Ouroboros Part Three - The Kindling

Submitted into Contest #126 in response to: Write a story about someone seeking a fresh start after a difficult year.... view prompt


Friendship Science Fiction

Author's Note: There's more certainty with this one, but I still have some pretty big doubts here, like whether or not should I now provide a better description of our main character. Advice or criticism or the like will very much be appreciated.

In the numbness of sleep, Ophi could see a blur of a familiar red standing before him. It was a callback, an icon for the much more innocent past, something sturdy that perhaps bulky Ophi could still hold onto. He turned to the thing and tried to get closer.

Branches tugged at Ophi’s mane. That felt... very odd, for he didn’t see any branches here. Ophi tried to shake them off, but the invisible branches squeezed his quills and began to pull him away from the red thing.

Then the red thing bounded off into the darkness.

“No!” Ophi jumped again, slamming into worn sandstone. Ophi’s eyes flew open. The silvery light trickled in, contrasting with the throbbing in Ophi’s face.

Something big dragged itself on the sandy floor. “Aw dude. Don’t go out without telling us.”

Ophi could barely focus on anything else other than his aching nose. “What?”

The big thing was Semar. “Yeah. We know where there’s a spring out here.”

Ophi yelped, “A spring? In this weather? Yeah, sure. Taking a bath in the freezing cold is gonna help.”

Semar tilted his bushy head. “It’s either that or have all this stuff dry up and puncture our skins.”

Ophi pursed his lips. “This seems to be a cold snap. Can’t we wait until tomorrow?”

“AaaauuuuaAAAARGH! Shut. Uuuup.” Aquila stumbled out of the cave, now looking like she was covered with broken obsidian. “I hate this stuff! It’s cutting the ever-loving crap outta me! Are we going or not?” 

Ophi felt even more tired facing Aquila. “Okay fine. We’ll go.” 

Ophi pushed his way over the cold ground. Ophi’s two smaller guests jumped onto his sides, slamming against his burning pores. Wincing due to both frostbitten ground and the burning pain of irritated pores spurred Ophi into crawling.

“Wait! The springs are that way.” Semar snapped.

Ophi wrinkled his dripping nose. “I… I can’t see you pointing, dude.”

Then Ophi felt something tug at a quill on the right of his head. “Ow! Ow! Okay, I get it!”

Ophi looked to the empty expanse ahead. He felt an intense prickling all over but pushed through the short bushes anyway. 

Ophi could feel his insides twist. “I hope wherever you’re directing me has food.” 

Ophi thought for sure he saw Semar’s head appear just at the corner of his eye. “Aw don’t worry about it, Ophi. It’s like a gas station.”

There was a moment of silent crawling. Then, a skinnier torso fell over some of Ophi’s bigger quills. “Wha- No, it’s not a gas station!”

“Aquila, I said ‘It’s like a gas station.’ I never said it was one.”

“Um… You did.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did!”

Ophi felt his lip pull up in rage. Then he focused on the broadleaved trees that just appeared on his route. He brushed past one of the trees and got an eyeful of the bronze flowers. He was so close, he could see that the flowers resembled tulips. Huge tulips.

Then Ophi began to notice the fog rolling through the trees. “Hey, guys?”

Both riders stopped their argument. 

Ophi slowly let out a sigh of relief. “Is the fog a good sign?”

Aquila leaned against one of Ophi’s quills. “Just keep going straight.”

The fog worsened and the sand underneath clinged to Ophi’s underside. The sand grew into flat rocks, and the fog cleared up a little to reveal a rocky formation shaped like long stairs. The “stairs'' emanated steam from their watery tops, blasting away with heat. 

Those springs were drawing Ophi like a magnet. “W-wait, those pools look a little too small for me.”

Semar slid off Ophi’s back by his long quills. “These springs are growing off the side of a hill, I’ve seen bigger ones further up.”

Ophi squinted and spotted a crooked faint line trailing up next to the pools in front of him. The big user waited until something small crashed into the dry bush next to him.

Ophi lumbered a little ways away, but stopped. “Yeah, I really do not want to get lost here. I’m not going to go too far.”

Semar yelled, “Don’t think you’ll need to!”

With that assurance in mind, Ophi slithered on the slanted ground. He saw more of those tulip trees on the hillside. Ophi kept skirting around the base of the hill and found a rocky formation jutting out of the side. He could see steam spilling out over its flat top. Then, Ophi crawled up the rocks leading to the top until he found himself inside a shallow cave, with the entrance leading to the spring, which was the size of Ophi’s burrow. 

The dragon slid to the edge and threw his tail in. The water was warm, and that was enough to drive Ophi into sliding all the way in.

After a while of soaking and nibbling off the hardened gunk, Ophi stopped, and nearly fell completely under water. The tar was hard to get off despite his skin growing softer and he could feel a few splinters in his teeth. Ophi just sat with his head perched above the surface, heaving. The water tingled at his sore skin. Ophi then noticed the salty taste in his mouth.

Something bright pink splashed in Ophi’s face. He spluttered and reared up, but he could barely see the bright dot lying on the edge. The dragon snorted and lowered himself. Ophi glanced at something lurking in the corner of his eye, and standing out against the cold gray sand. The thing that startled Ophi earlier was a pink, featureless ball with stout horns poking out of its top. 

So Ophi laid down on the beach, stuck out his blue tongue and reached toward it. It was tiny, but it might be the first fruit he had seen in ages. After much accidental tasting of wet sand, Ophi finally felt something smooth roll into the fold of his tongue. It wasn’t much of a meal.

The orange user looked up and saw that the roof of the cave was high up and dotted with more pink fruits. Ophi skirted the edge of the pool and then the cave, crawling up the crunchy leaves coating the hillside until he was finally at the top of the vine patch. The user wasted no second in chomping down on the vines. The moment the plant juices oozed into Ophi’s mouth, his tongue rammed itself into the back of his throat. 

Ophi squirmed, keeping his mouth shut. Ophi shook his head in bewilderment. The fruits look like oversized candy. Why are they so sour?

The serpentine firebrand swallowed the crushed vines with much wincing. Once that was over with, Ophi stared at the vines, coughing for a moment. 

“Ophiiiii! Where are you?” Ophi perked up once he recognized Aquila’s shrill voice.

Aquila shouted again, “Ophi!” and she appeared from behind one of the tulip trees to Ophi’s left. She stopped short, throwing her hands up to the center of her chest.

Ophi was also surprised. Aquila’s ribs were on the outside of her torso!

While Aquila felt the sides of her ribs, Semar pulled himself out of a bush and tried to throw his leafy hairdo out of his face. “What are you doing eating the soap-vines?”

Ophi grimaced again. “What?”

Semar reared up. His torso was humanoid, but his tentacle limbs made him look more like an octopus. “Dude, you just ate a bunch of soap. If you wanna munch on something, you should have gone for the flowers on the trees around here.” He even pulled out a bronze flower with something creamy flowing out of it. “That’s what we’ve been eating since we got here.”

Ophi looked away from their eyes, especially Aquila’s. “Yeah… But those things are tiny compared to me.”

Semar flashed a smile. “Hey, it’s peak blooming season around here. It ain’t hurting the trees if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Ophi fell silent, and then eyed a particularly stout tree with perhaps twenty of these hand-sized flowers sticking out of it. Ophi inched over and nibbled off a branch with five of these blossoms on it. The crunchy petals gave way to what tasted like marshmallows and caramel. Ophi’s stomach churned, but he kept his mouth shut. This was the first food you had out here. Sugar’s better than nothing.

Ophi moved close to another tree and plucked off a chunk of leaves and flowers. He paid no heed to Semar’s voice, now reduced to rumblings bouncing off Ophi’s ear. The more Ophi ate, the more smoke churned up. At one point, a sharp branch stabbed the roof of Ophi’s mouth and he spat the glowing stick out. The dragon’s eyes widened and he slammed his chin on the huge ember, squashing the heat out of it. 

Then Ophi glanced at a tree to his right and saw how far he was from Semar and Aquila. They looked like two little twigs amidst only slightly bigger gray trunks. Ophi felt a pang of anxiety and lunged towards them, landing on the ground halfway and slithering towards them.

Then Ophi saw Aquila stumble back. “Sorry about that. I think I’m done.”

Semar’s skin looked very gray. “If you say so,” Semar started moving. He stopped and turned to Aquila. “We gotta get going, Aquila. It’s getting dark.”

It didn’t help that Semar yanked harder on Ophi’s quills. Then Aquila, who seemed to have a harder time climbing up Ophi’s back. With every second Aquila kept slipping down, the sky grew darker and darker.

Semar finally said, “Aquila, quit messing around!” and pulled her onto the nape of Ophi’s neck. The dragon wasted no time in rushing home, now spurred by his burning anxiety.

While Ophi took them back to his cave, Semar leaned on his larger quills in a way awkward enough to irritate them, and Aquila seemed to have stuck herself under some other quills, because her skin stuck onto his back like warm, slimy tar. Both sensations sent unpleasant shivers up and down Ophi’s spine. The trip was silent, except for the tired orders from Semar.

The sky was dark enough to resemble coal by the time the group arrived at the stony tent. Semar slid off, nearly falling through Ophi’s mane. 

The dragon wrinkled his brow. Poor guy must’ve been worn out.

Then Aquila groaned and crawled off. Ophi thought, Well, if Semar is tired, then Aquila nearly fell asleep in my hair. 

While the two smaller users went down the tunnel, Ophi eyed the sea of bushes surrounding everything. The bushes were as dull as ever, so Ophi and his guests may be safe. Ophi couldn’t wait to go inside. The cold wind was burning his nostrils.

Aquila yelled from the cave, “Come ooooonnn, Ophi! The tunnel’s clear!”

Something about the way she yelled nearly froze Ophi in place, and he was already out in a cold environment. Ophi wrinkled his face. Did she think drawing out her words like that would help me understand her? Ophi stopped to think that over. This is a stupid thing to get upset over. Just let it go.

December 25, 2021 02:10

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