Heather dismounts Leo and you slip off Gemini's back.
The two horses turn and canter off back across the long journey to the Lerin Plains.
You hear a rustling in the dense foliage around you and spin round, startled. Heather's grin becomes wider.
"It's only Fena," she says. "Hey Fena! Come'n meet our guest!"
What feels like a huge cat slams into you from behind. You go sprawling into the peat ground. Terrified, you turn and see......looking down at you.
"Fena, get off 'em!" Heather orders. Growling sulkily, the huge animal backs away.
If they weren't food, you might have told me! You hear this voice in your head and realise it came from Fena. Heather sighs.
"Fena, you should know by now that anyone with me isn't food! Where're the others?"
How the hell should I know? Fena says irritably. I'll see you later, Heather. I want to go and talk to Shadow about something.
The cat(??) bounds off into the rainforest. Within seconds, she's lost to view.
"Fena's that Meliox I told you about," Heather says. "She came with Yuko from the Meliox Adoption Centre."
There is the sound of galloping hooves and Heather brightens.
"Sky Fire! Hey, Sky Fire!"
You look and make out (well, it's pretty hard to miss!) what looks like a winged deer.
Greetings, traveller, Sky Fire says. It's always pleasant to see new faces.
"Sky Fire is a Ganra," Heather explains. "He's from DragonMoon Weyr. Hey, you seen the flit fair anywhere?"
Sky Fire shakes his head.
Sorry, no. But that reminds me-I promised to meet Crystal Nova. I said I'd show her around, so if you'll excuse me...?
"Who?" Heather asks. Suddenly her face clears. "Oh, I remember! Your friend. Where is she, by the way?"
Sky Fire glances around.
That's odd, I could have sworn she was...Crystal!
A slightly smaller, more delicate Ganra steps out from the undergrowth.
"This is Crystal," Heather says. "It's short for Crystal Nova. She's a female Rainbow Ganra from DragonMoon Weyr, same as Sky Fire here."
She's very shy, Sky Fire tells you. See, she was abandoned as a youngling, so we adopted her and brought her to live with us.
"Crystal has the whole place," Heather interrupts-you suspect she can't stand someone else telling you about the adoptees- "same as the others, but she likes it here 'cause there's another Ganra."
"Does that mean that Crystal Nova and Sky Fire are...uh..." You falter, trying to think of a polite way of expressing it.
Actually, no, Sky Fire says, coming to your rescue. I don't yet have a mate, although I'm looking. Crystal Nova has one; she's mated with a male fire Ganra like me, called Ash Magma. He lives quite a way from here-in FarCorner.
"Well, good luck in getting your own mate," you tell Sky Fire. Crystal shifts about, clearly uneasy.
If you'll excuse me...? Sky Fire asks you, in a tone that makes it more of an imperative than a request.
"Sure," Heather says lightly. "Have fun."
The two Ganras turns and canter deeper into the rainforest.
Your guide grins, amused.
"Those two! Ever since Crystal's arrived, she's clung to Sky Fire. She's practically his shadow!"
Listening to Heather has kept you from watching where you're going and suddenly, for the second time since entering the Kendan Rainforest, you find yourself flat on your face. Heather helps you up, shoulders shaking with mirth.
"Uh oh, looks like we're gonna need some outside help here," she says. She then turns to the thick, leafy canopy above you and yells at the top of her lungs "Hey Alori! Come help us to the glade!"
The rush of wings heralds the approach of a huge red dragon.
I don't know, seems all I'm good for now is ferrying humans around, the dragon says, sounding peeved. You hesitate but Heather grabs you and drags you over to Alori.
"Don't worry, he's only teasing! C'mon, let's go!"
Both you and Heather scramble onto Alori's back. The red dragon beats his wings once and you take off, skimming through the rainforest. Within seconds, you've arrived at a small clearing that is filled with fire lizards and some humans as well. Alori lands a few hundred yards away from the place and you slide down his shoulders, closely followed by Heather.
"Thanks Alori," you say. The dragon sends what feels like a mental smile.
Anytime, human. It's nice to have SOMEONE thank me for a change! he adds, glaring pointedly at Heather.
Heather simply grins irrepressibly.
"Oh Alori, you know I appreciate you! Go on, see if you can't keep an eye on those Turfs!"
Keep an eye on this, keep an eye on that, the dragon mutters. Seems that's all I'm good for now!
By now you've heard enough of Alori's complaints to know he's just teasing you and Heather and doesn't mean any of what he says. The red dragon turns and flies off into the rainforest.
"Where did he come from?" you ask.
"Oh, from the Higher Realms," Heather answers casually. "C'mon, let's go meet the flit fair!"
She leads you off towards the clearing and as you get closer, you hear people talking in an unfamiliar language.
"Uh, Heather?" you say. "Who're those people?"
Heather stops. You cannon into her.
"The people who are with the fire lizards in the glade," you answer. Heather sighs.
"Oh man, I was hoping they'd gone! Still, if the flit fair is there, I shoulda known they wouldn't be far away!"
"Who?" you ask.
Heather lowers her voice.
"You remember when you first came and I told you you were in Wiztliow?"
"Yes?" you say.
"And how most SKAN stick to their hidden islands and won't come out?"
"Ye-es?" you say, a little more suspiciously this time.
"Well, those are the minority that don't," Heather says. "There's couple of small packs that hang around hoping to see me."
"Uh...why?" you ask. "I don't mean that they shouldn't want to see you," you add hurriedly. "It's just that...well...you know."
"Yeah, I know," Heather grins cheekily. "Don't forget, an Outsider to them is what a SKAN is to you. You're a legend to them, something that was supposed to have existed hundreds of years ago but which nobody really believes in now. Most of the ones out here are simply here to find out if you do exist. They just wait for me to drag...ahem, escort a visitor to the flit fair."
"So the SKAN Impressed all these fire lizards?" you wonder aloud.
"Yeah, most of 'em," Heather answers. "You still wanna meet them?"
You hesitate but only for a second.
"Okay. But, uh, aren't they supposed to be violent?"
"Yeah, but unless you offend them, I don't think you got much to worry about. Although conversation with 'em tends to be a little slow 'cause they don't speak much English. Like my friend Muri-she's like, really slow and bad at our language. Come on, before they decide to come to us!"
Heather crawls up silently. Just as you get within hearing range, Heather motions you to keep still and slips up on the group. She waits until they're all facing away from her and then leaps out.
None of the SKAN react excessively. A couple turn to glance in her direction and then turn back again to their conversation.
A young female SKAN suddenly lands in the bush beside you. Startled, you jump back but she appears not to have noticed you. Instead, she crawls noisily through the undergrowth, breathing loudly and heavily. When she gets to where Heather was, she launches herself into the air and lands with a loud thud. Heather glares at her, then they both burst out laughing.
"I went quietly, Muri!" Heather protests. "Real quietly!"
"Quiet like so?" Muri asks in broken English, her SKAN accent thick but not awkward, deliberately snapping branches and breathing loudly again. "Quiet like Kalenda after hole-rat?"
Heather suddenly remembers you and turns to where you're lying. You wouldn't mind lying in a peaceful rainforest normally-but Heather had to insist you lay right there in the middle of some poison ivy.
"Hey Muri, I want you to meet my new friend!"
Muri turns towards you. So does the whole pack. You feel a little silly and kind of like a freak exhibit as you get to your feet.
Suddenly, a tiny wyvern like creature flies past you and spins around your head. You turn, trying to follow its movement and Muri and Heather both giggle.
"No worries," Muri says to you. "Kil very friend."
"Kill?" you echo dumbly.
This absolutely cracks Heather up whilst Muri simply stands there looking bemused.
"The name 'Kil' doesn't exactly translate well into our language, Muri, remember?" Heather chokes out.
"Oh. Yes. Sorry." Muri promptly turns away and starts chasing a beetle.
"So come on!" says Heather. "Or are you just gonna stand in the middle of all that poison ivy? Come meet the pack!"
You step slightly hesitantly into a ring of three pairs of eyes. Not overtly hostile but not exactly warm and open, hello-you're-our-new-friend type of eyes, either.
Heather introduces you to them.
"Okay," she says busily. "This is Shiron," indicating a slender female SKAN who for all intents and purposes appears to be the alpha. Shiron studies you for a few minutes, then shrugs and holds up a hand. Two fire lizards, one bronze, one green, land on her arm.
"This one I call Loras," Shiron tells you. Her English is considerably better than Muri's but there is still a strong accent there and it's not perfect. On Shiron's arm, the bronze clamours for attention.
"And he I call Kai."
Heather shakes her head, grinning.
"Those come from Naronis Weyr," she tells you. "SKAN seem to attract the bronzes, browns and greens more than any other colour!" she tells you. "Particularly the greens," she adds, as a tiny hatchling comes to settle on Muri's shoulder.
"She and I found the clutch whilst we were exploring the coves," Heather explains. "There were only two eggs left then-Muri Impressed the green and I Impressed the brown! We got 'em from the Beaches, if you're interested."
"Oh yeah," Heather adds. "This is my little flitter, Terr. 'Course, it was Isarin who really pulled off the coup de grace."
This gets her a lot of blank looks from the pack. Finally Shiron admits their confusion.
"What is coup de grace?"
"Never mind," Heather says, after a minute hesitation. "Isarin, show the guest your flits."
A SKAN male shrugs indifferently, a gesture that could loosely be translated as 'what the hell'. Appearing from literally nowhere, two more fire lizards, one blue and one gold settle down on the ground beside him.
"That blue one's Aral," Heather explains, "and the queen's called Leshai. Isarin and Jaroln found the eggs at Chewie's Adoption Centre. Where is Jaroln, by the way?"
Isarin shrugs again.
"Okay, I get it. We interrupted something, right?"
The SKAN look at each other for a few minutes. Then Shiron shrugs indifferently.
"Okay, okay," Heather says. "Muri'n'me'll go someplace else. Hey, you'll be okay on your own, won't you? Just follow this path; it'll take you straight out. I'll join you later."
Phew! I'm beat. Give me a break!