"Journal Entry... Journal Entry... Dammit, how does he write those things?" She cursed and threw the pen aside. She sat on the cold rock, staring at the pen where it lay, then rose to retrieve it. "I'm never gonna be able to keep a record. Damn you, Ken, how do you do it?" she shouted at the trees.
She whirled around, looking for the source. "Who said that?"
"The book?" She stared down at the blank book she'd been attempting to write her thoughts down in.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Lucas. I'm the neighborhood AI. The book is just a receiving unit."
She bit at her nail. "I see. And Ken put you here to monitor me?"
"Not really. More to just talk to you, if I thought you needed talking to."
"O-kay. So, tell me, Lucas, how does Shardik keep his Journal?"
"Dave writes them."
"Dave? The Shardik AI?"
"Yes. He and Shardik made a deal a long time ago. Dave watches everything Ken does, so the two of them collaborate. The only thing Ken does is review the day's entry, and with biocybe that takes just a few minutes. Sometimes he stops and adds material to the entry, if he thinks it's important, but not usually."
"Would you be willing to..."
"Do the same for you? Of course. That's part of the deal."
"Okay. Can you tell me other things?"
"Where the Hell am I?"
"You're in the sector known colloquially as 'BackWater.' It's major claim to fame is a powerful tradition, if you will, of archaism."
"Meaning people still wear swords around here."
"Pendor never had a 'Dark Ages!' It sprung up as a high-tech colony world!"
"That's why there's a BackWater. People thought it should."
She thought about that. "Great. I guess that's why I've got the funky clothes and the carved staff and the necklace." Her tone became sarcastic. "So, can people do magic in BackWater?"
"Yes?" she asked, incredulous. "How?"
"There's still a local AI. I've got the forces at my command."
"Then you decide who can do magic, as well."
"Sort of. Look, Miss Moran, we can talk all day, but I should tell you that, as far as most people know, there are no SDisks in BackWater, so if you plan on getting anywhere I'd suggest you put those boots back on and start walking."
She pulled her boots on, put away the pen but decided to keep the book out. "So, how does magic work in BackWater?"
"Well, there are rituals, forces, places, empowerments. All the stuff of a Dungeons n' Dragons game. Think of BackWater the same way Shardik thinks of The Great Hall... as a bad literary device." Kathy laughed. "I try to balance the game by introducing portends, omens, and such."
"If people are playing in what is basically a giant role-playing game, can they die?"
"I won't lie to you, Miss Moran. No. If you lose a swordfight and you're dead, then you're out of the game, but that's it. On the other hand, if you fall off a cliff and break your neck, you may be out of luck. So far, no one has died in BackWater, but it's only thirteen years old."
"Oh. Lucas, do me a favor? Call me Kitty."
"Okay... Kitty it is. Let me make a note of that."
"Lucas... how do you do some of the magic. Can you read minds?"
"Yes. I'm a rarity of sorts... A telepathic AI. But it takes time for me to tune someone in. The longer you stay in BackWater, the easier it will be for me to read/write you." Kathy chuckled at that. "But you're pretty easy. I can already empath a lot off of you."
"Is that good or bad?"
"I think it's good. It means that if you want, you'll be able to learn BackWater magic."
"Is that any good in the outside world?" she asked.
"Not very likely. Oh, and I should also tell you this. I know you're an immigrant, one of the few, in fact, that made it through the Hall without change. That makes you almost as rare as I am. But you went from being a 20'th century Terran to a second-century Pendorian, where the technology is by far and away superior. Around here, though, we're back to second-century Earth again, only with swords, castles, wizards and princesses."
"Where am I?"
"You're almost dead center of the sector. About forty miles to the north is the city of Kendre. If we traveled south for a couple of months you'd reach the Vassalo mountains, on the other side of which is the Tangent Arcology. Travel East and we'd reach the the town of Akkhen, which has steam power. To the far, far west of us is The Village. Those are the borders, mostly, of BackWater."
"And the extreme north of Kendre?"
"Well, a few months travel north of Kendre will get you to the Nogero plains, which is not a nice place to visit. It's cold, wet, and uncomfortable."
"Let's go to Kendre, first."
She walked for a few miles and sat down to take a rest, taking a few sips from her waterskin. "Kitty!"
"What?" she said.
"Look up!" She looked up and saw a black, vaguely stylized shape flying over head. "What's that?" she asked.
"That, Kathy, was a Dragon. Don't tell anyone; they're a secret. They were released yesterday."
"I am not. Funny how no one blinked twice when Shardik ordered a hundred genetanks sixty feet on a side."
"That was a black Dragon. They're the largest."
"Tell me something, Lucas. I thought Pendor used the metric system."
"You're lucky I'm giving it to you in miles and feet! The official units of measurement around here are cubits, stone, and my favorite, the furlong per fortnight!"
She thought about that for a second and said, "Isn't that a very silly number?"
"Well, figuring you can only walk about ten hours a day, and do about three miles per hour, you're doing 3360 furlongs per fortnight."
"Guess so." She stood and started walking. "I wonder if I can get a ride from a Dragon."
WHY DON'T YOU ASK FOR ONE?
Kitty grabbed her head and screamed. That 'pathing was extremely loud.
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell. That 'path was so low Kitty barely heard it. She looked up from between her hand. "Who was that?"
Me. She scanned left and right, and there was an enormous motion of black a few hundred yards away. She watched carefully and the motion resolved into what she guessed was a Dragon.
"Hi..." she said, timidly.
Hello. What are you?
"My name's Kitty."
No, what are you?
"I'm a human."
Oh. Okay. Now I know what a 'human' is. And you called me a Dragon. I think my name is Pendor.
"I think that's the name of the world."
No, I'm pretty sure it's my name, too. Kitty shook her head, thinking idly that if the other dragons had the same confusion, they were all in a great deal of trouble. The dragon spoke again. Are you a Male or a Female?
"I'm a woman, if that's what you mean."
Yes. I am a Male, I assume. You said you wanted a ride?
"Yeah, sure. Can you fly?"
I don't know. I think I can. At least, when I think about it I feel sure that I understand how I do it. Let me try. The dragon spread his wings wide and pulled them in, flapping them. He gathered his massive hindlegs underneath him and with a massive lunge took to the air, sending huge gouts of dust towards Kitty. She shielded her eyes, and when she finally looked up, she could see him, making lazy circles in the sky. He turned a few circles and then landed in the grove he had awakened in.
My memory tells me I am a newborn creature, a 'Tleil.' Are you?
Kitty thought about it. "I don't know, really."
Can you climb on and talk about it? Pendor easily extended a foreleg, and Kathy used it as a springboard to jump up onto his back. His hide was thick and leathery, with a pronounced scaling that she could hold onto with ease. She pulled her jacket close around her and held on for her life. Pendor again launched himself into the sky.
Once in flight, holding on was easier, but the wind was a wicked cold and strong, threatening to blow her off. She was more terrified than she'd ever been in her life, and yet, the sight of the Ring, the ground, sliding by effortlessly underneath her gave her a sensation of freedom she'd never felt before. Stranger, still, was the feeling of Pendor's monstrous shoulder sinews stretching and flexing underneath her thighs, which spurred in her mind thoughts both wild and lewd. She idly thought that if Ken knew what he had done to her by putting her in this predicament, he might have reconsidered.
She was also more than a little confused. Was she feeling lust for Pendor? Especially when this Dragon seemed to be just a touch naive. She shook her head. It had been less than a week since she and Shardik had first made love. Since she had lost her virginity the way she had wanted to. Not at the hands of some random whacko in a back alley, the way her physical maidenhood had been taken, but in the arms of someone she had trusted back on Terra, long before there was a Pendor, and now here, where she could tell he was still the same, still crazy, still setting his sights on every woman he met, and yet being so unfathomably lovable about it. Ken had taken her virginity, the way she had wanted. But he was the only one. What did she know of other men, much less Dragons?
That's it, she told herself, I'm just confused.
You said you did not know if you were a Tleil. How can that be? the dragon asked, interrupting her train of thought.
"I was just... born again, about a month ago." She explained her homeworld, as best as she could, and how she had moved to Pendor and survived The Great Hall.
I see. Kitty, you are the first person I have ever talked to. You have been kind to me, but I have words I do not understand. 'War,' for instance. 'Hate.' Why are these words in my vocabulary?
"I wish I could tell you, Pendor. All I know is that we are different, obviously, and sometimes people are afraid of differentness."
I still am not understanding you. I'm sorry if I sound stupid.
"That's okay. You don't sound stupid." Kitty felt stupid, though. Her answers felt lame to her, and they didn't help the odd, liquid fire sensation between her thighs. She was getting turned on by this Dragon, and in many ways that frightened her. She spread her legs further apart, on either side of the of Pendor's back, and lowering her body until she was lying supine along him, pressed hard with her knees, rubbing her crotch through the leather of her pants against him.
Kitty, Pendor said.
"Yeah?" she said, breathlessly.
Are you okay? I felt... weird things coming from you.
"Yes. Yes, I'm okay, Pendor. Please, just keep flying."
There was a massive shifting of his shoulders; she guessed it was a shrug, but the feeling of those muscles flexing like that gave her a wild thrill. She began pressing again with her knees, sliding against his spine, feeling the huge ridges of it as they slipped between her knees. The burning sensation became more pronounced, more pleasurable, as the wind whipped her hair behind her, and she screamed loudly as she came, bucking against his reptilian hide and holding on for her dear life.
That does it. I'm landing.
"No, please. I'm okay, Pendor. Please don't land."
What was that?
Kitty's faced burned with embarrassment. "I... I can't tell you."
It felt like you hurt. And you kicked me.
"I'm sorry. No, it didn't hurt, just the opposite Pendor. It felt very good. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Pendor flew on, slowly and lazily, leaving Kitty more confused than ever. The flight to Kendre, which, walking, would have taken her two days, took slightly over an hour.
Should I land near the city? If all Dragons are as new as I am, then maybe we should be careful, Pendor said.
"That's a good idea," said Kitty, coming out of her reverie. Pendor flew in large circles as he passed over Kendre, looking for a place to land. He chose a meadow about a mile out of town and landed, giving Kitty just a few seconds to dismount before he bounded into the sky again. I'm going to try and find something to eat.
"Just don't kill someone's entire flock!" Kitty shouted, figuring that would be Pendor's obvious target. She'd seen several large herd of animals on their way to Kendre.
"Lucas," she said, addressing the book she carried in her left arm, "Do I have any money?"
"I believe you should look in your pack. There's a substantial amount of gold there."
"How much is gold worth?" Kitty asked. It was obvious to her that, as a Pendorian, it shouldn't matter nearly as much as it had when she'd been a native of Terra. But in Backwater, the rules, she'd learned, were very different.
"Kendre has a silver-driven economy. Gold is exceptionally valuable. From the amount you are carrying, my guess is Shardik had no desire to see you starve. Just don't get robbed."
"Oh," Kitty said. It hadn't occurred to her that there might be bandits on the road.
"I think you should know that I am personally troubled by your and the Dragons' presence in my domain."
"Why is that?"
"Because in Backwater, no matter what happens to someone it happens because they consented to be here. But you were put here. Do you understand the danger you are in?"
Kitty thought about it. "No more danger than walking around New York City at night, really. At least, I doubt it."
"Comparing the crime rates here and there, I find your argument convincing. I must concern myself with the Dragons."
Kitty walked through the woods to the road she'd seen from the air and began making her way to Kendre.
She soon found the staff she carried comfortable as it clacked along the pebbles and dirt of the dusty road. The forest came to an end as she came into view of Kendre. Not much of a city, she thought. Not being much of a student of things medieval, she at least had the vocabulary to assess Kendre. The town lacked a main tower; did that mean it rarely suffered attacks from the outside? She saw a small river running north to south along the road; in several places it was diverted into the city, but she saw no sewage ports leading back out of the city. The gates of the city, made of wood, were wide open, but there were two guards, both human. They eyed her with looks she thought she had left behind when she had left Earth. She checked for the knife she had found on her belt.
She drew her cloak closer around her and made her way further into a town that seemed cramped and crammed together. She was passed by four Uncia, dressed in tight-fitting leathers and carrying very long swords. The scene reminded her that she was still on Pendor, and she looked around, identifying Felinzi and Satryls and such around her. She spotted a Tindal, a male, dressed in a dark blue robe with a single star on the back about a handwidth in size. People were giving him a lot of room, and she figured he must be play the role of 'wizard.' That made sense; Tindals had the highest psi-percentage of any Pendorian species. She spotted a sign, carved crudely in wood, of a mug and a plate above a unicorn, and headed for it. The door to what she figured to be a tavern stood ajar, and she pushed it in and peeked around.
"Come in, lass, come in!" said a deep voice from within. She looked for the voice and saw an aging Felinzi standing in a corner beside the bar. "'Tis na safe to be standin' outside, not with tha' monstrous new beasts in t'air."
"You mean the Dragons?" Kitty said.
"Aye. They be huge, and a one attacked me'friend Erik's flock just the mornin'." Kitty stepped in. The place was otherwise deserted. "You a traveler?" the tavern keeper asked.
"Yes," Kitty said.
"I c'n tell. Y've the boots, and the look. I got t' tell you, though, lass, donna go waving that staff in here. I'll not have magic in here; the last wizard who got t' fightin' in here near burned the place down. What c'n I ge ye?"
Kitty looked down at the staff and resolved to have a word with Lucas at the first chance she got. Shrugging, she sat down at the bar and said, "What have you got for breakfast?"
"Food y're after? Well, I got's last night's stew. It's still warm; we'll just throw in more fixings and serve it agin tonight." Kitty nodded. "What's to drink, then?"
That stopped her for a second. In medieval romances they normally drank wines and ales; the local water was untrustworthy. "Give me an ale a lady should drink," she said, hoping that was the right thing to say.
"Aye, lass. We've a real pale beer you might like."
Kitty nodded. He brought her a large wooden mug and then passed through a pair of swinging doors to return with a large bowl of stew. She sampled the beer and found it drinkable, even if she wasn't fond of beer in general. The stew, in the other hand, was excellent, and she ate it with a gusto that made the Felinzi laugh. "Ye been on the road a long time, lass?"
Kitty shook her head. "Just the past day."
"Where ye' from lass?" the Felinzi asked, with suspicion.
"I don't know. I was in Shardik Castle last night."
The Felinzi's accent vanished. "You were at Castle Shardik last night? How did you get to Kendre?"
"I woke up in the woods near here. I walked to Kendre." That part was true enough.
"You know where you are, then?"
"Oh, yes. That's been clearly explained to me."
"Good, lass," he said, the accent returning. "My name be Alfar. Welcome to Kendre, truly Heaven on Pendor."
"Thank you. Should I develop a funny accent, too?"
"Only if ye want t', lass. Only if ye want t'. So what do ye make of Dragons?"
"They're new. Shardik made them."
"Ah, and he sought to put them 'ere, where we could best appreciate 'em, eh? Figures y'd know that. Make sense. Can they talk?"
Kitty shrugged. No reason to reveal what she knew, not yet. "Tha's too bad," Alfar said. "Wonder wha' the temples'll make of 'em."
"How so?" Kitty asked.
"There's been a rivalry growin' between the followers of Luccas and the Mage's school. Seems a priest o' Luccas had said there'd be great beasts soon and that these beasts would fight to destroy all th' Mages."
"What other... 'Temples' are there?" she asked.
"Well, lass... there be the house o' Senn, but that be more a home for unladylike ladies, if you see my drift, than a temple. But th' Sennites, they can do a spell or two." Alfar developed a far-away smile. "There's the Alias, but i's very quiet, as a temple. But th' Luccas, they be the worst."
"They be looking for something. Call it the Sazknife. They say they need be needin' it, but for what, they say not. But they kill to get it."
"Alfar, how big is Backwater?"
"Backwater be seventy terrs on a side."
"And how big's a terr?"
"A terr be about forty-six hundred leagues on a side. Don't go messing your pretty head with numbers, lass. A square terr on a side is the surface area of Terra."
"And Backwater's seventy terrs on a side?" Kitty asked, eyes unbelieving.
"Aye, lass." He smiled. "Lots o' room for growth, Lass. There be only about a thousand people in Kendre, and forty times that in all o' Backwater. Lots o' room."
"I need a room for a night," she said. "Can you recommend a place?"
"Aye lass... Right here. Not as comfortable as Castle Shardik, mind ye, but it'll do." He seemed pleased with himself. "Just for one night?" Kitty nodded. "That'll be, oh... a copper. And for that I'll throw in the meal, and breakfast tomorrow. Will ye be wantin' hot water for a bath tonight?" Kitty nodded again. "Then that'll be another two brass, lassie... sorry, but I gots to charge."
Kitty rummaged in her bag and pulled out a gold coin. "Can you change this?"
Alfar put his hands over hers and drove them down to the table. "What are ye' doing with tha' much money, girl?" he said in a powerful whisper. "Be careful who ye show tha' to. Aye, I can change it, but only because I be going to th' bank today. Myrna!" he shouted.
Another Felinzi slid out from inside the kitchen and said "Yeah, Alfar?"
"Watch the bar for a second." Alfar disappeared through the swinging doors and returned. "You be lucky girl." He carefully counted out eleven silver, bronze, ten copper, and brass pieces. "That one coin could feed you and house you overhead for four months. Stay here, the both of you."
Sliding the gold piece into his apron, he closed a cloak around his shoulders and slid out. Kathy watched him go. She turned back to her beer and drank quietly; Myrna appeared uninterested in her and instead began cleaning the tables, filling lanterns along the wall, and dusting the curtains on the windows.
"Lucas!" she whispered when she thought Myrna was out of range, "You didn't tell me my staff was magical!"
"Did you ask?"
"No, but I think it's something you should have told me! What can it do?"
"I don't know."
"What? I thought you were the source of all magic in Backwater."
"I am. Let's put it this way; in one sense I am your companion, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you see me in my other sense, as referee."
"That's just great." Kitty stared at the yellow cover of the book.
Alfar returned after a few minutes and said "Myrna, we be doing well. The money's goin' up, and the taxes are paid."
Myrna smiled and still didn't speak. Alfar slid back to his place behind the bar and said, "You still here, lass?"
"You told me not leave."
"Aye, I did, didn't I? Listen close... What ye' gave me was a gold. It's worth twelve silvers. A silver's twelve bronze, a bronze twelve copper, a copper twelve brass. Lodgin' here's a copper, but hot water's expensive. Below brass there's an iron piece; beer's two iron a mug." Kitty nodded. It wasn't going to be easy keeping that in her head; she opened her book and wrote down what Alfar was telling her.
"Ye c'n write!" Alfar said.
"Can't everybody?" Kitty asked.
"Na, lass... not in Backwater. Sometimes, when ye come in, ye ferget. I c'n, but na' as fast as I could out there."
"Oh," Kitty said.
"At least ye' needn't fear getting wi' child, lass. That donna happen in Backwater. One o' Shardik's rules, he says. There's been some talk o' moving backwater to a new world, where his rules donna reach, but thas' been shelved. Rule makes sense, I says. Aside's sometimes people come in, an' they's changed. And sometime, the children's just the ref's NPDs."
"NPDs?" Kitty asked.
"Non-Player Droids." Alfar had trouble maintaining his accent while discussing game mechanics.
Kitty nodded. She thanked Alfar for the meal and asked for a key to her room. "You be goin' up now?"
"No, but when I come back..."
"I'll be here, lassie. You go on... we han't got no real keys, not round these parts."
Kitty wandered out into the city, looking around for a merchant where she could buy some things she now wanted. There was nothing of the sort to be found immediately; she walked back towards the gate and asked one of the guards. He directed back towards to right, towards the bazaar.
The bazaar was a riot of colors, smells and sounds, densely packed with people jostling each other; from far ahead of her came the sounds of swords, and of cheering. She found several clothes merchants, and stopped at one. A Mephit, dressed in a shockingly tacky silver-lame kilt and leather vest, turned to her and "Yes? Kin I help yu?"
Kitty stifled a laugh. The accent was outrageous; all the words were crammed together, they came out as one phrase: "KinIhelpyu?" She pointed to a heavy, padded coat and a large muffler and paid for both. The Mephit looked at her as they exchanged coins and said "It is not winter. Why do you need these clothes?"
Kitty shot him a dirty look, and he backed off momentarily. She draped the coat over her pack and tied it down with a loose leather tie, then headed deeper into the bazaar. The sword fighting was actually rapiers, and it seemed to be practice; a tall Mephit faced off against a much shorter Human, and the Human seemed to be easily driving back the Mephit with every feint. She was impressed. After a few rounds of this the Human sheathed his weapon and said, "You've improved, M'Lord."
"Always the good teacher, Napper, always the good teacher. Thank you for the exercise."
"A pleasure, Lord Aaden." The Mephit bowed swiftly and walked off to the left, two Uncia following him. Bodyguards, she guessed.
She left the bazaar and walked back to the gate, leaving the city and heading down the road to where she guessed she had left Pendor. She walked through the woods into the meadow and found him, curled up into a large, black ball. "Pendor?" she asked.
The dragon woke with a start, turning his head towards her. Oh, it's you.
Sorry, he said, apologetically. What did you find?
"I'm going to stay the night in town, if that's all right. I need to learn more."
I understand. The hunting has been good here, and I did not disturb a flock that was guarded by people, but a large yapping animal ran at me.
"Probably a dog, for the shepherd." She sighed. Feeding a Dragon was not going to be easy. "You didn't hurt it?"
No. I made a noise at it and it backed away.
"That's good. We can meet tomorrow?"
Of course we can. Here, right?
"If you feel safe here."
"Then here. I'll see you later."
Good bye, Kitty.
Kitty bent over and kissed Pendor gently on the nose. As she walked back towards the road she was bewildered to figure out why exactly she had kissed him.
In town, she returned to the Unicorn Inn and asked Alfar for her room. "It be the third on the left, lass."
She found it and walked in. The room was clean, and the window had glass in it. She found a basin for washing, and the bed seemed sturdy enough, made entirely of wood, with a cloth-filled mattress and pillow. She opened up her backpack and rummaged through it.
Inside she found a spare set of clothing, with three changes of underclothes. There's was also a smaller book than the one she'd found next to, and it had a clasp holding it shut. She also found money; nineteen gold, plus what Alfar and the merchant at the bazaar had given her as change. And three silver-colored coins, very bright and shiny, in the shape of an eight-pointed star with a ring around it. "Lucas, can you tell me what these are?"
"They're called ringwheels. They're worth a thousand gold each."
"I believe you heard me."
Kitty stared at the three coins. If Lucas was telling the truth, she was set for life. And if anyone found out about them, she was also a bandit's favorite target.
She sighed quietly and put them back into her bag. She packed away the spare clothes and tied the bedroll to the bottom of the pack.
After a few minutes a knock came at the door. "Yes?"
"Miss Kitty? Your bath is ready."
She opened the door to see Myrna. "It is?"
"We have to get it right done before the evening crowd, Miss Kitty. There's nobody else asking for a bath, Miss Kitty, so you can take as long as ye wish. Door over there," Myrna said, pointing.
"Thank you, Myrna." She grabbed her pack and staff and left her bedroom; she had no desire to part with any of her equipment, now that she had an inkling of the total value of what she carried. The bath turned out to be a large wooden tub filled with water that was steaming, but she trailed her fingers through it and found it to her liking. She bolted the door, noting the sandglass on the shelf next to it, and turned it over even though Myrna said she could take as long as she liked. There was also a large object covered with a towel; picking up the towel she noted the object was a pail, filled with much hotter water than the tub, and covered with a wooden cap.
Stripping, she stepped into the tub and quickly sank down into it, sighing with pleasure as she did so. Even though it had been only yesterday that she'd been in the veritable lap of luxury, she felt extremely tired; the entire day, from meeting Pendor to now, had been one long, bewildering experience.
She found a bar of soap. With a breath of thanks that it wasn't lye soap, she reached down to clean her feet. As she worked her way up, she gently rubbed her sore thighs; being a city girl hadn't really prepared her for the walking she'd done today. She closed her eyes when she had cleaned her face and tried to relax and sort things out.
"Why am I here?" she asked the ceiling through closed lids. Talking to myself, she though. First sign I'm cracking up.
But why was she here? What plans did Shardik have for her? She'd asked to go someplace "different, where the rules are different." The rules certainly were different here. She shrugged, disturbing the water. She'd survive, one way or the other.
Her hands had drifted down to her painful legs, and she sighed quietly as they unconsciously stroked her pubic hair. She smiled and resigned herself to the fact that she wanted to masturbate.
But as she thought that, she was disturbed by the memory of this morning, when she'd had an orgasm while riding on Pendor's back. She didn't stop stroking her swelling outer lips, but she also explored her memory of this morning, trying to figure it out. The wind, passing by her, the feeling of his body under hers, all these memories ran through her as she parted her outer lips, her fingers slicking between them and over her clit in the soapy water; the sensation made her light-headed as it ran straight through her mind. She tried to concentrate on something else, someone else, as her fingers slid over her clitoris faster and harder, sometimes plunging a finger into her opening and up inside herself, pressing against the upper pad of her pubic bone. Anyone else, she wished, stretching for her orgasm as she slowed down to pinch her clit gently. Ken, Nance, Dillion, anyone she'd met at the castle. Alfar, anyone.
As she came the name that possessed her was "Pendor."
When she felt it was time to get out of the bath, she realized what the extra pail was for. She removed the towel and the wooden cover and used the water in the pail to rinse off. She dressed in the same clothes she'd entered with and put her pack on, heading for the downstairs tavern and dinner. She still had a lot of thinking to do.
When Kitty awoke her first thought was that she had slept all the way through to noon. A few seconds of thought and she laughed to herself. Pendor was a ringworld, of course the sun was overhead! The sounds outside her window however, told her that whatever time of day it was, the daily life of Kendre was in full swing.
She stretched and yawned. The bed she had slept in had been both lumpy and itchy, but she had been so tired that it hadn't mattered when she had first lain down. Now, in the morning, her back told her a different story. She sighed and tried to lick clean the foul taste in her mouth, a combination of sleep and ale.
As she was dressing a knock came at her door. She turned to look, shook her head again and said "Yes?"
"Miss Kitty? Miss Kitty? Are you awake?"
"Yes, Myrna," she said. "What is it?"
"Oh good, Miss Kitty. I gots a letter for you."
Confusion reigned for a moment. " A letter?"
"Yes Miss Kitty. It's got a seal on it, it looks important. You might want to read it now."
Kitty rose from the bed with a groan and wandered over to the door, unlatching it and pulling it open. She looked into Myrna's face and said, "Okay."
"Here it is, Miss Kitty." Myrna pressed a folded sheet of thick paper, held closed with a glob of wax. Kitty flipped it over; it was otherwise unmarked.
"Myrna, where did you get this?"
"Priest of Alias came this morning. Gave this to me and said it was for Miss Kitty Moran. I guess that'n be you."
Kitty nodded. "Thank you, Myrna. Give me a moment, will you?"
"O' course, Miss Kitty. Take all the time'n you need."
Kitty closed the door gently and re-latched it. After a quick glance at the seal, which meant nothing to her, she broke it open and read it.
You said you wanted to go someplace "different." Without sending you off-world, there's only one really "different" place on Pendor that suits you- Backwater. But I've also made a new addition to the list of Pendorian races recently, Dragons, and I released them all in Backwater.
At this point you're on your own. What you chose to do is your own business. What Lucas does with you is his business, but he's been instructed not to mess with you too much.
And remember, the monsters are only droids anyway. It's the live ones you've got to worry about.
She closed her eyes and sighed. The letter didn't tell her anything new, but she was glad to have it. The one thing that bothered her was what it didn't mention- Lucas, her staff, the money. What was going on?
She dressed, pulled on her boots and cloak and headed down the stairs. "Alfar?" she said.
"'Mornin, Lass. How was your sleep?"
Kitty stretched again and felt bones in her back pop. "The sleep was good. It was waking up I had trouble with."
Alfar smiled and said, "I know, Lass, I know. So, ye be heading out t'day?"
"Aye," Kitty said, getting into the accent. "Right now, in fact. I've got a friend to meet."
"And what be this friend's name, might I ask?" Alfar said.
"Pendor," she replied, slipping out the door.
The street was a bustle of activity. The smell of Kendre was rich in her nostrils and the sun was clear overhead as she walked to the bazaar she had found yesterday. Getting past a Centaur blocking her vision, she found a shopkeeper selling jerked meats, dried fruits and nuts. After haggling with him for a few minutes, she walked away with what she figured was two weeks worth of foodstuffs. It was a lot heavier than the camping foods she had been used to packing over Mount Washington, that was for sure.
She shook her head again and headed out for the main gate. It felt so good to be out of there, she realized. The light and air of the fields outside the city cured the odd melancholy she'd been feeling all morning, and she positively felt like skipping as she headed towards the treeline and her meeting with Pendor. She sang to herself as she walked. She wondered if there were any listeners, and if there were, was Jethro Tull out of place in Kendre?
She found what she thought to be the place where she had turned off the road yesterday. After walking some yards through the dense forest, she broke out into the meadow a distance away from the glaringly obvious dragon, who lay curled up on the grass with his wings spread wide. "Pendor!" she shouted.
The dragon raised his head slowly, looked and said Good Morning, Kitty!
She ran up to him and wrapped her arms around his head, hugging him. "It's good to see you," she said.
It's good to see you too, he replied. So, what was a town like?
"Smelly," she replied. "A good place to buy things, but I don't think I'd like to live there."
Anything else? he asked.
Kitty related her experiences with Alfar as she pulled on the coat and muffler she'd purchased at the bazaar. "Ready to go?" she asked.
Where are we going? the dragon asked.
"Does it matter? According to everybody we've met, we're in the center of Backwater. Every direction is somewhere new."
Then let us head, that way, the dragon replied, lifting his head and pointing to aspin.
"Fine with me. Why that direction?"
Less mountains. Kitty laughed as she mounted Pendor's back. With a powerful bunching of the legs, Pendor launched himself into the air and they took flight. The powerful force of it exhilarated Kitty, and she cheered as they took flight. Are you okay? he asked.
"Pendor, you worry too much about me. I'm fine!" she replied.
Could you explain something to me then?
What are we?
"I don't understand."
What are we? You're a human girl and I'm a dragon. You are my rider, but I don't think I'm your pet. Are we friends? Partners? Lovers?
Memories of yesterday flooded Kitty and her face grew hot with embarrassment. She waited for the thoughts to fade before she said, "We're friends, Pendor. I think. I don't know. We're not lovers; we probably can't be."
"Because I'm a human and you're a dragon, and you probably won't fit."
Pendor didn't answer.
They flew on for almost half a day. The terrain below was lightly hilled and covered in dense forest, but otherwise was so nondescript that Kitty asked to head back to Kendre. Pendor agreed.
Once over the city, Kitty asked, "What now?"
We could follow the road that heads towards the mountains.
She shrugged. "It's up to you, Pendor."
There was that massive shrug of the shoulders. Kitty crouched down behind Pendor's head to keep out of the slipstream and watched as they flew on. The sky was still as clear as ever.
Less than hour out from Kendre, Pendor said Kitty?
Kitty looked up with a start. "What?" she asked.
I don't feel good.
"Don't feel good? Tired? Hungry?"
Tired. I think we should head back.
"Then, let's go." Kitty looked around. The day seemed a little darker. What was it? She looked up and saw that they were flying right into the coming night's shadow as it draped itself over the countryside. Behind it were dark stormclouds. She began to worry.
Kitty, I don't think... The dragon's "voice" sounded strained, sickly.
"Come on, Pendor,"
Kitty, I'm going to fall.
"Pendor!" she shouted as the dragon's wings seemed to lose their strength. The thrilling power she felt in him faded as the night grew darker. The dragon began a frighteningly fast downward spiral.
I'll try-- Pendor started. Try to put down safe.
"Please," Kitty whispered. "Be careful." She held on tightly to his neck, praying every second for him. There was a clear spot up ahead, another meadow, but the trees were close, very close. The ground was coming up fast as total darkness washed over them.
Kitty felt a tremendous thump as Pendor slammed into the ground, rolling into a black ball that threw her free. She landed on her shoulder, the pain registering dully in her head. Dull compared to her concern for her friend. A light drizzle began to fall.
"Pendor!" she screamed.
Kitty? the dragon said weakly. I'm hurt.
She scrabbled to her feet and ran to the treeline, where Pendor had impacted against a stand of three trees, fracturing one. As she ran, the dragon began shifting, moving back away from the trees. In a slow limp he turned around and fell to the ground, his eyes closed.
As Kitty got closer, she could feel the waves of pain emanating off him. She closed her eyes and concentrated, walking up to his head and saying, "Pendor?"
My wing... It hurts. She looked over at the wing he had splayed out along the ground. It looked wrong. Horror spread through her when she realized why; the wing was broken, high by the shoulder.
"Don't move!" she screamed as the dragon started to get up again. "Pendor, your wing is broken."
Broken? he asked. How do you fix it? It hurts!
"I know, I know it hurts. It'll be okay." Okay? What did she know about broken bones... broken Dragon's bones? She grit her teeth for a second and said "I'm going to do something. It's going to make it hurt more."
MORE? the dragon wailed.
"It has to, Pendor. Please, trust me."
Kitty, I don't want it to hurt.
"Please, Pendor!" She walked around to the wing and examined it from the outside. All she had for medical training was her Girl Scout's badge and the time she'd broken her leg. She knew you had to set it and keep the person from using it, but how? "Pendor?" she asked, laying hands out the edge of the wing away from the break, away from his body.
What? the dragon asked.
She dug her bootheels into the ground and said, "Pull."
"Pull away from me, Dammit! One sharp pull! Do it now or you'll never be able to fly again! Do it, NOW!"
The dragon raised his head and turned on his long neck to look at her, his eyes full of pain. He closed them.
Kitty felt him tense, and there was a sudden jerk, followed by a sickly cracking sound, and Pendor screamed, the pain emanating from his mind into hers; she whimpered in her agony. But she never lost her grip.
There was no answer for a few seconds. Kitty... he said.
"Pendor, fold the wing, slowly. Very slowly." She held the fracture point in place carefully, straining her arms; his wing was heavy. The wing slowly folded into place. Kitty pulled her staff from her waist and laid it along the fracture. "Don't move," she said. She stripped off her shirt and pulled her knife, slicing the sleeves from her shirt and using them to tie the staff in place, splinting the wing. She worried that she was cutting off Pendor's circulation. She checked the splint; it looked adequate. She could only hope.
"Let the wing loose, Pendor. Relax it."
It hurts! the dragon said.
"I know it hurts," she said. "But you've got let it go. Please?" The wing slowly drooped downwards until it rested loosely against Pendor's body. "Okay, that's it," Kitty said, trying to reassure the Dragon.
"Pendor?" she asked, walking around to his head. She touched him gently there.
Kitty, he said, his voice barely a whisper in her head. Will I fly again?
"If you don't move you will. It might be a few days. Will you be okay?" It suddenly occurred to her she might have to feed her friend. It was going to be more than a few days. It might be a few months.
I don't know. I hurt.
"I know, I know," she said, kissing his head, lying close to him in the rain. "Pendor, I have to get my stuff."
Don't leave me! he wailed.
"I won't. I'm just going to walk to where I fell. Okay? It's right over there."
Okay. Kitty didn't think he sounded okay.
Kitty walked around the place where she thought she had landed, looking for her pack. It had fallen open, scattering her equipment everywhere. The only things still inside it were her money pouch and the little red book. She gathered up her clothes and food, finding the yellow book by touch and wondering why he hadn't said a thing. "Lucas?" she asked the book.
No answer. She pursed her lips and wondered if the book had been damaged in the accident. "Lucas!" she demanded. The book was silent. Cursing, she threw it into the pack and wandered back to Pendor.
"It's wet," she said to him, but he didn't answer. Instead, he snored quietly, and when she recognized the sound she was grateful. He had shifted weight slightly so that he was propped up against the nearest tree, the broken wing laying flat on the ground. She prayed silently that she'd done right, setting and restraining the wing. She touched it gently, reassuring herself. It was warm to the touch.
She cursed the rain, wondering where she was going to find shelter when an answer presented itself. She had noticed that Pendor tended to sleep with his wings outstretched; his left wing, his good wing, was splayed out along the ground. She knelt down; there seemed to be room underneath, so she crawled under and took refuge. She leaned up against his leg and tried to sleep. Touching his body, she could hear his massive heart beating slowly, feel his breathing. She felt that as long as he kept breathing, they would be okay. She turned on her side, feeling his cool reptilian hide against her cheek, and kissed his leg, hoping for sleep.