Five Years Later, July 21, 2003 Cavalcadium Dandytown Branch Office
“Is there any more unfinished business to bring before the committee?” 33 year old Delilah Moreau-Walter asked the group of ten people gathered around an obsidian-topped table. “Hearing none, I’ll ask for any announcements.” A slender woman with a single horn projecting from her forehead stood, addressed her and announced that there would be a sociable to celebrate the creation of the first portal gun prototype on the following Thursday at her home. Lilah thanked the woman and told the group that the next meeting of the Rifts, Portals, and Wormholes Committee would be held in two months’ time in the same place and adjourned the meeting.
She was the last to leave room 419 and was surprised to find Georgia Jones squatting just outside the door waiting for her. “This is a change,” she said brightly but the way her friend looked up at her changed her tune. “Everything all right?” she asked and gave her a hand.
“Not really,” Jones admitted as she stood.
“Want to get a drink?”
They started down the stairs and Lilah hesitated to ask, “is it something you can’t tell me or something you don’t want to?”
Lilah hugged the small briefcase she carried to her chest. “Well, you’re not handing me a weapon this time, so that’s good?”
“Oh, yeah. You’re safe. We’re safe, it’s just the world and the politicians and it just never ends. I can’t see how it’ll ever end…” Jones growled. “Hell, I wish I could talk to you about it. Wish there was some way I could get you on the damned committee! If they’d just listen to me…” They had reached the second floor and were now overlooking the foyer where a commotion was going on. A ring of people circled a young man who was turning around in place and shouting at them. “What’s goin’ on down there?” Jones wondered and they both stopped to gawk.
“What is he?” Lilah asked, noting his black horns and red tail.
“Dunno. Looks like a hybrid. Dragon I bet. Look at how even security won’t go near him. No one knows what you can and can’t do to a Real Dragon these days so they’re playing it safe in case he is one.”
A passing mime stopped and signed to them ‘he looks for alter Cav has. Save his brother.’
“Alter?” Jones asked. “That’s cryptic.”
‘The “morrow’s alter”.’ The mime signed and shrugged but then gaped and clapped her hands. She signed ‘morrow’s alter’ again and pointed at Lilah.
“Morrow’s Alter?” Jones repeated.
Lilah’s eyes widened and they both bolted down the stairs.
She pushed her way to the front of the circle of gawkers. In the center a young man with reptilian features took a defensive position and shouted “I need the Mo-ro-al-ter!” His posture was hunched a bit due to being a toe-walker and his bare feet were decidedly dragon-like. His hands were humanoid but bore short, sharp claws and his skin was mostly human with discrete patches of red scales. His hair was longish, reddish and dreadlocked. “They stole my brother!” he shouted, demanding with a hint of anguish and exhaustion.
Lilah squared her shoulders. “I am Delilah Moreau-Walter!” she shouted from the edge of the circle and the crowd gasped, finally understanding what he meant. The half-dragon swung around, locked eyes with her and in a few steps bound over to stand within inches of her. She stood her ground. “How can I help?”
He squinted as he scrutinized the tall, fair skinned woman before him. “It is said the Mo-ro-al-ter is the one who can defeat the Bes-eye who stole my brother.”
Before Lilah could ask him what he meant, Jones clapped a hand on her shoulder and butted in. “Whoa! Is your brother also a half dragon?”
“No. He is a dragon yet to hatch.”
“A dragon egg. Holy moly. Ok. Both of you, come with me!” she cried, beaming from ear to ear. She grabbed the half-dragon by the arm and led him and Lilah away, flipping her kantan open with her free hand. “I’ll take Serendipity for the win, Tom!” she snarked. “Lilah, I’m getting you on that committee!”
The committee members were understandably chuffed to have been called back into session not an hour after their last meeting, despite the assertions from Jones that she had very important and time-sensitive news for them. “Mr. Chairman,” she began as a short, bearded leprechaun banged a gavel and demanded order.
“Miss Jones!” he shouted back. “The committee would like to know, I don’t doubt, why you’ve brought two additional persons into our rather private midst?”
Jones waved her hands in a calming gesture, but could not wipe the smirk from her lips. “Mr. Chairman, this is…” she pointed to the half-dragon standing with his back to the wall, arms tightly folded. “Crap, what’s your name, kid?” There was an audible groan.
“N’Gretty!” he barked and began to complain about being made to wait.
“That Dragon for ‘stubborn’?” Jones asked, raising a brow.
“No!” he exclaimed, looking more than a little flustered. “It means ‘brave’!”
Jones shook her head. “Never mind. N’Gretty here is a half-dragon of the real variety and his younger brother, of the full real variety, as well as the yet-to-be-hatched variety, to wit, a real dragon egg has been stolen by the Beciles!”
The room of about a dozen people buzzed with murmurs until the gavel silenced them. “This is very serious indeed,” the chairman allowed.
A mime from the Merveilles delegation raised his hand and signed ‘he must be provoking us to have committed such a crime.’
A clown from New Pieland leapt up and agreed. “We could be walking into a trap!”
Jones nodded. “Both, probably.”
The Chairman pouted. “That will be enough secrets, thank you! Bringing Miss Moreau-Walter into this by some sort of privileged default is not…”
“Becile…,” Lilah whispered and took another small step behind Jones.
Jones reached back and put a hand on her shoulder then cut the chairman off. “N’Gretty believes that it is she who can fight them—she who is backed by us. Time is of the essence, Mr. Chairman. I move that Delilah Moreau-Walter and the Half-Dragon N’Gretty be accepted as non-voting members of this committee with all appropriate security clearances.”
He growled, but followed the rules of order and after a few minutes of discussion the motion was passed. “Miss Moreau-Walter, Mr. N’Gretty. This is the Asininia Monitoring Committee made up of three members of the Council of Nine, two members of parliament from New Pieland, two senators from Merveilles and, well, until now, two representatives from Verk, all of which are members of the Cavalcadium. As you are non-voting members, this does not change the balance of power as we have just previously discussed.” He gestured to a woman on his left and she handed Lilah a dossier. At the same time, he tapped a round, blue button on the table in front of him and a hidden projector came to life, showing a map of Kazooland and focusing on the area surrounding Asininia. “We have been watching a disturbing development for the last few years. The Beciles have apparently developed a weapon of mass destruction and are planning to use it to attack New Pieland. A recent report from May indicates that the weapon is fully functional and ready to use.” He stared at Lilah. “This weapon is a beam cannon designed to convert biological material into machine parts, a nasty affair which will cause loss of life on a massive scale, not to mention aid Asininia in a take-over the land they so covet.” The committee grumbled its agreement. “Given that a protected half-dragon has accused the Beciles of theft of a real dragon egg—a High Crime recognized by the sovereign nations here represented—I would like to ask for a motion to proceed immediately with Plan Theta.”
Jones appeared pleased, N’Gretty raised a brow, but seemed otherwise glad to see things going in his favor, and Lilah looked as if she were going to vomit as the committee moved to proceed. It wasn’t until the gavel came down that Jones noticed the pallor of her friend’s face. “You ok?” she asked.
Lilah’s hands trembled but she took a deep breath and composed herself. She rolled up the dossier and gripped it tightly. “I wish to be involved in action against the Beciles. I want to go there. I want to see them taken down with my own eyes.”
Jones made a face. “I don’t know if that’s such a hot idea, Lilah, I mean, you’re not a fighter…”
“I will see this end!” she shouted.
N’Gretty stepped up to stand next to Lilah. “I will accompany the Mo-ro-al-ter who will get my brother back!”
The room buzzed and the chairman picked up his gavel, gave it a tired look and held it up. “I will entertain a motion to suspend business and reconvene after lunch to discuss and finalize Plan Theta!” The motion was made a passed and the gavel thudded down.
Lilah unclenched the dossier and handed it back to the woman who gave it to her. On the page which she had opened it was a fuzzy, odd-angle image of a skinny, black-haired man labeled “Only known photo of King Mortimer Becile taken abt. December 1999”.
After a long and intense series of meetings, Plan Theta was ready. The Cavalcadium would send its automaton soldiers to Merveilles, being the closest in proximity to Asininia, and join the attack by sea. New Pieland, with its superior air power, would lead the charge in the skies. N’Gretty, Jones and Lilah would be sent as a commando team through the Snornian rift and scale the jutting cliffs along the back of the Becile’s black castle, entering through a sewage drain 100 feet from the water.
The three got as much rest as they could, got their gear together and the next day emerged through the rift under the cover of darkness. Jones’ kantan vibrated and the signal was given that the fleets from Merveilles were on their way and would be spotted by the enemy in short order. They boarded a small submersible craft, powered by green matter so as to better disguise them, and blasted toward the Asininian coast. Thanks to Jones’ cunning and N’Gretty’s strength, they were able to climb the cliff face and easily enter the sewage drain—a six foot wide hole in the rock from which waste coursed like molasses from the castle, befouling the ocean for miles around.
“Are you certain there’s an entrance down here?” Lilah repeated as the three crept slowly and carefully along a narrow pathway only a foot or so higher than the river of nearly black, oozing, terrible-smelling waste fluid.
“Wherever this crap is coming from, there’s a way in.” Jones pointed out.
“The stench of this waste is beyond my comprehension!” N’Gretty shouted and sneezed several times. “I may die before we get there,” he said. “This smell is… is…”
The older woman rolled her eyes. “Shitty. The word you’re looking for is ‘shitty’.”
“Georgia!” Lilah was about to scold her for teaching the half-dragon dirty words, but Jones stopped, pointed up and put her gloved finger to her lips. The others looked where she shone a pen-light on a turn-wheel at the top of a ladder just ahead of them. As quietly as they could manage (and with N’Gretty stifling his sneezes as best he could) they ascended the ladder, opened a hatch and entered the castle.
The room they found themselves in was empty of people and appeared to be part of the inner-workings of the heating system. They wove around huge boilers that made horrible clanging noises and hissed with steam leaks until they found an exit which took them to a dimly-lit hallway. Using a compass to guide them, they continued north toward the heart of the castle for some time before hearing metallic footsteps and ducked into a room to the right which was blessedly vacant. The room was as dank and as cold as the hall and featured six doors, three on each side of a center hallway. Green-flamed gas lights flickered next to each heavy, metal door. N’Gretty wrinkled his nose again. “Another stench. There is but one human in this room and it is very near death.”
“This is a prison,” Jones said and frowned. “Damned Beciles.”
Something caught Lilah’s attention and she stepped away from them and walked on tip-toe down between the doors.
“Lilah, what are you…?” Jones hissed as she noticed her movement.
Lilah stopped in front of one of the doors and held
her breath as she listened for a faint sound, which repeated a few times. With
her ear practically to the door, she recognized it as a cough. “N’Gretty,” she
whispered urgently. “Get this door open.”
“What? Have you gone nuts?” Jones asked, joining them at the door.
N’Gretty nodded. “You want this the quiet-way or the loud-way?”
“The now-way,” Lilah replied.
He nodded again and grasped the door handle. “Loud it is.”
“Wait!” Jones barked. “There’s key’s right there!” she pointed to a ring of keys on the opposite wall. In a few quick motions, N’Gretty rolled his eyes, snatched them, turned and unlocked the door.
“The quiet-now-way, who knew?” he said, shrugging and opened the door.
Lilah rushed in and gasped at the sight of an emaciated, bearded man lying on a cot against the far wall, a bowl of uneaten and moldered food sat on a chair to the right. His pajama-like clothes were stained and faded. His green eyes turned toward them but didn’t seem to see them at all.
“Oh my god, Morton,” Lilah whispered, went down on her knees and with trembling hands gently stroked his matted hair away from his ashen face.
“Morton?” Jones asked, shocked. “Lilah, are you serious?”
N’Gretty frowned. “This man should be dead.”
“No!” Tears came to the young woman’s eyes.
The half-dragon folded his arms raised a brow. “You wish him to live?”
Lilah shot him an incredulous look. “Yes!”
He pushed her aside and propped Mortimer up in his left arm. With his right, N’Gretty removed a small bottle of purple fluid from his belt and with his thumb, uncorked it. “Drink this and live.” He shoved the bottle between the man’s cracked lips and forced half of its contents down his throat then let him fall back on the cot. Mortimer sputtered, coughing and gagging. His eyes widened and he gasped for air then rolled to his side and curled into a ball, shaking with spasms. Lilah cried out in alarm, but N’Gretty clamped a hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that this was part of the process.
Suddenly, he stopped moving and relaxed, taking a huge breath of air and letting it out slowly and evenly. When he uncurled, his complexion was pink, his face was full and it appeared for all intents and purposes that he had just had a good night’s sleep, followed by a quick jog and a large meal.
“Holy crap, ‘Gretty what the hell is that?” Jones demanded.
“Magic healing potion.”
Jones gave him a look.
“What? Hello? Dragon?”
Mortimer sat up and stared at his visitors. “Delilah! Miss Jones! And… my savior, apparently. What is your name, good sir?”
“N’Gretty the Half-Dragon!” he said proudly.
“N’Gretty…” Mortimer repeated. “Stubborn?”
He rolled his eyes and made to correct him, but then shrugged. “Stubborn.”
Jones crowed. “Ha! I knew it!”
“I am forever in your debt. To what do I owe this decidedly last-minute rescue? Surely the Cavalcadium has not suddenly developed interest in political unrest?"
Jones laughed. "Well, that's not far from the truth, but we didn't know you were here, Morton."
"Ah, I see.” He stood and tried to search his former lover's eyes, but she had turned away from him. “Miss Jones, could it be that you have not been informed that I am in fact Mortimer Becile?” he asked.
“WHAT?” Jones cried. “You’re…then…? Lilah? A little ‘splaining, please?”
N’Gretty snarled and shot an accusatory look at Lilah. “If I had known this, I would have let him die!”
Lilah hugged herself. “When he was in Verk I didn’t know. When I found out, I rejected him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jones whined. “A Becile infiltrating the Cav is not to be taken lightly!”
“You never told anyone?” Mortimer asked quietly.
She winced. “I knew he didn’t mean any harm. I thought about it long and hard, but I decided it wouldn’t have done anyone any good. Not me, and not the Cav.”
N’Gretty snorted angrily for having been ignored. “Why did you make me save him? He stole my brother!”
Mortimer cocked a brow at him “I did what now?”
Lilah sighed. “No, he couldn’t have. When I saw the picture of ‘Mortimer Becile’ the Cav had I knew something was up. He didn’t fit the description, but Morton’s brother Ulysses did. Or rather, Mortimer's brother Eustace. Right?”
“Correct.” Mortimer folded his arms. “As soon as I returned here my brother locked me up and assumed my identity. What’s he done? Kidnapped someone?”
A distant sound like thunder rolled across the castle making them all look to the ceiling.
“‘Fraid it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Jones said urgently and tapped her foot. “Lilah. Can we trust him?”
She forced herself to look him in the eyes for the first time in seven years. “Yes.”
“Right. Let’s talk and walk, shall we?” Jones suggested and the four of them left the cell and headed toward the interior of the castle.