The next morning, the surface sans did not divulge anything concerning. The Gaznzulian ship touched down effortlessly in the field they had surveyed the day before. By the time the Muse of Mischief got to the community room Lelelu, Emperor Bartala, and Empress Nalau were standing in a group in front of the observation window. They were so interested in the view that they didn’t hear her come in. She just couldn’t resist – with a thought she placed herself outside the window, looking back at them and started waving.
Their shock only lasted for few seconds, but it was priceless. She came back inside.
“Soooo, have you seen anything interesting yet?” she asked from behind her friends.
“You are truly mischievous!” Emperor Bartala announced, laughing. “Well d’uh!!!!” she exclaimed. “I am the Muse of Mischief. Jeez, I thought you got that by now. Are you ready to go meet Ferocity and do some exploring?”
“Yes!” Bartala said.
“Do we need to bring anything with us?” Nalau asked.
“I don’t think so Nalau, I don’t expect to be gone for very long on this first trip. Two of your palace guards and at least one of Zri’s crew will be with you two at all times, just in case any issues should arise. And remember, those arm consoles can return you to this ship instantly. We’ll be exiting through the door in the cargo hold area, let’s go.”
Lelelu caught up with M as she walked toward the cargo hold, “Are Zri and Agent Brzko already out exploring?”
“Yes, surprisingly they didn’t wait for the ship to land. Zri let ShyUst handle the landing. Brzko wanted a chance to speak with Ferocity before we all arrive.”
As the group walked down the ramp, two palace guards and one of Zri’s crew followed them. Zri and Brzko were standing a short distance from the ramp. “Where’s Ferocity?” M asked.
Neither of them answered, they just looked up. Everyone followed the direction of their gaze. Ferocity was flying far above their heads. He was beautiful from this angle. His long jagged wings stretched wide and his forked tail extending out behind him.
Brzko projected his thoughts to Ferocity, “The others have arrived, please come down.” He could feel Ferocity’s affirmation. He immediately began to descend, landing a few steps behind Brzko. He folded his wings and stepped forward, Brzko began the introductions. Beyond hello, no one spoke.
“Bartala are you actually speechless?” M asked. “I have never known you to be at a loss for words!”
He managed to pull his gaze from Ferocity and look at M. “Yes, I think I am speechless. I have so many questions but finding out that the mythical Dragon is real? I don’t know what to say.”
“No need to say anything, we’re here to explore and Ferocity is one of us. We’ll all get to know him in time.” She could feel Ferocity’s gratitude for taking the group’s focus from him. “So what do you guys want to see first?”
“Pink River!” Bartala and Nalau said in unison, and then looked at each other and laughed.
The group took off in the direction of the Pink River.
They walked quietly for a while, taking in the perfection of the grassy field and impending forest.
Bartala broke the silence, “I noticed you don’t wear your striped stockings on Trella, is this your explorer outfit?”
His attempt to catch her off guard did not work. She was ready for this, knew it was coming. “Yes, actually. Pants and boots will make it much easier for me to throw your ugly butt into the Pink River today. Do you remember the last time we were on Trella?”
“Oh no! We were just children then, you wouldn’t dare!” “I wouldn’t trust her if I were you Bartala. She’s been known to toss more than one friend into the rivers on Trella.” Brzko teased with Ferocity walking along beside him.
M paused, and turned to look at Bartala and Nalau. They were of course stunning in their own exploration garb. Nalau was in ankle length pants that were a nice shade of beige and a white blouse. Bartala was almost identical except he was wearing long shorts. “No, I probably wouldn’t. But only because it would mess up that Londo hair of yours!”
Nalau covered her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh. It didn’t work, she let it out. “Oh Bartala, the image of you dripping wet with that hair is quite hilarious!”
Her comment left him quiet, they continued on. At the edge of the field they approached a thick forest. One of Bartala’s guards felt the need to take the lead. The forest here is made up of incredibly tall trees that look like pine trees, they have segmented branches that are covered in needles. Unlike the conifers of Earth, the needles on these trees move with the breeze. They make a slight rustling noise as they move. The forest floor is covered with small clusters of wildflowers in every color. Even though the forest seems thick, it is not dark, not the least bit intimidating.
A short distance down the trail, Nalau stopped to survey her surroundings, “Ploosnar is the most beautiful place I’ve seen but this, this is absolutely stunning. It’s so perfect that it doesn’t look real.” She looked in each direction, absorbing the beauty. The others, except for the guards, did the same, silently. After a few minutes they moved on. After ten minutes or so, they were able to see a clearing up ahead, at the edge of the forest.
The forest gives way to a small grassy area, which gives way to sandy shores. The sand is well compacted rather than being the soft kind that swallows shoes. There is a gentle slope leading from the edge of the grass to the water. The river is about four meters across with some current to it, but not so much as to make it look dangerous. The water isn’t just tinted pink – it is literally the color of cotton candy.
“Whoa! I didn’t expect the color to be this bold. I thought it might be tinted pink. Can I touch it?” Lelelu asked.
“I guess so. I did when I was young and was not hurt. Ferocity, you’ve been living here for a long time, do you know if we would find any of the waters on Trella dangerous?” M asked.
Ferocity was standing next to Brzko, not quite as detached as the guards, but certainly not comfortable yet with socializing. “I have not encountered anything indigenous to this planet that would harm you.”
Lelelu walked to the edge of the stream, knelt down cupping her hands, and scooped up some water. It was still pink in her bright blue hands. She was in awe, scooping up several more handfuls, taking in the amazing color.
Bartala and Nalau were pretty much speechless. Bartala knelt next to Lelelu and joined her in the closer inspection of the water. Nalau began walking upstream, at the water’s edge. She passed a large tree with smooth bark and deeply lobed leaves on the river bank. The trunk curved so that all of the branches lean out over the water’s surface. She paused when she got to the tree and looked out over the water. Something piqued her interest.
“Come and look at this.”
When they were standing alongside her she pointed to the opposite side of the river, “Look at that stream over there, flowing into the river, it’s bright blue and where the waters mix its lavender for just a bit before becoming pink.”
“I see, it’s beautiful isn’t it. It’s like a fairytale.” M said. “It’s even more beautiful than I remember,” Brzko said to M. He put his lips close to her ear and so that only she could hear, “So why does it feel creepy now?”
M didn’t say a word. She just turned to him and expressed agreement with her mind.
Nalau was silent, just taking it in. Bartala and Lelelu had come to look at the lavender water. As usual, Bartala broke the silence, “What is the wildlife like? I seem to remember some birds when I was here before.”
“Yes, sure. There are birds. I don’t remember paying much attention to them when I was young. I’ve also seen fish, frogs, and lizards. But I don’t remember any mammals.” M gave them a little more time to soak up the beauty of the Pink River and then made a suggestion. “If you’re up for more exploring we could walk downriver for a while. The banks are easy to navigate.”
They continued on, strolling downriver alongside the Pink River. After a while they came to a wide open area, their path was impeded by another river that flows into the Pink River. This one is green, and about the same size the Pink River. They all went down to the very tip of the bank where the rivers converge. Although neither river seems to qualify as having rapids, the sound of the confluence is loud. Bartala dropped down and just sat, it was so sudden that they were all startled.
“Darling, are you ok, what is wrong?” Nalau asked kneeling next to him.
“Nothing is wrong my love, nothing. I just, I have never seen such beauty. This is amazing, and the sound….” he trailed off and looked back at the water. Nalau sat down next to him, they sat arm in arm, absorbing the beauty of the rivers.
M looked at Brzko and smiled, they were both entertained
to see Bartala drop his gruff, sarcastic exterior and just allow himself to exist in a beautiful moment. They stepped back to give them some time alone.
“We should have brought lunch.” Lelelu said to M. “This place is perfect for a picnic. We might be able to sneak back to the ship before they even notice.”
M turned to Brzko and Ferocity, “How about you two, are you interested in lunch?”
“Maybe later.” Brzko said. “Zri and I would like to take the hive drones for a spin. Zri, if you are ready we can return to your ship and start mapping.”
“Yes. I will meet you there.” Zri pressed the button on his armband that took him back to his ship.
Brzko turned to M, “Enjoy the picnic, call if you need anything.” He kissed her cheek. He reached for Ferocity with his mind, “Please meet me and Zri at the ship. It will take us a few minutes to unpack the drones.”
He immediately took flight. Brzko also left.
“Looks like it just us Lelelu. Are you ready?” M said. She looked for their Gaznzulian guard to see if he was near, and of course he was, he nodded to her, showing that he understood the situation precisely. M and Lelelu were going to disappear for a moment and he and the other guards were to stay put with the Emperor and Empress.
M waited for Lelelu to activate her transporter before she left. It only took a few minutes to load some fruit, nuts, and a few other snacks into a large bag. Lelelu went to a storage bin and took out a large tablecloth.
“We can use this to sit on. Are you ready?”
“Yep.” M took her arm and they were back on the river bank. The Gaznzulian transporter could not return her to the riverbank.
Bartala and Nalau hadn’t even noticed that they were gone. M and Lelelu laid out the picnic, once it was ready M called to them. “Hey you two lovebirds, want some lunch?”
The Muse of Mischief was in desperate need of a shower. After two days of casual walks her body craved some exertion. While Agent Brzko was out with Ferocity, she had the perfect chance for some sparing with Zri.
“This reminded me of old times Zri, back on Gaznzul when we were both young and invincible.”
“Speak for yourself M, I still am.” Zri teased, nudging her with his shoulder and handing her a towel. “And you’re a little more unpredictable now, a better opponent. I like that.”
“Well I’ve accumulated some experience over the years.” She said dabbing her sweaty face with the towel. “Thank you for this trip Zri, it’s really meant a lot to our friends and I have seriously enjoyed seeing the real you. The one I got to know long ago. You don’t often let your guard down.”
“No, I can’t. My work is serious, as you know for yourself, being responsible for the safety of others requires a serious commitment. But I have enjoyed this time with you and your friends, our friends. And if we hadn’t come Brzko may have never reunited with Ferocity. A Dragon? I didn’t believe they were real. Hmmmm this is going to add an interesting dynamic to your work.”
“Hell yeah it is. How many crime fighting, planet hopping, time traveling, superheroes do you know that have a Dragon?”
“Just as feisty as the day I saved you from the Haplogawa! Go take a shower, you stink.” Zri said shoving her toward the door.
By the time M got out of the shower, Brzko had returned.
He was sitting at the small table in their room, waiting for her.
“What’s wrong Brzko?”
“There’s nothing wrong, what makes you think that?” “Because you have that I have to tell M something she’s not going to like look, and I can feel it.”
“I can’t hide anything from you, can I?” She didn’t respond, just waited for him to continue. “I’m going to Dragona tomorrow to complete the bonding.”
“And you thought that would upset me? C’mon now, you know me better than that. I think it would be foolish not to complete the bonding, and it’s something you have to do alone.”
“You’re right, and I knew you wouldn’t be upset. I guess I’m just a little apprehensive about being away from the group. This has been a great trip but I feel responsible for our friends. I don’t want them to feel abandoned.”
“This has been a great trip, hasn’t it? Don’t worry about us; you know I can take care of me and the others. But I also have Zri and his team AND palace guards. We’re good.”
“You’re right, there’s no reason to worry.” “How long will you be gone?”
“A few hours, we’ll return before nightfall.”
“So has Ferocity answered all of your questions? Are you completely convinced that there is nothing being hidden from you, everything is as it seems? How will you get to Dragona without knowing its actual location?”
“Ferocity’s ship is large enough for both of us. Zri and I toured the ship and Zri ran some scans to confirm that it is in good shape with adequate technology. The only thing I can’t figure out is where he will live. He’d be difficult to hide on Earth, but I need him close if he’s going to be helpful.”
“Good. I’m glad you had Zri check out his ship. I see two choices for Ferocity- Ploosnar under Bartala’s protection or the Planet of Portals under Lelelu’s protection. Because Bartala reigns over the entire planet, I think that is the safer choice.”
“You’re right M. Do you think he’ll approve?”
“Yep. Once we ask, I don’t think he’d let you change your mind. I suspect he’ll want Ferocity to live at the Palace. It’s the best way to ensure his safety. Will Ferocity be OK with that?” “I’m sure he will, as long as his existence can stay confidential from the general population.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, his palace is huge. We can go talk to him after you tell me about the new drones.”
“Oh M! They are kick ass! So they start out larger than what we have now, but then they divide into individuals and cover exponentially more terrain. Traveling as one unit is more efficient so they have a broader range. When they detach they look like a swarm of huge bees. The controls are pretty much the same. I’ve already asked Zri for a set.”
“A set, as in one hive drone that breaks up into a set of small drones or a set as in one hive drone for me and one for you?” M asked with her hands on her hips, ready to scold him.
“Really? A set as in one for you one for me of course. They will be waiting for us when we get home.”
“Great! I can’t wait to take them out for a spin! They sound like a great addition to our inventory. Are you ready to talk to Bartala?”
“Yep, let’s go find him before he breaks out the espidrun.”
“Tomorrow is scheduled to be our final day on the fairytale planet of Trella. But… I won’t be here in the morning. Ferocity and I are going to Dragona to complete the bonding.” Agent Brzko paused, waiting for their reactions.
“Ahhhh this is why you have asked if he could live on Ploosnar. I thought that might be the case. Congratulations!” Emperor Bartala lifted his glass toward Brzko and Ferocity.
Everyone joined him. Ferocity was seated on a tall stool near Brzko, this was his first attendance at a social gathering inside Zri’s ship and he looked uncomfortable. With his long snout and protruding horns it was difficult to say what made him look uncomfortable, maybe it was just that his discomfort could be sensed.
“Don’t worry Ferocity; they aren’t a bad bunch of beings.
They just take a little getting used to.” Zri assured him taking his usual seat and dangling his legs over the side of the chair.
Ferocity only nodded in acknowledgement. He would need time to get used to the odd bunch.
“We will leave Trella in the morning and return by midday. We will return in time to leave Trella tomorrow night as scheduled.”
“Will you go alone?” Lelelu seemed slightly alarmed.
“Yes.” Brzko answered, he looked to Ferocity, waiting for him to offer more of an explanation.
“Many generations in the past Dragona was invaded and Dragons were enslaved. Dragons serve with honor but we do not accept dominance. The attempt almost killed us off, but our ancestors finally won our freedom and killed of the enslavers. Since that time we have kept the location of Dragona to ourselves. Only a Dragon ship can enter Dragona space and the only outsiders that may travel there are those to be bonded.” Everyone was silent, contemplating what Ferocity had just shared.
“It saddens me to know that the Muse of Mischief will not attend this momentous event with you Brzko, but we wish you the best.” Bartala stood and lifted his glass, the group followed his example. “To Ferocity, welcome to… us!”
Brzko could feel Ferocity’s discomfort at being the center of attention; he sat down and redirected everyone. “Who is telling tonight’s story? It’s time for the telling” Captain Walker.” He said mimicking a line in a Mad Max movie.
The Muse of Mischief could not hold her laughter; she was in mid sip of espidrun and spit it across the room, some of it landed on Zri.
“Oh! Thank you M but I already bathed today!” he said trying to sound disgusted. This got the whole group laughing. “Wait who is Captain Walker?” Lelelu asked.
“He’s a character in an apocalyptic Earth movie, Mad Max I think.” M said.
“It sounds, well, not good. I don’t see how apocalyptic themes would be entertainment, but Earth is odd. How about a happy story? I’d like to know how Bartala and Nalau met.” She looked across the room at them, waiting for a response.
“Shall we tell them how we met my darling?”
“Yes, of course. You begin and I’ll correct you along the way.” she teased.
“Oh I see M really is rubbing off on you! Next you will be reminding me that you are female, not feeble.” he said refilling their glasses and passing the bottle to M on his left. “I had seen Nalau several times before I actually met her. Her father
was a liaison to my father; he represented the roinad shipping pilots. They frequently met at the palace and Nalau would sometimes accompany him. I never took an interest in the roinad empire; I knew I would have to run it one day, but I didn’t see any reason to give up my freedom before I had to. So I never volunteered to attend any meetings.”
“And you were having too much fun with me.” M said. “That is true my friend. I remember the day I fell in love with Nalau, it was the first time she spoke to me.”
“What? I didn’t know you felt that way. You came off as cold and unreachable the first time we spoke.”
“Mmmm of course my darling. I was the Emperor’s son, I had to play hard to get.” Bartala chuckled and patted her hand. “She had left the meeting in my father’s sitting room to find the restroom, but she got lost on the way back. I came upon her gazing at the statues of my ancestors. She was stunning – a long pink gown with a tight waist and billowing skirts, her long dark hair was perfectly straight and smooth hanging almost down to her waist. It was such a contrast to the pink of her gown. I made a sound so that she would hear me. I did not want to startle her; she turned toward me and said Good afternoon, would you think me rude if I asked you who this statue represented?”
“This was in the creepy hallway?” Lelelu asked “You were in the creepy hallway?”
All three of the ladies laughed out loud. Nalau could not answer. She only nodded her head to confirm that it was indeed the creepy hallway.
“Creepy hallway? You three call the hallway with statues of my ancestors the creepy hallway? I am insulted.”
“No you’re not.” M said. “I can see you attempting to hide a smile.”
He laughed, “You are right I understand why it may seem creepy, the statues are very lifelike. The statue Nalau asked about is a representation of my grandmother, my mother’s mother.”
“The dress she is wearing was unlike anything I had seen before.” Nalau explained. “It had a magnificent high collar and lace sleeves.”
“I tortured her by escorting her down the hallway and back, my hand on her arm, naming all of the statues. I was really just trying to find any excuse I could to prolong our conversation. I knew she was lost, she was captive.”
“Oh you are terrible, keeping poor defenseless me against my will.” she teased.
“Mmmm yes, against your will. I think you were quite charmed that day. Perhaps it was the dress I had made for you. After that day you never let your father never come to the palace alone.”
“You had a dress made for her? That’s intriguing.” Brzko said, standing to retrieve the espidrun bottle.
“Yes he did! My darling Bartala contacted the original designer that had made his grandmother’s dress and asked him to make an identical one for me. Even though he was retired, he was kind enough to make the dress for me.” Nalau was beaming.
“It is difficult to say no to the Emperor’s son, and… he was well compensated for taking a break from his retirement.”
“So that was it for you two? You’ve been together ever since?” Lelelu asked.
“Yes.” they said in unison.
Bartala continued, “The joining ceremony was really just a formality, we knew we would always be together.”
“So if Nalau had not gotten turned around in the palace, you may never have ended up together.” Lelelu summarized.
“And Nalau married into the position of Empress. But what about your parents, which one of them carried the line of the monarchy?”
“My mother, it was my father that married into the family.”
“Interesting, so is it the first born child that ascends to the throne then, regardless of sex?” Zri asked.
“No. First we do not have a throne, as Emperor I consider myself to be a regular Ploosnarian. But I have the responsibility of running the roinad empire and that added responsibility entitles me to the amenities of the palace. The position passes to the most capable offspring, birth order and sex are not considered. However, Ploosnarians rarely produce more than one offspring.”
“Do you know what you will name your son yet?” M asked.
Nalau’s face changed as soon as she heard the question.
“Well it won’t be Haplogawa as you suggested.”
“Darling I was kidding. It was a joke, really my love I
would never… Thank you M. You’ve gotten me in trouble again.”
Nalau nudged him with her shoulder, “You’re not the only one that can joke my dear Bartala. I know you would not name our son after a giant lizard that almost ate you once.”
The way she phrased it made them all laugh. Even Ferocity looked as though he enjoyed the jest.