The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 10

The Opari Wilderness

Early the next morning, Quinn slid into the rain forest that made up this section of the Opari Wilderness. He made his way, moving swiftly and easily through the maze of underbrush without a sound. The Other, his dark companion, came to his call, and they merged—making his persona far greater than the sum of its parts. Now utterly aware, Quinn moved into the shifting geo-temporal environment that was Opari.

The Goddess came to him as a small blue butterfly that fluttered around his head three times and finally landed on his opened hand. He stopped moving—her presence held him spellbound. His very cells thrummed with joy. As he always did, he found himself snared by the awful immensity of Her persona. His other shrieked a warning. He regretfully fought his way free of Her splendor, then spent a long moment finding the perfect balance between detachment and singularity. Finally, data from the environment flowed instead of flooding into his consciousness. The problem with navigating the Goddess Opari was not too little data, but too much.

He smiled a regretful smile as he felt Her disappointed pout at his withdrawal. Her wondrous complexity still pulled at him, but he could function now. One day, he knew he would fail, and his doom would be moss and lichen consuming his body inch by inch as he sat by some random tree while his spirit rapturously explored Opari’s mysteries. It occurred to him to wonder if that was what had happened to old Cayden MacLeish.

As always, when he roamed the Opari, curious watchers followed his passage. Three forest sprites tasted his mind mood, and when they found it benign perched on his shoulders, chattered about all the local gossip and shamelessly begged for treats. Quinn absently flipped them M&M’s. His fingers were constantly busy, signaling greetings to some and warnings to others. He was alert for any newly arrived predators that might not know of him and attack. He was determined not to harm any being if he could help it.

Opari gradually changed. At first, there were the familiar, rain-cleaned, mossy smells of the Northwest rain forest. Ferns and mosses, along with shade-loving flowering plants like trillium and foxglove, grew everywhere. Honeysuckle and Oregon Grape sprouted out of massive fallen trees. Gradually, the vegetation changed to a tropical jungle. Greenhouse floral smells gave way to the musk of decaying vegetation. The air grew hotter. Water dripped constantly. The light dimmed as the canopy far overhead blocked out the sun. The sounds changed as well. A different cacophony of animal and bird sounds came mixed with the hum of a billion insects.

A boggle home-camp is never a pretty place. They set this one in a clearing surrounded by ancient kapok trees. The camp was strewn with scraps of bone and fur from the prey they had trapped and eaten. Boggles were goblins, the largest and most vicious of the species. They were omnivore hunter-gatherers. Intelligent enough, Quinn knew, but given to violent mood swings caused by the psychedelic mushrooms that the adults and young consumed as an intoxicant. The clan had an easy life. The Opari teamed with ready prey and uncounted edible plants.

Quinn stepped into their meeting circle, sat down, and waited for the tribe to return from their hunt.

The clan returned with a triumphant hooting that halted abruptly when they saw Quinn sitting in the Chief’s spot. The sprites dancing on his shoulders chittered and squeaked warnings to him.

The Chief, his skin gray and hair white with age, stepped forward. His face was pale, sweating with fear.

“I see you, Keeper.” He grated in low Alfar.

“I see you, Sigurd,” Quinn whistle-clicked softly. “How goes the hunt?”

“Today is a good day. Why you come here?”

“I heard a whispering that a clan hunts too close to the border.”

“Aye, master, but just once,” the Chief whined anxiously. “It was an accident. The outliers pursued and harvested a red deer. Punished they were.”

Quinn regretted the fear and anxiety on the Chief’s face, but it was necessary. Boggles had two responses to outsiders. Absolute aggression or fearful obeisance. Their fear would keep them safe from any ill-advised moves against him.

“Very well. I have work for Ozz and Oild.”

“Work, Master?” The Chief’s expression grew sly with greed. He, no doubt, considered the two young outliers as troublemakers. Young females had value. Young males, not so much.

“Yes, if you can spare them from their daily tasks.”

“Mayhap, but the price must be good. They have value.”

Quinn suppressed a smile. The being’s face was an open book. The older males kept all young males as far away from the tribe’s females for as long as they could manage. Sigurd would happily sell the two young men instead of merely lending them.

“Aye, a task of watching for me. I am prepared to pay well if you agree.”

“Rubies, diamonds? My females is fond of the glittery things.”

“Better, I offer these.” Quinn reached into his pack, fished out a one-pound bag of M&M’s, and casually tossed it from hand to hand.

The sprites on his shoulder squeaked with outrage. “Us, master the treasure, be for us, not these most disgusting creatures.”

At the sight of the sweets, the entire band groaned and stepped forward.

“Ozz and Oild, get you here right now.”

The tribe hurriedly pushed two small boggles to the front. The two stood huddled together, eying Quinn and their chief, hands wringing and feet shifting nervously.

“You two come with me,” Quinn sang crisply. He tossed the big bag of candy to the Chief and strode out of the campsite. After a kick from the Chieftain, the two small beings ran to catch up.

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