Seven dragons and one ghost stood or sprawled by the Hove-side of the cyclone. Osoth summarized their reports. “All things are innocuous enough. The air is nontoxic, save perhaps being a touch irritating to those from Mhel, and that can be dealt with by tincture of snyel, or standard spells. The plants are edible to our test ninnygoats. The deerish creatures are edible to our test dogs. Our biologists and physician want further experiments, but they always will. The water contains no noxious metals or microbes. Our exploring ghost, an expert naturalist herself, has discovered nothing more dangerous than wolf-equivalents and large spiders. The physical laws seem ordinary enough, thought the shape of the world is peculiar. I have one question alone: is there anything else that must be done before a single dragon goes to scout?”
Itharieth said, “There are things that could be done.”
“There always are. Should they be?”
“Not before a dragon goes to scout. Some must surely be done before we bring small people and food animals.”
Osoth raised his head high. “That leads to another single question. Who shall we send? There is considerable danger here, and hence considerable honor. I shall cast lots among those who wish to take this most impressive of places.”
Seven or eight dragons volunteered: Cnidtheyn. Driaith. Evrath. Hyxy and Ngassith, as a pair. Mirinxan. Nrusco. Questhraum the poet, perhaps unwisely. Vaareng.
Osoth summarily removed Hyxy and Ngassith from consideration. “You agreed to keep private your good fortune at being a married drake and dragoness. Copulating in the lower atmosphere above our camp, while a dozen drakes cheer you on, is not private. I can still smell the spice of your passion. Thus do I deprive you of the chance to go first.”
“Right,” snapped Hyxy. “Ngassith, come back to our sleeping-place. Since we are thusly limited, let us copulate privately until the tent falls down.”
The lot fell to Mirinxan, cartographer and scout and guard, and a dragon experienced in unfamiliar worlds. He trotted to Driaith, who, as the chief defensive mage, covered him protective spells, mystical armorings, apotropaics, fortifications, and more than a few kisses. Mirinxan, his double mane flaring, circled the cyclone-mouth three times, and then darted into it.
Vaareng, tail lashing, sought out Driaith. “Not an hour ago you were attempting — I cannot bring myself to say what.”
Driaith nodded. “I can: to share bodily pleasure and companionship with you.”
”… that. Now I see you kissing Mirinxan, as if your kisses bore some special mystery of thwartation!”
Driaith chuckled. “No such mystery. Well, did you choose to share bodily pleasure with me?”
“Then how is it that you complain in such furious tones about who I choose to kiss?” asked Driaith.
Vaareng had no good answer. “I … I cannot decide so fast. Whether I will behave like a lust-ridden bachelor drake, or … or …”
Driaith finished the sentence for him. “like a lust-miserable bachelor drake who rejects pleasure.”
Vaaring snorted. “Like a decent bachelor drake.”
“Ah, good Vaaring! We say the same thing in different words, sir!”
Vaareng dipped his head, shy for perhaps the first time in two dozen years. “Come with me. I do not want to be seen.”
Driaith mused a moment, until Vaareng thought he might reject him, and how humiliating that would be. “Very well. I shall appreciate the distraction from worrying about Mirinxan in the other world.”
By all reports, Vaareng is a better lover than I am. This is not surprising. A dead catfish is a better lover than I am. I have not asked any of the principals who remain to be asked, but I am given to understand from the behavior of various people that Vaareng is considerably better than a dead catfish, or even a live one.