Why were they punishing him?
Details were fuzzy, as he had been very young at the time, but he distinctly remembered the first time he laid eyes on the magnificent, albeit disobedient, creature called Atrappta. Her aquamarine hide, her wide green fins, her lake-blue eyes... everything spoke ocean about the dragon. Said dragon was small, a mere baby, but that hadn't stopped her from escaping the hatchery and running to find the child to whom she was linked. It wasn't his fault that Atrappta had come looking for him at such an inopportune time.
It had been in the middle of a lecture from some teacher or another. He couldn't even guess who it might have been or what they had been trying to teach him. The dragon had burst through the door, and the teacher moved to block her from reaching the boy—without success. However, instead of berating the rare gray-green creature, they had become upset with her companion. He had received a sentence of ten raps from a long stick, but only one hit him before Atrappta freaked out and started lighting everything on fire. Then she abducted the frightened, bleeding boy, and ran away through the halls.
"Hey, w-wait!" he cried as he hung from her mouth by his shirt. "I n-n-need to go back there!"
::No:: came the soundless, but heard, reply. He had heard that voice many times, never knowing who it belonged to.
The boy curled up even tighter against the sound of the angry call. Sensing his fear, the dragon sped up. She swerved around a corner quickly, and then again, trying to throw the pursuing people off their trail. As willing as the obstinately obedient boy was to go back and face his punishment, the dragon was just as opposed to letting him be hurt for something she had done and that he had no part in. Well, he was part of it, technically—all she wanted was to have him, to be with him. It had been that way ever since they met, on that day when the Bonding had occurred, and (being the most possessive dragon out of all the ones in the aviary, of course) it had consumed her to the point where she had broken out of the enclosure to go looking for him. Finding her familiar had not been hard—she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. It wasn't her fault—it was "tradition."
Suddenly she felt a sensation she had never felt, and before she could quench it, the power swirled and began to take effect. She recognized it momentarily as her species' special ability—a sequence of physical deletions that could transport anyone, anywhere, and could theoretically transport people between different realms as well and doing that would make it very difficult for these people to hurt her boy. So, she decided in an instant to try it. However, before she could facilitate their escape, her head was jerked around as the boy in her grip was yanked on. Someone had caught up through a side passage and grabbed the poor boy, causing said child to cry out in agony. She growled, unable to open her mouth and roar, but with satisfaction she could see the world starting to warp around her and her familiar. She tried her best, but she couldn't get the horrible man let go of her boy's appendage... neither could she stop the process of jumping to another realm. As much as she hated having it, she had to try a slightly different tactic...
Barfodolledeaux felt as though every fiber of him was being ripped apart, but the only pain that came from it was around his shoulders and back. He thought, perhaps, it was because of Atrappta's hold on him. That theory went up in flames as he materialized once more. So did the pain, all over his back. He fell on his knees, barely registering the new world around him or the hot sand that he was sitting in—only the pain. His mouth hung open in silent shock for a minute, but momentarily he was howling in agony. Atrappta apologized over and over again, licking his back and trying everything she could think of to console him, but it was to no avail.
::I am so sorry:: she said again. ::I had to take them. They made me do it... Please don't cry any more, Barfodolledeaux, please::
His horrid wailing did not go unheard. A set of ears perked at the terrible, foreign sound as it echoed over the rocky desert terrain of her home. She ran in the direction of her pet, a Pachymollet larva that was called Bertolt. She scrambled up on the miniature war-bug's back, and with a nudge from her knee, sent it in the direction of the cries. She had finished her gathering task anyway, and figured that a little detour would not get her in trouble, especially if whoever she pursued was in danger and she could save them. Although... she tilted her head, trying to analyze the sound better. Those cries were ones of extreme pain—most likely physical, at that. Plus, if they had been attacked by wallow mottis or bandits or whatever, their life would have been ended by now. She came upon a particularly large sand dune with a rocky bridge on the top of it, and figured that the crier was on the other side. She debated a minute whether to bring her mount around the sand or go over, then decided that the risk of there being a cliff was too great. She spurred Bertolt onward, and tapped one side of his head to tell him to turn left. Obediently the big insect carried her around the base of the mound, and soon they arrived on the opposite side.
She saw something she did not expect—a creature of a similar colour to snow, only a little bluer, with bright green highlights and deep blue wings. As she got closer, the thing looked up at her and made a quick motion of hiding something with its wings. The wails grew muffled, but continued on for several seconds until they were no more than sobs. Bertolt stopped about ten feet away from the beast of the sea, which looked at them pleadingly and without fear. It was smaller than Bertolt, though larger than the girl. "Hello?" she called out to it gently. "Are you okay? Why are you crying so?"
Several more moments passed, but then a pain-filled voice called back, "I'm n-n-not crying."
"Yes, you are. I could have heard it from all the way back at Wa'kee'kee. Come out of there, will you?"
However, against his wishes, Barfodolledeaux found himself unprotected from the heat and from the eyes of this girl. He got a good look at her as she dismounted the gigantic rhinoceros beetle that she rode on. Her clothing was not strange—she had on a pale T-Shirt and a pair of long blue pants. She had long, unruly, deep purple hair, and her skin was a lighter shade of lavender-violet. Her eyes were a vibrant forest-green. She had claws on her fingers and plates up her nose, as well as two nubby black horns sticking out above her pointy ears. He looked down and saw that she had no feet—her legs just ended in round, almost hoof-like nubs, over which her pants extended like built-in shoes. Then he saw her long, segmented tail, which had an underdeveloped scorpion's barb at the end of it. All of her seemed to clash with the tan-yellow sand and rocks of the desert, except maybe the scorpion bit, as well as surprised him to no end.
As he studied her, she studied him right back. He was dressed relatively normally, albeit in clothes too dark for wearing in the open—but he had pale skin, no horns or tail, no plates or scales. His feet were strange—long and somehow disconnected from his legs. She came a little closer and saw that, even for the lack of irises, his eyes did have colour. The pupils were blue-lavender, like blueberry pie. She stared for a bit at his close-cut-short, violently teal-coloured hair. She also noted that, when his mouth dropped open a bit, that he had two tiny tusks on his lower jaw, and regular "flat" teeth everywhere else.
At the same time, both asked (though only one stammered), "What are you?" Their reactions to the accidental unison were very different—the girl laughed and the boy blushed. When he did, she gasped. "Your face is on fire!" she exclaimed, instantly freaked out and concerned.
"N-n-n-no it's not!" Barfodolledeaux replied in confusion, wiping tears off his face with a pained sniffle. Then he scrunched up his face in indignation. "Your face is purple!"
"My face has always been that way. Your face just changed!" she insisted.
"Whatever," Barfodolledeaux murmured, "have it your w-way."
"What's your name, fire-face?" the girl asked, slightly more gently.
The boy scowled at the nickname. "Barfodolledeaux W-W-Whitewhistle."
"That's a loooooong name, fire-face. Mine's Beetle."
Barfodolledeaux tried hard not to snicker. Evidently not hard enough, as she frowned at him fiercely.
"You think that's funny? Is it because your name is so ridiculously long?" she said, with a feral snarl accenting the words.
Barfodolledeaux's eyes went wide, and he took a step back, putting his palms up toward her in surrender. "No, n-not that! Hey, what's that behind you?" he tried in an attempt to save himself.
"What, him?" Beetle replied boredly, jabbing a thumb over her shoulder at the insect. "That's just Bertolt, my Pachymollet. What's behind you?"
::You do not recognize a dragon, little bug girl?:: Atrappta replied curiously. However, much to both of the realm-jumper's surprise, the girl showed no sign of having heard.
"Well?" the seven-year-old said impatiently. These strangers piqued her interest, but they were also annoyingly slow to answer questions.
"She's a d-dragon," Barfodolledeaux said. "Are there n-no dragons in... wherever this is? I—aough!"
Barfodolledeaux cried out, gripping his stomach suddenly and doubling over. Without thinking, Beetle rushed over to him and grabbed his shoulders, which in turn made him cry louder. Panicked, Beetle lifted him off the ground and ran, slinging him up on her Pachymollet's back and scrambling up after him. "Come, dragon," she 'ordered,' which sounded rather comical coming from a little seven-year-old, however the green creature followed behind as Beetle spurred her mount into action once more. She cradled the somewhat smaller child in her arms like she would a large doll, keeping her eyes ahead to make sure her visually challenged bug did not run them off of anything high. The ride was bumpy, as Bertolt's six legs did not quite work in sync, and jostled them around a lot—but Beetle had learned to ride before she had learned to stand, and knew well enough how to hold on to someone when she rode on 'Mollet-back. Beetle checked back repeatedly to make sure the four-legged dragon was keeping up.
Barfo-what's-his-name moaned loudly and shifted in her arms, bringing her attention to him. "Hey, calm down, you," she told him. "You'll see the medic, and he'll make you feel better nice and quick! Don't worry."
Soon the craig where her village was located came into view. A few minutes passed and she was in among the dwellings, some of which were free-standing, where others were built into the cliff walls on either side of the ravine. She waved to everyone she passed, and shouted to them about how she found a "cloud-skinned fella" and the dragon out in the desert. She was only halfway through the village before she had a parade of curious people, in varying shades of purples and blues, following her. They kept a respectful distance from the dragon after it showed signs of angst when some people tried to touch it. However, it did let smaller children near to it without arching its back, which they thought was promising. Beetle's best friends, Skimmer and Cricket, went so far as to jump off a roof to land nimbly on Bertolt's back, only to get a good look at the person she held.
"So, what's the story with cloud-skin?" asked the female, Skimmer, whose colour scheme was a rare red. She had blood-red hair that was shorter in the back and long enough to cover the right half of her face in the front. Her brackish horns were particularly long and spread out, like the top of a Y, and her ears were also longer than normal and more curved. Her sunburnt-looking, coppery red skin shone in the desert sun, and her irises were a red more vivid than the red desert flowers that decorated what few bushes lived in Wa'kee'kee. She was also a little bit abnormal because, while she did have a segmented tail, said appendage had more numerous segments (twelve to Beetle's five), and the segments had four spikes, like a bunch of Xs, rather than one or two. She also had four dragonfly-like wings. That was a little less rare, but definitely not common. True to her colours, she had a fiery personality and it took a special person to handle being around her. Luckily, isolated old Wa'kee'kee was full of special people.
"Well howdy, Skimmer, Cricket," Beetle replied, looking over she shoulder at the two in time to see Skimmer fold her wings up into an iridescent "backpack" on the top of her secondary spine, which all winged members of their species had.
"Spill the caoca shells, Beetle," Cricket chirped. He always talked in short, choppy sentences and had a high-pitched voice, and he was always jumpy and quick to jump to conclusions. He was just less than half as tall as an average person, like Beetle or Skimmer. He had "candlestick" horns—long, thin, straight-up ones with ovular "candle-flames" on top. The one on his right was cut in a slanted half from an incident with wallow motti when he was little... -er. His tail was not segmented, and he had an orb on the end to match his horns. Cricket's hair was a rich violet, far brighter than Beetle's, and his skin was paler and bluer. His big, almost bulgy eyes were so faintly gray that they were almost white, but they could easily be distinguished. And, for untold reasons, he always, always wore yellow on top and brown or tan pants, the latter generally with countless pockets. He squinted sometimes, though he tried to hide it, because he had some trouble seeing but didn't want to admit weakness. The only person who knew was the medic himself, who could do nothing about it.
Both of the roof-jumpers peered over opposite shoulders to see the person that Beetle held. "Oh, would you look at that," Cricket murmured—well, as softly as one could when their voice was so piercing. "He's got some funny colours on 'im, eh?"
Skimmer, on Beetle's left, said, "Oh, it's a boy. Gross."
"You don't count; you're our friend," Skimmer and Beetle said in unison. "What are you going to do with him?" Skimmer asked Beetle as Cricket spluttered out some indignant remarks.
"What, after I bring him to the medic?" Beetle asked. When Skimmer nodded, she said, "I dunno, it depends on what they want to do with him."
"Can we keep 'im?" Cricket asked, ending his chirping tirade and rejoining the huddle over the teal-haired boy.
Before Beetle could answer, said boy moaned, and stirred, and tried to sit up. "Hey! No!" Beetle said sharply. Unsure what to do, she whapped his forehead with the side of her hand, saying, "Don't you try and wake up now! The suns'll just hurt you again."
"Again?" asked Skimmer as the boy fell back down limply. "And hey, you didn't need to knock him out."
"Yeah, I think that the suns were hurting him before. His face got really red—like yours, kind of—all of a sudden. See, it isn't that way now, and it wasn't that way at the start, but it changed after I was talking to him for a minute," Beetle explained. "Oh! Now we're here. Skimmer, can you help me get him off Bertolt? And Cricket, can you tie Bertolt—where he won't break anything, preferably."
Cricket scowled, Skimmer nodded, and Bertolt stopped his shambling walk at a kick from his mistress. Beetle got down on the ground, and Skimmer slid the boy off of Bertolt's back and into the purple girl's arms. She nearly dropped him, but conveniently the medic came out right then to see what the commotion was about, and he helped her carry the boy inside. As they laid him on a stretcher, the dragon nosed its way inside and clambered up at the boy's feet. It gave them both a look that said clearly, 'You should be able to understand everything I say perfectly.' However, it did not communicate in any way they could hear aside from the occasional moaning croons to "her" child as the medic went about his business. The medic (whose name was Wanze) checked the boy's vital organs, but was confused at what he heard and felt. For one thing, the boy seemed to have an extremely irregular heartbeat—it sounded like a tawlk's. Tawlks were somewhat doglike creatures which were generally the only things kept as pets. Dissections showed that these creatures had not one heart, but two, and this boy's beating sounded almost exactly the same. He also seemed to take abnormally deep breaths, especially since they were so rapid and ragged. So, for lack of better things to do, Wanze covered the boy with a cooling pad and set about making a tonic that might wake him up. All the while, he pestered Beetle (who was the only other person he allowed in the room) with questions.
"How far out were you?"
"I don't know, twenty minutes? It was out by Snob-Nose Dune."
"Okay. Hand me that tiny pouch, will you?"
Beetle handed him the leather sack.
"Okay, so... well, that one is fine... did he tell you his name?"
"Well, what is it?"
"I... can't say it."
"What do you—?"
"It's super long. Say, eight syllables. Although he might have had two separate ones, I'm not sure."
"Two names?" Wanze chuckled. "Well, he really is foreign, then, inn't he?"
Beetle meant to reply, but she was distracted when the dragon suddenly lifted its head, eyes snapping open to focus on the boy's face. Then, in a soft croak, the boy said, "W-w-what did you s-say?"
"We weren't speaking to y—" Wanze tried to tell him, but the teal-haired child ignored the man.
"Oh, I th-thought it might be something along the lines of, 'are y-you okay?' or something," teal-hair continued. "... D-d-d-don't worry, I won't."
With that, his eyes fluttered open. The first person he saw was similar to the girl from earlier, only older and... blue. Very, very blue, like a lake, with eyes like the sky on a somewhat cloudy day. His horns, instead of being small and straight, were thick and curled around in a C like a ram's. "Welcome back, little one," he said, smiling. "How do you feel?"
"Uh... u-uh..." Barfodolledeaux started breathing in panicked breaths, until his dragon stepped on his stomach gently to make him calm down. Atrappta informed him bluntly that she had warned him. "H-how did I get here?"
"Beetle here carried you," the blue man said, gesturing over his shoulder at the purple girl. "And a long way, too. My name is Wanze, by the way, and I'll be taking care of you for a while. What's your name?"
"Barfodolledeaux Whitewhistle," he replied instantly, with a practiced air. "And that's Atrappta, if she hasn't t-told you yet."
"Oh, so it can talk," Wanze said flippantly, without so much as a glance at the dragon. "I was wondering why it was glaring daggers at us. Now, can you sit up? I'd like to check your breathing—it's a little off."
With some help, Barfodolledeaux managed to perch on the edge of the bed. Wanze reached into a box and pulled out a short wooden pipe that branched out into three pipes at one end and tapered into a snout on the other. "What's that?" he asked. "I've never seen something like that before.
"It's called a piuo," Wanze said. "I want you to blow through it, to see if you can make a sound. Beetle, show him how to hold it, will you?"
Beetle nodded, and made to do so, but Barfodolledeaux was already holding the thing correctly, with the mouthpiece resting between his tiny bottom-row tusks. He frowned in concentration for a moment, and then blew out a trill, loud and clear—as though he had been playing it all his life. His two unofficial caretakers watched and listened in awe as he played several scales, then a jazzy dancing song, and finally a ballad so beautiful that they hardly believed their pointed ears. All through his little display, the dragon looked out the door, apparently uninterested. When Barfodolledeaux lowered the piuo from his lips, he looked at them in confusion. "... What?" he asked after a moment. "L-look, if it's that b-b-bad without m-me shelling it, then I'll stop."
"No, it's not bad!" Beetle exclaimed, and at the same time Wanze asked, "What's shelling?"
"N-not bad? Well, w-what are you so shocked at, then?" Barfodolledeaux asked, even more confused. "And sh-shelling is when I temper the sound with my w-wings... only n-now I don't have any..." his voice trailed off, and he ducked his head, embarrassed.
"Pfft, shelling or no shelling, that was amazing!" Beetle said, practically bouncing in her seat with glee. Beetle was one of the few younger people who had much appreciation for music. "How did you do that? You said you hadn't ever seen one of those, and you played better than I can with three years of practice!"
"I... I... that's my talent, see? I'm a Learner, and I have a special ear for m-music," he explained, feeling like he was being overly boastful, and shy for that reason. "I have p-pointed ears, which most of my p-p-people don't, and that makes me better at h-hearing little details in music. And being a L-Learner makes me learn r-really fast."
"Woah," both of the horned people breathed at once.
::Well, they're certainly easily impressed:: Atrappta huffed, irritable after the scare that Barfodolledeaux had given her.
"That's your opinion, anyway," Barfodolledeaux said, and turned to face her. "In which c-case, so am I."
"It... it talks to you? I didn't hear anything," Wanze murmured. "Does it speak between minds?"
"She wants me to inform you that she is female," Barfodolledeaux said, avoiding the question entirely, for he did not know the answer and was unwilling to relay exactly what Atrappta had said about it.
Right then, a new person walked into the room. He wore pale green, but elabourate, clothing, had pink-violet skin, magenta hair, and burning golden eyes. His tail was particularly long, and had one long spike per foot of it (a total of five). It was not segmented, and it had a club at the end. Beetle and Wanze stood up solemnly, and bowed simultaneously as he came closer. Barfodolledeaux shrank back a tiny bit as he came close to his bedside, but he was reassured when his soft, deep voice came out so gently. "Welcome to Wa'kee'kee, small one," he said. "The council has met, and we have decided to entrust you to Wanze for the time being, if you should so choose to remain here with us. The others would like to meet you when you are well. Wanze, will you accept this boy as your ward?"
"I will, master," Wanze said, voice filled with reverence for the elder man. "Thank you."
"Please escort him to the Cahm Hall when he is recovered."
The man started to leave, but Barfodolledeaux was struck with a sudden thought. "Wait!" he said. The two near him winced, but he ignored them. The man stopped, waited a moment, then turned halfway around to look at him. "U-uh, my name is B-Barfodolledeaux, sir. I-I thought you should kn-know."
The man’s eyes softened at his bashfulness, but then he turned away, ducking out the door into the sunlight. As he left, he said over his shoulder, "I appreciate your consideration, Barfodolledeaux Whitewhistle, but I already knew your name."