“You poor wyvern, why did he have to name you Pukoo. What, you like that name,” said Vlux.
“I think Pukoo is a great name,” said Thramuny.
“Weren’t you going to tell me the story of why you don’t have a wyvern.”
“Oh yes, you see in my tribe, when you become of age, we go through the soulmating ritual with a wyvern from the great dragon. The wyvern chosen for me to soulmate with, happened to be afflicted by a chimera worm. Once the ritual was complete, the wyvern dropped dead and Eio rose from the corpse.”
“So everyone else gets to soulmate with these awesome wyverns, and you ended up with Eio. You didn’t just pull the short straw; you got a limp noodle. Weren’t you mad, weren’t you embarrassed, I know I would have been?”
“Yes, I was all of those things and more. I was the best and the brightest; I showed the most promise. Everyone looked to me to do great things. That day devastated me, I hated everyone, I hated myself, and most of all I hated Eio. Where everyone once praised me, they mocked me. They said I was bad luck, a curse, a worm.”
“But everyone seemed to revere you back there. And you and Eio get along great.”
“I had to work hard to earn their respect. Eio is not strong like the wyvern, but he is much more versatile. With his invisibility we were the only team that could use stealth, and take out leaders, or thwart possible raids. I started to become known as Thramuny the Breeze.”
“So working together, you two were able to make a name for yourselves. That’s real pukoo and all, but I’d still want a dragon. No, I wasn’t talking to you. I was just using the word. We need to make up a better name for you.”
“I wouldn’t trade Eio, I consider myself very fortunate to have him. He is much more capable than you realize.”
“Why don’t we call you Draco, or Bahamut, or Ifrit, or… What, those are cool names. I can’t believe you’d rather be called Pukoo, sounds like something I hacked up.”
“You really hate being called cute.”
“Everyone always called me ‘cute little Vluxcerin,’ and treated me like a fragile doll, and I hated it. This is what I always wanted to do, explore, travel, see the world. They told me I didn’t have long to live. My sister showed me the outside world when no one else would. After I got that taste, I wanted more. She regrets doing that, but I thank her for it. Not out loud of course, and don’t you dare tell her I said that.” A low ominous sound quaked the air. “Uh... Thramuny, what is that?”
“Sounds like some kind of insect.”
“Thramuny it’s getting louder, how big are the insects here?”
“Well, to me their normal, to you they are like jumbo gargantuan.”
“I see them they’re humongous ginormous, Pukoo their as big as you, quick go up.”
They soared higher into the twilight sky as the black and yellow insects closed in on them. Vlux swung Splinter flinging thorns, then detonating them. More insects swarmed in. Kiliyi jumped from Vlux’s head onto an ascending bug. She attached her gold silk to it and leaped from bug to bug applying her gold silk as she went down.
“We cannot go much higher,” said Thramuny.
“Kiliyi has an idea, make yourself as streamlined as possible. Pukoo your move.”
Thramuny and Vlux pressed themselves against Pukoo’s back as he tilted up vertically and rolled back to face the oncoming swarm. He let out a jet of flame that set several bugs alight. The gold thread Kiliyi wove carried the flame through their ranks. Pukoo then rolled to avoid the burning bugs and nosedived into the jungle. The remaining insects following. Pukoo skillfully maneuvered on the ground and through the trees. Ahead Kiliyi made a hasty web but left an opening just big enough for Pukoo to get through.
“You got this Pukoo,” said Vlux.
He jumped for the opening, flattening his wings making himself as thin as possible, Thramuny and Vlux doing the same. They narrowly corkscrewed through the hole. Once they cleared it, Kiliyi dropped the flap and jumped on his tail. They took off straight into the sky as much of the swarm got trapped in the web. A dense flock of big black birds hovered above, drawn by the smell of cooked bugs. The team on a collision course with them. Pukoo lifted his head, just before he body slammed against a bird, knocking everyone off. Thramuny maneuvered herself onto the back of another bird. She looked around to see where the others ended up. The birds started cawing in unison and flew to the trapped insects. Landing, they found the ground littered with the delectable seared bodies. The birds dined lavishly on the finely prepared buffet. Paying Thramuny no mind as she slid off the bird's back and walked around to find her friends. Perched atop a tall bird was the tiny form of Vlux with Kiliyi on her head.
“Good, you’re safe. I just happened to land on the loudest bird, and I told him we caught and cooked some bugs for them already. Long as you feed them, they aren’t too difficult to get along with,” said Vlux.
“Where is Pukoo,” said Thramuny.
“Let’s look for him.”
As they began their search, they heard panicked cawing amongst the birds, followed by ferocious growls. A pack of dire wolves ambushed them, from all sides. They tore through the preoccupied birds, dark feathers littering the forest floors. The birds tried to fly away, but the wolves had amazing jumping ability and snatched them of the sky.
“Oh, come on! Guess I gotta use this.”
Vlux stuck her sword in the ground, where it grew rapidly. The blade became roots as the handle became thorny branches. They reached out quick as a whip in all directions, grabbing and crushing the wolves. The green vines turned brown and petrified in place. The birds returned to peck at the wolves. A second later, Pukoo landed at their location unharmed and eager to move on.
“Let’s hurry Vlux before something else comes.”
“Hang on I have to wait for my sword to come back.”
From the center of the newly formed tree a flower grew and blossomed, Splinter emerged from its core, sleek and thornless. She drew the sword and placed it in the sheath on her hip.
“Now I’ve completely exhausted both Splinter and Home, I won’t be able to use either of them until tomorrow. I noticed you haven’t been using Boa, you already used the Anaconda form didn’t you?”
“I may have been a bit eager to use it in a fight.”
“Great, how are we supposed to continue on without our Ardin abilities. I think it would be best if we made camp.”
“This is not a safe place to camp, we must continue.”
“And what if we get attacked by another swarm of giant mosquitoes, or belly flopped by birds, wolves jump out of nowhere and snatch us out of the sky? We may be in way over our heads. Honestly, we should head back to your village, recharge our weapons, get some sleep, and get some assistance. Has Eio found Ang and Dungii yet? If we’re having this much trouble, then I cringe to think what those two are going through.”
“He hasn’t found them yet. If he was here, this would be much easier. We could travel through the forest silent and unseen. ”
“I can cast a sensory dampening spell. The only issue with illusion type magic is you have to keep chanting to maintain it.”
“Then that will be our way to travel there without getting attacked again, we are not far away.”
“But we still don’t have our weapons.”
“If you would like to go back, I will not blame you. I am sure I can make it on my own.”
“You’re not a very convincing liar. You know if you try to go alone, you’ll end up dead. But you also know I won’t abandon you. Alright, we’ll take things slow I’ll begin the chant that will make us harder to detect until we get to the settlement.”
“Thank you Vlux, you’re my friend with benefits.”
“Um... no I’m not. We’ll talk about that later, c’mon let’s get going.”
They left the gruesome feast and soared under the guise of Vlux’s spell until they reached the outskirts Oskien territory. The city mirrored Thramuny’s home. Where the Pyoxien used gold, the Oskien used silver. Where there would be statues of dragons, they had tigers. They perched high in a tall tree overlooking the crumbling city. The smell of disease and death wafting through the air.
“This is much worse than I thought,” said Thramuny. “I will have to go down there alone. If I’m not back by sunrise, please fly back and tell the others what happened.”
“You’re not going down there by yourself. Kiliyi is going with you. She’s something of an expert at espionage. She also has an idea but needs a moment to get ready.”
Thramuny smiled. “alright I’ll wait for Kiliyi.”
Kiliyi hide behind some leaves, after a few minute she emerged with a newly animated exoskeleton.
“Here’s how this is going to work, Kiliyi will assist you in the infiltration. She can relay information to me through this exoskeleton.” Vlux takes out a small acorn, with a clip attached to it. “This is an ACORN.”
“Yes, I know what an acorn is.”
“No, I mean it’s an Acoustic, Communication, Ossicle, Reception, Network. My team used them to communicate over a distance. I could only grab this pair, wear it in your hair, and I can whisper to you from here.”
“This will be just like having Eio with me.”
“Oh, and Pukoo says he has excellent vision, so if he sees something I can relay that to you. Basically, you’re not doing this alone we got your back.”
“You’re all very kind. Kiliyi let’s make haste.”
Vlux with the exoskeleton on her head and Pukoo took a position higher in the tree, as Thramuny and Kiliyi climbed down and quietly skulked into the city, using the surrounding vegetation as cover. Armed men patrolled the streets wearing their fang blades, a pair of long thin curved daggers, and companion tigers by their side. They placed hastily constructed watch towers all around. Thramuny spotted the building she needed to enter.
“Thramuny, can you hear me, how are you?” Came Vlux’s voice from the ACORN in her hair.
“Yes, it’s like you’re next to me.”
“Good, so do you know where your informant is?”
“Yes, do you see the building with the purple roof, that’s his house.”
“Well, I hope he’s home. There seems to be an awful lot of warriors patrolling his place, who is this guy?”
“A scholar and a doctor. He’s constantly researching new ways to use Imdrina and survive in these harsh lands. Many think he’s eccentric.”
“I mean look at that house, it has wispy decor, oddly shaped windows, colors that clash, and what is that a statue of?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Fair enough, anyway the guards aren’t looking cross the street now.”
She tiptoed onto the stone pavement and slipped into the alleyway, where two guards conversed in front of the alleyway that led to the house.
“Hang on Kiliyi says she can help with this one.”
Thramuny waited in the shadows until she heard one guard say.
“Hey, what happened you alright friend. You’re usually better at holding your alco…”
Thramuny heard a thud, peeking around the corner. She saw the warriors piled on top of one another, Kiliyi on the ground next to them.
“Kiliyi says to grab that jug and place it next to them, looks like they just passed out drunk. She can make adjustments to her venom; they’ll wake up with a nasty hangover.”
“Good thinking Kiliyi you’ve done this before haven’t you?” Asked Thramuny, Kiliyi nodded.
“Security on this side is pretty lax, just keep going forward, then make a right, then left and you’ll be on the side of the purple building, it doesn’t look guarded.”
She proceeded as instructed through the dark streets soon arriving at the side of the building. She climbed over the wall onto the elevated platform and proceeded around to the back of the house. Before turning the corner, she heard an alarming, squeaky growl. Pivoting she saw the tiny kitten. She gripped the staff. If it roared, she would have to silence it fast.
“Wait, Thramuny you can’t hurt the kitten let me try something.”
“Please hurry, I don’t want to hurt the kitten.”
Kiliyi positioned herself on the wall above the kitten. Vlux focused her illusion magic through the exoskeleton, then through Kiliyi. Using her eyes, Kiliyi could project the image of a ball before the kitten. She rolled her eyes, which flung the ball out and over the wall, the kitten bounding after it.
“Wow that actually worked,” said Vlux.
“Very impressive, now do you see a way I can get in.”
“There is a crescent-shaped opening on top, you might be able to squeeze through it.”
She nimbly climbed the roof where she saw the opening. Sliding on her back she slipped through the hole and spryly landed on all fours. Slowly, she lifted her head to meet the yellow, bloodshot eyes of a fanged monster.