting the little girl up, the entire lagoon rippled and Spiky screamed a long and terrifying scream. Even the dragon jumped at the sound of it, tucking her head under one wing.
Steadying myself against the rock, I followed the child's gaze to the backside of the waterfall. Among the torrents of water was the image of a giant, looking down on us with a familiarly stern look. 'Holy unspeakable ...' the unfinished curse escaped my mouth in a whisper.
The vision didn't speak. She only cast her great blue eyes over the three of us and frowned. 'You are not merkind. Why have you come here?'
I tried to breath normally, but this was... this was... she was a humongous mermaiden goddess, just suspended there in the rush of endless water. Spiky's scream was petering out, and I lifted myself up to be with her and hopefully make her be quiet. My hand over her mouth muffled her panic for a moment. 'Just watch,' I said. 'Shh, and watch.' Jaccairn brought out her face to listen as well, but prostrated herself as flat as she could on the craggy wet rock.
'Mossfoot was sent for me,' I said to the apparition, keeping my head bowed a little as a cue from my lowly dragon. 'They thought I could help them.'
'But you did not summon me. You could not.'
I shook my head in humble agreement.
The goddess's eyes flashed. 'Ba has spoken to you.'
'And he has called you to continue the great conflict of this island. Why?'
This question frightened me. 'I don't know why.'
'And you propose to use the dragons in this cause? Is this wise?'
I couldn't answer this. I just stared, feeling each question tear me apart. I didn't know anything.
'They have sent you for the tribute. How long do you plan to postpone the work of Ba? Know you not of his tremendous wrath?'
The scepter in her hand, which was quite similar to the one Mossfoot had carried, flickered for a moment and seemed to sprout tines. The thunderspork. I shivered.
'I didn't know the mermaidens were loyal to Ba. The dragons, aren't. Not really.'
The goddess smirked. 'Loyalty has nothing to do with it.'
'They said you would speak to me because Ba had. They're very worried...'
She narrowed her eyes and nodded. 'They cannot see. A door has been closed somewhere... what did you do?'
I cowered under the force of her glare, searching within myself of some guilty memory. Nothing connected. No words came to my defense. I couldn't remember.
'The island is changing,' she went on. 'It is full of hunger.'
She was right. It had been days, it seemed, since that pecan pie. My dragons were taking turns hunting yaks in the north, still clearing dirt and debris from the headquarters. Fred's barren corpse was a monument now for restless seagulls.
'What happened? What can we do? Ba told me the Sock Wars should continue. What do you have to say?' This was bold of me, but the goddess did not become angry.
'Take up your socks, land-girl. Take of this island and go to fulfill the tribute. Garner will be pleased.' She nodded again, somewhat thoughtfully. 'I will comfort my merfolk, though I suppose they will never be content with blindness.'
'Is that all? How will I know which stones to bring? What if the--' but she disappeared, sinking down into the lagoon. Jaccairn started coughing a stuttery roar of a cough. Spiky's little hand tremblingly reached out to mine and clenched itself around it.
I just sat there for a moment that seemed longer than it was. And then the dragon took us both onto her shoulders and we flew back over the mountain to the cave.
Does anyone have this collected in a text or word file?
i do. where do you want it sent?
I've PMed you my email address.
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