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A note from Cadagan

In this episode of Dragons Per Minute...

Fucking shitting hell. fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

Alright, I wrote that hours ago, I’ve calmed down, I can be relaxed. It’s not all bad. First of all, that Alexandria bitch messed with your head, you now know, which pisses me you off. Made a fool out of you in front of everyone. Pritchard still doesn’t know, so there’s that at least.

The problem is how I know. The Enkili. Two of them I think? Floaty pompous alien assholes.

Okay I'm calm, but for real. Third time’s the charm, I can get this down.

It’s been a busy few days, mostly just scrambling to find something dragon related. You sent everyone throughout Oblissa looking for rumours, into the taverns, the docks, so forth. May found you a lead, one down south, making trouble. Great. Need to ask her exactly where she got it. You set off over there with some fresh barrels, a few scavenged supplies, and no contracts at all. Whatever.

Three days travel to get there and set camp up, then this morning you’d been going to head into town, rouse up some interest in getting the scaly beast ousted. Turned out those ponce ‘Dragon Hunters’ had beaten you to it. At least a batch you hadn’t met, this time. Didn’t seem to recognize you. Oh well, you thought, not a big deal. You’ll be getting paid plenty when you get the batch back to Oblissa. So, feeling wistful and with plenty of time to spare you take a little jaunt down to look at the spot where the Dragon was meant to be roosting. Everyone had been bothering you, low moral for some reason, so you went alone to get some air, and some fucking privacy. Maybe that was your idea, I don’t know.

So this lake, north end, a little collection of cliffs. Supposedly the beast had all but melted a hole into the cliffside, made a nice home for itself. Weird behaviour for dragons, you should have thought, but no, no, nice and easy dragon, what a find. You parked the wagon off the side of a nearby road and walked the mile or so to a different outlook, an especially sharp point over the water the nice innkeeper had suggested if I wanted to sight-see.

Well. This particular overhang view Myria’s handcrafted lake was plenty nice. A few sparse flowers, healthy tall grass, a strong southern breeze with decent warmth. Real calming. You approached the tip and cast your eyes along the edge of the lake, enjoying the sight of water without the stink of salt, brine and alcohol, until you found the rather oversized wound in the rock, down in a curve of the cliff face. Melted rock had solidified in strands and streams, frozen half-way into the lake. Easily thirty feet across, it was, and deep as hell. Impressive enough, and, you finally considered upon already stepping into the trap, something a Dragon would never bother with.

Dragons much prefer cramped spaces. Something about their size makes you misunderestimate their agility, and the fact that they can all but fold in on themselves and reverse direction in a tunnel barely wider than their ribcage. That and their fire in small spaces makes narrow, craggy caves a Dragon’s ideal home. Part of what makes them such a pain in the arse to sneak up on. That massive, almost wasteful gash into the rock wasn’t the size or shape a Dragon would enjoy even if they found it, much less craft it that way.

A good few minutes you stood there utterly baffled, worried that you’d wasted your time on fake rumours. Then a star shaped hole, I, it sort of… squeached into existence in front of you. There really is no better word, like a slug slipping out from a hole out of nothing, spreading and multiplying until a black, speckled star-fish was just floating there, off the cliff in front of you.

You took off your hat, eyes fixed on that spot and just waited for a moment. It wasn’t moving much. Its edges quivered a little. After a moment you gesticulated vainly, had to restart the words a couple times.

“Good morning?”

“Agreed. My brother is behind you. Goodbye. Forgive us.”

Ahah, yeah. Quite a normal voice it had, for a floating starfish. Sort of unidentifiable though. You risked a glance behind you, found nothing similar and gripped your hand tight with, you’ll admit, a decent helping of fear. For once you’ll recount the conversation as best you can. You think this is going to haunt you for the rest of your life, so best to keep a record of whatever the fuck happened.

“Of course. Forgiven!” you said with a chuckle. “I’ll be going now.”

“Understandable, considering your state. We hold no enmity to you, but you have been meddled with. While this turmoil unfolds we would have no misunderstandings. It will cause pain, but you will have no memory. Are you ready?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, so I’ll go.”

“I am aware of who you are. Nevertheless, it is this or you and your company die, including this ‘Raufa’.”

Your breath caught a little bit, and you stopped your panicking and started thinking. You took one step to the side and saw the speckling on the starfish change somewhat. Sort of like… Like looking through a window into the night sky. There’s only one type of thing that could be that weird. An Enkili. You just had to figure out which one. Knowing you might well be signing your death warrant you replaced your hat, took a firm tone and spoke.

“What did you say about Raufa?”

The thing paused its strange miniscule movements, which after a moment seemed to reverse. Though after a few seconds you could hardly tell the difference at all. It was all the same squiddy-wriggle nonsense to you.

“Nothing, yet. Listen, your mind has been altered. We suggest a mending. My brother…” It said a word there, but you don’t remember what it was. “... will undo the machinations of the Thinker. Her webs bind tighter even than your Lich might suppose. By this resolution, all things shall remain equal.”

“A mending? What? You don’t get to just threaten me and mine and get away with it. I don’t care what you are, you space sphincter, I’m a world class business entrepreneur, I own the Dragon Piss Merchants. I don’t take threats kindly!”

”We will not let you leave, until our conversation is through. I come to offer aid, without the burden of recompense. I am O’n O’tka, of the Enkili. You have been tricked by the Alexandria.”

”Yeah, I-” You took a second to remember the name, connect it meaningfully to the weird hole-thing. O’n O’tka. The Time Enkili. That fucking thing - you were looking through it, at a time in the future, or past, or something. Either way, it matched descriptions.. That’s when you started piecing things together, though even in writing you still don’t really understand what the hell happened.

“Fuck’s sake. Now look, this all seems extremely important - I mean, I have a fucking Enkili here infront of me, just chatting away, but I really don’t know what you’re saying! I don’t want your help. Miss Alexandria didn’t do anything bad to me, she was very pleasant. I quite liked her, actually.”

”We appreciate your understanding, but you must stay and listen. It is a pleasure to meet you, Oskar Sleeman Miles.”

You sighed, glanced behind again, just to be sure, and stepped backwards. This was going no where quickly, and you wanted to be gone from it.

“Yeah, except I have listened, you’re not listening to me, but whatever. Do whatever you’re going to do - it’s not like I can stop you - but please, just let me leave.”

“Good morning. Please remain calm.”

A deep, undulating quiver rippled out through its space-arms, the constellations in its form shifting. Then it un-grew itself. You took your hat off, just to have something to hold to yourself. You nodded to the empty space in front of you, feeling a little woozy.

“Yeah, good. Great talk. Thanks for not hurting me." You rubbed at your forehead. "I need to become an alcoholic or something. This is too much.”

Then you turned around. Something was behind you.

Your head turned and you awoke with a sore, parched throat and an unbelievable migraine, stretched out face-down on the grass. You coughed, tried to moisten your mouth and rose. Throat felt like you’d swallowed glass. As you lifted your head, you saw something dash into the sky. You tried to follow it, but your eyes were so blurred over with pain and disorientation you could hardly manage a single glance upward at the sky which, not incidentally, had shifted several hours into the afternoon in the space of an instant. More time malarky, of course.

Then, to top of the upsetting weirdness of that day you noticed, just sort of sitting there, idly, in the forefront of your mind was that there was indeed a dragon nearby, a few miles south, sorry for the inconvenience, have a good day. A thought like any other, in your minds just as much as the rest, baffled as they were. It kept repeating at you. There is a dragon nearby, a few miles south, sorry for the inconvenience, have a good day. Unpleasant.

And speaking of unpleasant, as you hauled your weak, unwieldy body up towards your wagon you wondered desperately, trying to understand what had happened to you. Time wankery, probably. Or something else. It did seem quite a lot like those horror stories of Thinkers disappearing folks for a few days, plopping them out with no memory and a changed disposition. And just like that you came upon your memories of your trip to the Truestone fort in Oblissa, and found a *very* different experience than you'd thought, a surprising series of events which spun out before you as you kept one eye closed against the pain, navigating as best you could.

Ass on the wooden seat, head in your hands, this new version flickered through your minds eye. That Miss Alexandria had in fact not spoken a word to you or Pritchard, had barely even looked at you. You’d both stood there, talking to some phantom of her creation, at least until she plucked out Stefan's name from your mind, in which case that absurd scene she'd forced your addled brain into thinking was some romantic coming on was in fact her actually threatening you! And nearly strangling you! Rude!

Frankly you'd rather not go over it too much. It's rather embarrassing. Driving the cart was a mess, what with the unbelievable pain. Aches all over, though nothing compared to the agony in your skull, except perhaps for the raw, salted flesh that now seemed to compose your throat.

Your arrival, shortly after the serving of the evening meal was quite the shock. People actually crowded around, helped you down, appeared concerned, bothered to ask if you were alright. A little alarming in and of itself. You must have looked quite ill indeed. They guided you to your bunk, but you waved them off, ordered them to pack up and start heading south, definitely south. Instead you clambered into Stefan's wagon, shutting the door behind you.

You stood there, in the dark dank gloom, glad for the silence for a moment, one arm holding you up against a desk, the other over your eyes, defending them even against few candles within.

"Yes, Oskar?" Stefan asked from his end, standing and reading as usual. "Can I help you? What was that hassle outside about?"

"You… shut up." You limped to one end of the wagon,, dug into a closet where you knew he kept some sort of cloth, took out a bundle and threw it on the ground. "We're gonna have words, you and I. But... first." You lowered yourself to the ground, threw a length of fabric over your eyes. "First I…"

You might have finished that thought. You don't really remember.

Some time later you found yourself sitting up, not sure how you got there. Stefan sat, legs crossed beside you. He’d taken some equipment down with him, was crushing up some fine black dust in a mortar. His mask was off, his eyeless gaze fixed wildly, mildly on his project. At his swaying posture, you realized the wagon was rolling along, his skeletal torso perfectly adjusting to maintain balance. Show-off wanker.

“Feel better?” he asked without looking up, without opening his jaw.

“Are we there yet?” you asked, eyes struggling to focus. The exhaustion draped heavily over your skull like a blanket of stones, but you refused it, preferring awful, minimally productive time to wasteful sleep. Stefan, as a Lich, never slept, which is one of the many benefits you hoped to use upon your rebirth as a fellow skeleton.

“Are we south? Yes, we’re south, but there is always more south to be.” His skeletal digits raised the pestle to his eye, poked at the fine dust and watched it fall back into the bowl. “What happened, Oskar?”

“Enkili.” You shuffled up a bit better to relief your aching back, leaned forward onto your knees. “Time one, I think O’n… Whatever, and-”

“O’n O’tka.”

“Yeah, great, thank you for your correction Stefan, now we can finally continue. Getting the name right mattered so much.”

He straightened and glanced at you, tossed his hood back to reveal his bare skull, which tilted ever so slightly.

“Grouchy. Understandable. Go on.”

“O’n O’tka.” You spat the words out. “Came and chatted. I think. Frankly I’m not… Not sure what happened. Nothing it said connected, except it threatened us, Raufa especially , and talked about… Alexandria. That bitch thinker.”

“Ah. ‘bitch Thinker’ is it?” His glance slipped away in thought, before turning back to his task. “O’n O’tka views time objectively. It likely tried synchronizing itself for the span of the conversation but… ended up facing the wrong way. Go on.”

“Oh just shut up you stupid pompous know-it-all.” You pressed hard on the sides of your nose, pushing into the corners of your eyes, just wishing any one of the fifteen dozen pains and annoyances around you would stop, just for a moment. You opened your eyes. “What are you doing?” you asked, frowning at his stupid hands mixing their stupid ingredients.

“Crushing charcoal into powder.” From a pouch at his side he retrieved a stick of pitch black charcoal, dropped it into the bowl and resumed the grinding. “For the next batch. It must be extremely fine, dry and large in quantity, for its purification properties to work on the dragon urine. Busy work, Oskar. Go on.”

You let out a low whine. “You’re busy work.”

“Your wit shines through even in your worst moments. Please, go on.”

“Fine, yeah. It talked, then said goodbye, then I turned around and I…” The pain in your head flared. “Fuck. I don’t know. I saw something, I think. Then I woke up, it was a lot later, my head hurt, my throat hurt, and I knew there’s a Dragon to the south-” Sorry for the inconvenience, have a nice day. “And… And I know now that you let that Thinker trick me! She messed with my head, and you knew she would. That’s what you were talking about, when I came back. You were laughing at me!”

“I’m a Lich, Oskar,” Stefan said. “I don’t laugh.”

“You do. It’s in your tone of voice,” you said. “Like right now. Dick.”

“Well I’m glad someone managed to fix your memory,” he said, the smug cock. “Seriously, I mean it,” he said, clearly not meaning it. “I’d have done it myself if I could have,” he lied, lying.

“Sure,” you said. “I’m not forgetting this.”

“Now that you can remember it at all, I’m sure you will.”

For a moment you seriously considered kicking the bowl out of his hands, just to piss him off as much as he was pissing you off. But you had no idea if that really was charcoal, or some other expensive ingredient. It might affect your bottom line. He’d get away with it, for now.

He forced a sigh out through whatever magical hole he uses to speak, then reached up and grabbed a flask from the counter, swirled it, and handed it to me.

“What’s this?” you asked.

“It sounds like whatever happened to you was quite significant. You’ve met a few key players in this solar sport of ours, and it’s partly because of me. I offer you this in recompense. It’ll kill the pain.”

“But not me, I hope.”

“In large enough doses, of course. But so will water, alcohol, sex, all the usual necessities of life.”

“Not money,” you said, draining it. Tasted like liquid sand. You gasped after the last swallow, cringed at the taste and set the flask aside. “Money… Shit.” You burped. “Money can’t kill you ever.”

“Unless someone kills you for it.”

“Only if you’re stupid,” you said, feeling a strange wave flood over you. Not quite relieving of pain but, pushing aside. “Let’s never be stupid.”

“Of course.” Stefan stood, stowing his equipment away and wiping off his robes. “Shall I tell them to stop, so that we can reconvene? I think it’s getting late.”

“Yeah, sure.” You leaned forward, rubbing at your eyes. In those few moments your breath felt fresh in your lungs, the leaden blanket lifted from your brain and, after shivering, you felt more awake than you had in weeks. You blinked and frowned at nothing, waiting a moment to check you weren’t just dying. Nothing came, and you glanced down at the flask. “What did you give me? We should be selling this!”

“A mixture of Druid-blessed herbs. I suppose it does feel like everything we tout Dragon Piss as doing, but it would never sell. It actually works.”

You found yourself nodding along as you stood. He had a point. Then you considered who’d just uttered those words.

“Was that a joke?”

The skull nodded. “Not for you, I realize. But that’s half the fun.” He replaced his hood, slipped on thick, padded gloves and secured his faceless mask. He moved past you to the front of the cabin to bang against the wall and alert the driver. “You know, Oskar,” he said as you waited for the Wagon to slow and stop. “When I chose you for this grand endeavor, I want you to know it was not because of your expertise, your character or any sort of expectation of increased success with you on my side.”

“Ahuh.” You found and re fitted your hat onto your head. You braced for the final stop, the rattling at last at an end.

“I chose you because I felt that, with you around, things would at least be interesting. And you’ve been succeeding wonderfully.” He gripped the handle, pausing to look at you. “That’s all I want, really, in getting rid of this competition. No more rules, no more restrictions, no more supervision, no more absurd distractions like survival or fighting. Things can finally become… Interesting.”

“Wanna know what I think?” you said, rubbing away the last remnants of sleep from your eyes.

“No.”

“I think you’re a psychopath with a Sun-complex, too sad and mad to figure out that there’s already fun to be had. So, you know, you’re right about one thing.” Your spread out your arms and set off your award winning grin. “That is why I’m here. You'll be over your dreams of Solar domination in no time.”

“I’d kill you and anyone you love before any such thing ever occurs,” Stefan said in that ever mild tone of his.

“You like me too much,” you said. “You just admitted it. C’mere, partner. Time for a hug.”

Stefan opened the door and stepped out. Being in a room with him might make your hair stand on end worse than stepping into a Dragon’s Den ever had, but really he’s just a big softie. At some point, you’re sure, he’ll come around.

You followed him out, and your crew was already gathering around on the foliage-filled roadside. A loose spattering of trees, leaves luminescent in the fading sun blocked any real attempt of grasping your location, but feeling fresh and invigorated by that strange concoction you remained on the first step of the wagon, gazed down on your loyal, caring subjects and nodded.

“I’m proud of everyone here, it’s been a scary day I’m sure. Frankly I don’t much remember what I told you when I came back, but it was all true.”

“Stefan’s a boney lying fuck-stick?” Henrique asked.

“Yes indeed,” you said, and reached down to slap the top of his hood. “But never fear, we’re reconciled, and I’m feeling much better. Nothing pleasant going on here anymore! Now where are we? Pritchard? Fetch a map.”

“I have one here,” May said, holding it up and approaching. “We’ve been trying to figure out where the hell we’re meant to be heading, since you didn’t feel like telling us, Oskar.”

“That’s Bosskar to you, miss,” you said, leaning down. “Where are we?”

She spread out the map before you, rested it loosely on one hand and pointed. “Here, ish.”

You glanced at the spot indicated, a little food-grove south of a nearby fort. Your eyes drifted up, to a, featureless spot in the foothills, a handful of miles away. Your finger pointed without asking your permission.

“Dragon is there. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

If it hadn’t been for the splattering of confused faces, likely at the concept of my offering a genuine apology, you might not even have realized what you’d said.

“I- What? It’s a heartfelt apology. Don’t look at me like that. Accept it for what it is, you ungrateful sods, or you’re never getting another one.”

“So, are we going there now?” Madeline asked. In her hands rested a brass instrument, polished to a shine while she was black to the elbow, and still working. “If we’re gonna camp, Mister Oskar, it better be soon. And I’m not a sod, thank you very much.”

“Of course you aren’t, Madeline, you’re a saint.” You hopped down, clapped May and Stefan about the shoulders and walked into the group. “You’re all my wonderful, hard working crew and I’m proud to have each and every one of you with me. I’ve never felt so lucky.”

“What the fuck?” May asked.

“I gave him a stimulant,” Stefan said. “Mood swings.”

“Oh, good,” Pritchard muttered, turning to Madeline. “I was getting worried.”

“I’m not having mood swings, I’m fine. Madeline, May, Henrique, get camp set up. Pritchard, get buggered. Raufa, I want all your Dragon Milking equipment triple checked. I don’t want anything breaking mid extraction. Stefan, set me up with a batch of this stuff, it’s great. Let’s all get rested and ready, because we’ll be there my midday tomorrow and, if all goes well, by evening we’ll have barrels of product already purifying!”

Their usual lukewarm response to your enthusiasm couldn’t dampen your spirits as they set off at a solid regular walk to their various assignments, save for Stefan and Pritchard.

“I’m not giving you more,” the Skeleton-Sod said. “Remember how we were talking about lethal amounts? You’re already half way there.”

“I only meant for Raufa, of course, while we’re extracting. This sort of clear-mindedness’ll be great as she, you know, does what is required.”

“I’m sure.” he said, already half way into his door. He shut and closed the latch behind him. Pritchard stepped into the space.

“Oskar, really, I’m getting quite-” His shoulders hunched, squeezed, reset themselves and then hunched again in quick succession. “I don’t like being told to sod off! I’m getting quite sick of your mistreatment of me lately. I deserve more respect than this!”

“Hey Pritchard,” you said, stepping close. “How do you feel about Miss Alexandria?”

The man’s dour demeanor snapped in an instant. “Well she was quite pleasant of course. Don’t you remember? Lovely conversationalist.”

“Well I think she’s a nasty, snob-nosed bag of horse dung that tricked me that needs a good smacking.”

His eyes drifted away from you down to his fingernails. For a moment you felt a dash of horror, realizing how vulnerable you’d been, how vulnerable she’d left you even at the hands of your own employees. So easily left mentally inept, with just a quick subject change. Dread, that’s what you felt. A puppet on strings, and with no way you could ever see them. You’d never felt so small.

And then you realized you were free of it, and Pritchard wasn’t, and how fucking dumb he looked.

“Heh-Hah!” you chuckled, and addressed everyone around you. “I get it now. You’re all forgiven! Pritchard?” He glanced upwards. “Go polish my shoes. Miss Alexandria wanted you to.”

“Oh- I mean- I guess- Of course, if she wanted me to.” And off he waddled.

“Ahhh…” A nice breath of fresh air filled your lungs, as everything started to seem right with the world. The camp slowly settled itself around you, but awake as you were you decided to go off and write this entry. Reliving the initial events unsettled you - something about whatever happened made it all seem real even just thinking about it - but you’ve been writing all night, in between giggling at Pritchard, and the sun’s finally coming up, and you feel like you could run a mile. But, no, that’s what you have horses for.

You’re off to drain a Dragon!

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Cadagan

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