Midnight had almost arrived for Captain Zyn and his interlocutor alike when the former made the call to the Governess' office. It had been hours since his crew, just short of take-off, had first been assaulted by the zealous dragon that now stood outside of their ship, and ever since, his men and the creature had been engaged in a psychological stand-off with only a small female that had come along with the creature to mediate between both sides. There hadn't been anything more than mild injuries among his crew so far, but he was certain that worse things were to come soon.
However, it had been a good twenty seconds since he'd finished informing the Governess of the situation, and there had been no response yet. Even after trying to get her attention, the silence on the other side of the line persisted, so he figured he'd buy the Governess some time. He took a deep breath, and started to look around at his quarters in an attempt to distract himself while he waited for the Governess' response.
He was in a simple, yet spacious room: while it had first been built to accommodate the most basic of needs for galactic travel, the Captain before Zyn had chosen to expand it a little bit to make room for more furnishings and souvenirs. The extra space wasn't an issue, and since his predecessor had taken all his trinkets with him, the scaled-tailed bat that now directed the ship had chosen to keep it the way he'd received it--making sure to keep it well-maintained and only making changes where necessary.
As a result, there was a significant lack of adornments and souvenirs on his desk, no exotic carpets on the floor or extravagant lamps on the ceiling, and the amount of chairs and couches was minimal--an outrageous amount of furnishing for the Captain of an Intergalactic ship. But his desk was always kept free of delayed paperwork, the floor tidy, and the single couch and pair of chairs in a perpetually pristine condition--details that spoke of his practicality and efficiency as the Captain of an Alerian Intergalactic Ship, or more specifically, the only one in the Alerian Intergalactic Mail Delivery System.
Zyn was a patient man, and was no stranger to being put on hold for long periods of time, but after a minute and a half of oppressing silence he just felt the waiting time had grown too long.
"Governess," he chirped again in his squeaky, yet calm voice, but was interrupted right away by his interlocutor's voice. He listened in silence then, letting a frown form over his face as he listened. He trusted the governor, and the short creature that had been mediating between his crew and the dragon outside had certainly stalled any possible bloodshed; but letting the girl in meant the dragon came as well--and, the former's word that it was harmless notwithstanding, he didn't like the idea of transporting an otherwise aggressive stowaway in his ship.
"Should I take her with us then, ma'am?" he asked the Governess at the first pause he could. The sooner he cleared that out the better, and he nodded immediately afterwards--though not without an audible sigh. "I take it you've got a plan for this, then," he continued, and nodded once again at the response. He wasn't pleased with the Governess' choice, but she was the one in the office, not him.
"Alright then, I'll let her in. Good evening, ma'am," he finished before hanging up. He then turned to face his second-in-command, a young lizard male that had been waiting by the door the whole time, and shrugged in resignation. There was nothing else to say on the matter, so he nodded in silence at him.
Resigned to his orders, the lizard then turned around and left, pushing his own discomfort aside to carry out the task. None of the crew members would be pleased with their new assignation, but at least it was under the Governess' authority.
Not that that made a disgruntled, three-ton-heavy, spike-covered dragon any more pleasant a passenger to them in the least.
". . . and that's how things are at the 'Race of Aleria' checkpoint for the time being. Meanwhile, and despite the answers provided, the Governor's decision to narrow the competitors down to just one before sending them to go against the tyrannical dragons remain questionable--and the competitors themselves still remain, for the most part, unaware of the twins' threat. This is Louis Moomar, for The AIG 6 O'clock News."
Chi pointed the remote control at the screen before her and promptly turned it off, letting out a loud sigh. It had been ages (literally) since she'd last held a functional remote control for a functional visual device with functional frequencies to turn it into, and yet, the tri-millennial demoness had somehow managed to keep from forgetting how the thing worked. She chuckled to herself, figuring that her pet was to blame.
She did take a moment to think about what she'd just watched, though--after all, given the nature of her 'curse', she was very aware of the threat. But, she wasn't about to worry about how dangerous not one, but two dragons could be, when the mere possibility of an encounter against them was such a long ways away. Instead, she went further back into what she'd been watching: re-runs of the first round that she'd stayed up all night for under the pretext that she didn't need any more sleep. After all, she'd already blacked out twice during her match, and being a demon of all things, her need for sleep was way minimal anyway.
Fortunately, her little ruse had worked; and after enduring the cook's irate response to needing a new plate of meat (the former of which came in the form of being whacked over the head with a ladle thanks to the original plate having been served to her while unconscious and was thus not so fresh by the time she woke up), she'd sat down to study the people she could be up against in future rounds.
And of course, to make sure everyone was alright--especially the girl she'd been meaning to help out of her rut, Arezo. And that scientist, Syra. And the demon hunter, Noel. And the little chameleon, Chigi. And her past roommate, Rehn. And the little purple woman, Mar-lynn. And . . . actually, she just wanted to make sure everyone was alright.
As it turned out, that wasn't the case for several contestants, as the tree kangaroo twins, Tasman and Hitch, had gone amiss during their match with Hawthorn (she'd sneered a bit at this). Besides them, Symphony, the little note-themed, sound-using creature, had had its rear end crushed under a giant rock during her match against Hernando (Chi had actually watched in disbelief as one of the cameras caught the Desoakian casually smoking a cigarette by the crushed thing); and perhaps not worst of all but still quite striking to the demoness, was Arezo herself: the girl had been turned into a fish of all things, by the shark Kysar. The demoness indeed considered all of these fates troubling, but . . . at least there were no announced casualties yet. It didn't give her much solace, but that was better than none at all.
And the questions that the anchorman mentioned somehow rang a bell inside her head too, like she was supposed to remember a similar scenario, and like she actually did. But try as she might, she couldn't figure out why she thought so: she'd fought dragons before, yes, and she'd killed many more . . . but nothing about the race reminded her of dragons. Well, other than the dragons themselves. But then again . . .
"Nah!" She chuckled to herself. "That'd just be silly . . ." she continued, now shaking her head as well. 'Still, better safe than sorry,' she thought to herself before getting up from the couch she'd been lying on, and heading off to the library. She was certain she'd find a couple of Alerian History books in there.
"Good morning everyone," started Nah'yair, a couple of hours later, to the remaining competitors. Hernando, the lapine-looking military deserter, had only started to stretch after waking up, less than an hour earlier, when he'd heard the announcement that they were to meet at the teleporter room for yet another of those long, boring speeches.
And boring it was indeed: it didn't take him two minutes after the spokeswoman started talking until he became annoyed. He wasn't even allowed to smoke to calm himself down, despite the fact that he didn't understand why he even felt so agitated.
"I hope your night of rest was enjoyable, and that those of you that needed medical attention are feeling any better today," the spokeswoman continued. Hernando was having a hard time following the speech, despite his (half-hearted, of course) attempts to do so.
"While we wish we could give you more resting time to completely recover from last round, the Governess is a busy woman and the twins are not very likely to sit around just waiting for the victor of this race to slay them, either. Time is important to us, and I'm sure to some of you as well," the snake-dragon-thing female continued still, and he couldn't help a frown from taking over his face: he didn't need a reminder of what was at stake for him.
"As such, waiting time would be inappropriate for such cases," the speech still continued, and he was really getting tired of listening. "And of course, this is supposed to be a race, too: we're just providing a place for you to stay the night, where you can receive treatment, food and drink while you wait for the start of the next round. That said. . ."
The words from that point on became background noise as the Desoakian decided that it was all just a bunch of elaborate words to reiterate what he already knew: they were in a race for freedom, not off on a field trip to Happyland. So he instead focused on trying to figure out who else was under a tight schedule. He shamelessly started to look around at the other faces--the ones beside him at least, since he'd been, once again, placed near the front of the group--, to try and see if any of them reacted in any particular way.
The purple woman was still as freaked out by the whole thing as the day before, but the . . . chameleon? That one seemed more the quiet kind of nervous. The Desoakian continued looking around, and it wasn't until he saw the others starting to stand up and form lines for the teleporters that he realized the speech was over.
"Finally," he mumbled to himself before following suit, getting in line behind the same Vusician that had punched him in the gut the day before. He toyed with the idea of flattering her, but he wasn't in the mood for taking another punch to the gut: the aching that was starting to gather inside of his skull was trouble enough, as was his lack of decent sleep the previous night, and the still lingering confusion over whatever had been coursing through his head the previous match. He'd just decided not to think about it for the time being when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder from the contestant behind him.
"Uhm, excuse me? It's your turn, darling," he heard her say, and he recognized the voice of the other Vucisian he'd met the day before--the one with the glowing marks and spikes on her back. However, he instead turned his head around to look her over (as well as the pink-fading-to-gray dress she wore), and let out a loud chuckle as the woman, quite amused herself, turned him over and playfully pushed him into the teleporter.
He was still chuckling when, exactly one second later, he found himself standing at the base of a very large, wooden wall.
"Alright . . . now what is this?" he asked, turning around to look for anything that could help him get a bearing of where he was. He found nothing. No matter where he looked at, it was just empty, barren land in all directions, save for the wall behind him. Bemused, he turned back around, and it was then that he looked up.
And there, what were certainly miles above him, branches. Wooden.
"Oh, my Nepenthe . . ." he mumbled as the realization hit him like a brick of walls: the destined environment was the largest tree he'd ever seen, and the likes of which he'd never see again.
He looked around once again, but there were no signs of his opponent yet--and since the shock had helped him clear his head, he figured the sooner he'd start looking around for a way to start the climb, or to enter, or to do anything regarding the tree before him, the sooner he'd find the portal.
"Well, hello, you," the familiar, playful voice greeted him again, and this time it came from a hole on the wood a few feet above him--just out of his reach.
It was the black-and-red Vucisian.