A Transdimensional
              Portal HUZZAH!

  by Van © 2021

Chapter 4



Carefully balanced on the branches of her treetop perch near the border of the forest and the grassland, reliant on the safety rope she'd rigged around her waist, Mac took a careful sip from one of her two canteens, the only water that would be available until she found a running stream.  The liquid was wet (of course), but with a slightly unpleasant aftertaste that came from being chemically purified and stored in the emergency pack canteen for who knows how long.  She was hungry, but survival training protocol dictated that she should wait 24 hours before dipping into her limited store of dried rations.  Mac would have to ignore her empty stomach.

Down below, the tents were pitched and the warriors' camp appeared to be complete.  With the exception of the perimeter guards she'd noted earlier, the amazons were at their ease, sitting on the ground in small groups, tending cook-fires, and generally resting.  All remained in full armor with their weapons close at hand.  One of the bundles unloaded from the dragon had contained lethal-looking spears, and another had held recurved bows in bowcases and quivers of arrows.  The quarter-staffs and cudgels they'd used during the boarding of Sky Woman were stacked, bundled, and (Mac presumed) ready for dragon transport.

Dragon transport...

Mac shook her head.  There are no dragons in Wiltshire... or redwoods... or, for that matter, huge mountains.  Clearly, somehow, Sky Woman and its crew had been transported... elsewhere... an elsewhere that had dragons, an entire forest of giant redwoods, at least one colossal mountain with a snow-capped peak, as well as squads of well-trained armored amazons armed with pre-gunpowder weapons.  None of this was mentioned in any Wiltshire guide books or Tourist Board pamphlets Mac had ever read.  No, they were definitely in "Elsewhere."

Also—Mac had known it all along, but it had only just now registered—all of the amazons were redheads, every single one.  She knew something like two to six percent of the Luropean population had red hair, varying by region, but so far, the population of Elsewhere was 100% red.  Was that significant?

Anyway... what to do?

Rescuing Bonnie and George was a goal, not a plan.  She supposed she could march into the redheaded warriors' camp, raise her hands in surrender, hope they'd take her to Bonnie and George on the next dragon, and then they all could rescue each other.  Mac decided to give that plan the code name Not Gonna Happen.  Instead, she decided to wait for the cover of night, make the long trek across the who-knew-how-many miles of meadow to the forested lower slopes of the mountain, climb said mountain, find her partners (somehow), rescue them, and then... they'd escape.  Yeah, that would work.  Piece of cake.

Mac heaved a sigh, then settled into her leafy refuge as best she could.  She needed to get as much rest as she could before sunset... which she estimated was something like... three hours away?  That assumed days on Elsewhere were 24 hours and were in sync with Wiltshire. The clouds were still partially obscuring the sun, but it didn't look like rain.  If anything, the clouds were thinning.

So, Mac thought as she closed her green eyes, this is adventure.

 Chapter 4

Naked, box-tied, and hobbled (but no longer gagged), Bonnie and George waited patiently (nervously) for the queen to decide their fate.  That's what they assumed was happening, anyway.
Queen Epona
Queen Epona

By the way, the queen in question was indeed as beautiful, physically fit, freckled, and ginger-haired as her subjects.  She was... in her forties?  She was older than the majority of the soldiers in the chamber, anyway, as well as many of the gingers in tunics but not armor.  She had prominent cheekbones, green eyes (that at the moment flashed with what they were very much afraid was hostility), lithe limbs, and even features.  A generous slit down the side of her long gown of undyed linen revealed a glimpse of sandals laced up to the royal knees, elegant toes, toned ankles, and shapely, freckled legs.  The gown's generous décolletage revealed the upper slopes of modest but (apparently) shapely and freckled breasts.

By the way, George was impressed by the Royal frock's simple but elegant Classic (Hellenic-Latin) lines.  She would have accessorized with golden bracers, perhaps an upper-arm torc, and a simple gold necklace, all compatible with the understated crown, of course, and she would have given Her Ginger Majesty a simple Gaulic braid, but loose-in-waves-of-curls was adequate.  Fashion-wise, she gave the queen full marks... in a less-is-more sort of way.

The queen sat on her throne, crossed her legs (long, shapely, and freckled), and continued staring at the captives.

Bonnie stole a glance at George.  "Should we try other languages?" she whispered.

"Possibly," George whispered back.  "I suppose we should start with Gaulic, Standard Hibernian, High Caledonian, and Common Iroquois, then move on to Frisian, Iberian..."

Bonnie cocked a skeptical eyebrow.  "You speak Frisian and Iberian?  Since when?"

"Not fluently," George responded.

"Hrmf!"  That had been one of their guards clearing her disapproving throat.

Bonnie and George took the hint, stopped conspiring in an overtly suspicious manner, and gazed at the queen with polite smiles, being as innocuous, harmless, and non-threatening as possible.

Just then, the dragon in the alcove directly behind the queen, possibly the largest dragon in the audience chamber, leaned forward, stretched out its long, serpentine neck, and lowered its huge head until its face was next to the throne and close to the queen.  The dragon was rust-red and olive-green, in a mottled pattern that was both intricate and handsome.  Bonnie and George might not have much experience with the species, but the beast was certainly pleasing to the eye (as well as terrifying, not by its manner, but on general principles).

The dragon gently nudged the queen's shoulder.  Still staring at the captives, Her Majesty pushed the beast's head away.  The beast nudged her again.  This time, a smile curled the queen's coral lips, she rolled her green eyes, gave the dragon's massive head a hug, as best she could, then planted a light kiss on its very large, very scaly cheek.

Next, the dragon focused its huge, golden eyes on Bonnie and George (which wasn't at all disconcerting).  Seconds passed... then the prisoners blinked and frowned.  George stumbled to the side and was caught and supported by one of her guards.

"Do you have a headache?" Bonnie whispered, "'cause I sure do."

"A small one," George winced, "as well as mild vertigo.  Thank you," she said to the guard as she regained her balance.

The dragon turned its head and gazed at the queen for several seconds... then returned to its former resting pose in its alcove.

"Dierdre!" the queen shouted, and a redhead (of course) in a long tunic similar to the queen's gown padded forward on bare feet.  She was beautiful (of course) and her long ginger locks hung in wavy curls, framing her face.  Like the queen, she appeared to be in her forties, or possibly a little older.  She favored Bonnie and George with the first truly friendly smile they'd seen since their capture, then gave the queen a polite bow.

The queen gestured to the newcomer, who apparently was named Dierdre (assuming that wasn't her rank or job title).  She leaned close to the queen and they conferred in whispers for several seconds.

"I hope 'Dierdre' isn't the Royal Chef and Her Majesty isn't telling her how she wants us prepared for dinner," George quipped.

George favored her partner with a disapproving frown.  "I suppose you think you're being funny," she hissed.

"Bi sàmhach!" one of the guards hissed, and held up the knotted gag she'd removed from Bonnie's mouth earlier.

"Sorry," Bonnie said quietly.

George rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Meanwhile, apparently having received her instructions, Dierdre bowed again, turned, and padded to the captives and their guards.

Still smiling, Dierdre tapped her upper chest with two fingers, just below her collarbones.  "Is mise Dierdre," she announced, then tapped her chest again.  "Dierdre."

Bonnie nodded.  "Bonnie," she responded.

Dierdre smiled and nodded.  "Bawh-knee," she said, then turned to George.

George blinked several timed, then swallowed.  "My name is Georgette Congreve.   I'm most pleased to meet you, and—"

"Keep it simple, simpleton," Bonnie interrupted, then smiled at Dierdre and nodded towards her companion.  "George," she said carefully.

"Jhorrrsh," Dierdre reiterated, her smile fading.

Bonnie tried again.  "George."

"Georsh," Dierdre tried.

Bonnie smiled and nodded.

Dierdre's smile returned and she made a graceful gesture and spoke to the guards.  "Tha sinn gus an toirt dha na h-uaimhean slànachaidh."

Without further ado, Bonnie and George were led from the throne room, audience chamber, or whatever the giant cavern was called, with Dierdre in the lead.

"Well, that went well, don't ya think?" Bonnie purred.

"Sàmhach!" George barked, mimicking the order the guard had given Bonnie earlier to get her to stop whispering.

Dierdre and the guards chuckled in appreciation.

 Chapter 4

Night was falling.  The sun had set behind the mountain and the stars were beginning to emerge.  Mac noted that the constellations overhead appeared to be the same as those of... home.

In the amazon warriors' camp, all the fires had been banked except for a single, central watch fire, and the tents glowed from lanterns or candles lit within.  The perimeter guards remained at their posts, standing with their backs to the camp (and the night vision stealing fires).
Mac made her final preparations for the long trek across the grasslands.  When Mac climbed to the ground, she did so on the far side of the scraggly oak, and was careful to keep the noise of her descent to an absolute minimum.

Finally, the survival pack on her back, her dirk and its sheath transferred from its hidden pocket in her overall to her belt, and the medium spanner she'd taken from Sky Woman tucked in her belt as well, Mac began her journey.

She kept low the first 100 yards... then straightened up and picked up the pace.  After about half a mile, she paused and looked back at the camp.  She could see the fire and glowing tents with her naked eyes, and the 10x magnification of her goggles provided more detail.  There was no sign of activity.  Apparently, she'd been successful.  Her departure had gone unnoticed.

Mac turned towards the mountain.  The plateau half-way up the slope she'd noted earlier was clearly visible as a row of twinkling, yellowish, pinpricks of light.  One of the lights was slightly higher and significantly brighter than the others, giving the impression of a lighthouse, or possibly a bonfire atop a tower.  Taken together, the lights comprised a large village or small town, but certainly not a city.  Nonetheless, village or town, as far as Mac had been able to tell, it was where the dragon and its amazon riders had taken Bonnie and George.

Alert to her surroundings, Mac trudged through the tall grass and wildflowers towards the mountain and the twinkling lights she decided to dub "Dragonville-on-Mountain."

It was going to be a long, hungry night.

 Chapter 4

Led by the older redhead Dierdre, the guards, in turn, led Bonnie and George on yet another barefoot journey through the labyrinth of caverns, and their feet weren't the only things about the adventurers that was bare.  They were still naked, still, not counting their rope box-tie and ankle-hobble bonds and the loose nooses around their necks being used as leashes.  Their captors weren't barefoot, they were in full warrior kit, helmets, breastplates, kilts of leather straps, and boots with greaves.  Dierdre was barefoot (for some reason) but not their guards.

George heaved a deep sigh.  "I hope they're taking us back to the baths or wherever they've taken our clothes, so we can get dressed."

"I was hoping for a little dinner," Bonnie countered.  "It's been a long day."

"We did miss lunch," George agreed, "as well as high tea—mrrrf!"

The guards had paused the parade, produced the knotted cleave-gags of undyed linen our heroines had worn earlier, and put them to their former use.  Apparently, the ginger amazons were past their point of tolerance for the prisoners' jibber-jabber.

George squirmed and stamped her hobbled feet (causing her modest breasts to bob and shake).

Bonnie accepted her gag with stoic indifference (of course).

Dierdre watched the gagging process with a sad smile, heaved a sigh, turned, and the journey resumed.

Their final destination was a large cavern lit by torches, lanterns, and candles.  It wasn't the largest cavity in the mountain they'd passed on their trek from the landing cave to the baths to the huge Audience Chamber, but it was spacious, with a high, domed ceiling.  There were wooden tables, desks, and chairs, all elegant in design with elaborate carving, as well as racks and shelves with a great many scrolls and bound tomes.  Large charts hung on the walls, some very large.  All were strikingly realistic, from an artistic perspective; however, their overall theme was somewhat disturbing.  In point of fact, the charts were anatomical diagrams—highly detailed anatomical diagrams.  One was of an adult human female (with ginger hair). The left half of her body was intact, but her right side had been... dissected... revealing her internal organs!  Next to her was a human male, also ginger, with a full beard, and in the same condition.  Other tapestries showed completely skinned male and female human figures, front and back, detailing their muscular anatomy.  Finally, the largest charts were of partially or fully dissected dragons!

Several tunic-clad gingers were present, all beautiful (of course).  They varied in age from their late teens to Dierdre's mature 40's, and a few were even older, their hair faded with age to strawberry-white, as was usually the case with elderly gingers.  All paused in whatever they were doing to stare with open curiosity at the prisoners as they entered the cavern (but not with hostility, Bonnie noted).

And oh-by-the-way, there was also a dragon present.  It was far and away the smallest example of its species Bonnie and George had yet seen.  In fact, it was only a little taller than the average human adult and, if the captives were forced to guess, it was young, possibly quite young.  Juveniles of all animal species (including humans) have certain properties in common: oversized heads, disproportionately large eyes, smooth or delicate skin and/or fur in the case of mammals, downy feathers for birds, and shiny, delicate scales for dinosaurs.  Also, they share the universal characteristic of being "cute."  (Even newly hatched velociraptors are cute.  They'll do their best to bite, but they're cute.  Naturalists speculate that juvenile characteristics trigger feelings of parental affection and aid in imprinting.)

In any case, the "small" dragon in question was undeniably cute, even precious.  It was also curious and a little clumsy.  Wings folded, it scampered forward—its thrashing tail upsetting only one chair in the process—snuffled Bonnie's gagged face, breasts, tummy, and crotch—and then did the same for George.

Bonnie was stoic.

George was not stoic.  In fact, she squirmed, shuddered, and squealed through her gag.  "Eeeeee!"  The dragon seemed to appreciate George's "enthusiasm" and responded with a slobbering lick of her breasts and horrified face with its long, wet, forked tongue!

The gingers, including the guard detail, laughed and smiled.  Bonnie would have smiled, but she was gagged.  Gag or no gag, George did not smile.  She did, however, blush.

"Gu leòr, a bhiast amaideach!" Dierdre chortled, padded forward, wrapped her arms around the dragon's neck and head, gave it a fierce hug, kissed its right cheek, and led it away.  She handed the "dragon-puppy" off to a twenty-something ginger and she, in turn, led the adorable creature towards a tall, wide, wooden door.

Even George had to admit (begrudgingly) that the young dragon was cute and beautiful.  The beast's scaly hide was a very attractive mottled but more-or-less symmetrical pattern of rust-red on a pale-gray background, and its underside was an even paler shade of blue-gray.  Countershading, George noted (and wished she could wipe the dragon-slobber from her face and breasts).

The ginger handler opened the door, led the dragon-puppy into the tunnel beyond, and the door closed.

Bonnie and George recovered from their "ordeal" quickly.  They had other things to worry about.  Their guards had planted them in chairs, a couple of twenty-something tunic-clad gingers had produced steel chains from somewhere, and as quickly as the guards untied them, Bonnie and George's wrists and ankles were locked in manacles and shackles.  They were full chain sets, with the ankles and wrists joined about eighteen inches apart and the center rings of the connecting chains linked by two-foot chains, forming the shape of an "H" rotated 90-degrees.  The now fettered prisoners had to admit the workmanship of their new restraints was impressive.  They appeared to be machined, rather than hand-forged, and were shining steel, not the dull, mottled alloy used to make the soldiers' armor.  The tolerances of the hinges and craftsmanship of the locks integrated into the steel cuffs was on a par with modern Luropean metalworking.

The guards bowed to Dierdre, who bowed in return, and the armored detail departed.  Only tunic-clad gingers remained, and more of them kept arriving, emerging from side-tunnels.  They favored the captives with curious stares, then met the eyes of Dierdre or one of the elder gingers, made a show of selecting a book or scroll from the shelves, then scurried back the way they came.  Most of them were teenagers, and a few were quite young, thirteen or fourteen.

Dierdre made a hand gesture, and a pair of the twenty-something gingers padded forward, untied Bonnie and George's gags, and tossed them in a basket with other rumpled cloth.  Another ginger used a damp washcloth to wipe George's blushing face... followed by her dragon-saliva-glistening breasts.

George blushed and expressed her gratitude.  "Thank you."

"S e do bheatha," the ginger responded with a smile (but didn't blush).

Yet another ginger arrived with a carved wooden tray with an elegant ceramic pitcher and two wooden cups.  She set the tray down on a nearby table, poured an amber liquid into the cups, then handed them to the fettered captives.

It was only then that Bonnie and George realized they were very thirsty.  The last time either one of them could remember drinking anything was breakfast tea, before the launch of Sky Woman at Boscombe Down, many long, very eventful hours ago.

"Thank you," George said, again, as she accepted her cup.  She shared a brief, wary look with Bonnie, then they both took cautious sips.  It was some sort of fruit cider, with a pleasant aftertaste and a slight alcoholic kick.  The captives drank slowly, savoring the cool, sweet-but-not-too-sweet beverage.  Finally, they emptied the cups and returned them to their smiling hostess.  She held up the pitcher, offering them a refill, but both prisoners smiled and shook their heads.  It wouldn't be prudent to get too tipsy.

"Thank you," George reiterated, yet again.

Bonnie decided to echo the sentiment.  It didn't hurt to be polite.  "Thank you."

"Tha fàilte ort," the ginger responded with a bow, then took several steps back.

Meanwhile, the chamber's largest table had been set with stoneware plates, cloth napkins, metal forks, chopsticks, and more wooden cups, and ginger teenagers were carrying in covered ceramic pots, baskets of bread, more of the pitchers of cider, and placing them on the table.  They stole more curious and not so surreptitious looks at Bonnie and George as they left.

Apparently—Bonnie and George's stomachs rumbled (much to George's mortification)—dinner was served.

 Chapter 4

It was a long, tiring night.  Mac only let herself take a couple of short breathers.  Her goal was to make it across the entire expanse of grassland and into the cover of the forested lower slopes of the mountain before sunrise.  The problem was, she wasn't sure exactly how much open ground she had to cross, so she had no choice but to push herself.  She passed occasional clumps of low brush and a few scraggly trees.  If push came to shove, she'd make as much distance as she could, then burrow under whatever cover she could find and wait for the next night.

The moon rose, a waning moon that shed only a little pale light as it crossed the sky.  The stars were truly spectacular and the night was warm.  Mac opened the front of her leather coverall, all the way to her tool belt, then unbuttoned her cotton blouse as well.  Her green scarf was in her pack, and the ear-flaps of her flyer's helmet raised and strapped together across the top of her head.  Her stereoptical goggles were of little use in the dark, so they were raised up on her forehead, and she'd unfolded their sand-protection flap to cover the lenses and keep them from glinting in the moonlight.

The night was mostly quiet.  Aside from the sound of her own footfalls, on occasion Mac heard bats flutter overhead, or small, unseen animals rustle the grass as she passed.  At one point, off to her right, something dropped from the black sky to the ground and she heard a faint, high pitched squeal.  Something like a mouse, lemming, or vole had met its end, and something like an owl or pterodactyl wouldn't be going hungry tonight... unlike Mac.

Finally... Mac became aware of a soft, lambent glow.  Dawn was approaching, and her best guess was she was something like a mile from the treeline, maybe a half mile.

As Mac neared the secondary growth of the meadow/forest border, she sensed movement overhead, froze in place, and looked up.

Dragons!  Many dragons!

They were far overhead and flapping their wings.  In the predawn light Mac found it difficult to gauge their altitude, but the lead dragons were dwindling in apparent size as they reached for the heavens, and more dragons were appearing all the time.  She counted at least thirty... then fifty!

The lead dragons had long since broken into the direct sunlight.  Some remained more or less black or dark brown in color, but others were now various lighter shades, tinted rust-red by the sunrise.  Eventually, perhaps at something like ten thousand feet, the dragons fanned out, gliding and flapping to the north, south, and west, some solitary and some in small groups.  Apparently, they had places to go and things to do.

Mac surmised (and desperately hoped) she was too small and/or uninteresting to attract the notice of the dragons.  Finally... they were reduced to dots with flapping wings... then disappeared into the distance.  Mac turned and wearily jogged the remaining distance to the treeline.

Once under the canopy of the pines, Mac slowed her pace and began searching for a suitable spot to spend the day.  Finally, she found another scrub oak, suitable for climbing and making an improvised nest/perch.  She didn't want to spend the daylight hours lashed between a couple of branches, but it seemed like the best idea.  This time, and despite her exhaustion, she took the time to cut several branches and pad her perch of branches, used rope to give her improvised platform at least some stability, and looped a safety rope around her waist.  She drank half of one of her two canteens... and settled in to doze and keep watch.  For the moment, she was partially shaded from the increasingly yellow sunlight.  The sun continued to rise, and despite her best efforts, Mac drifted off into slumber.

I know you're there.  I can sense you.  Don't hide.  PLEASE don't hide.

Mac heard a voice... and it was a beautiful voice, the most beautiful voice she'd ever heard in her entire life.

There!  I SEE you!  At last, I SEE you!  I knew you'd come!  Please, hurry.  You're far away... so very far away... but I SEE you.  Please, come to me, and HURRY!

"Who are you?" Mac demanded.  "Where are you?"

Follow my voice!  I'll keep calling, but hurry!  Promise me you'll come.

"I promise," Mac responded, and she meant it.  The voice was lonely.  It needed her.  And Mac realized she was lonely too.  She needed the voice.

Please.  ...  Hurry.  ...  Hurry.

Mac came awake with a start and blinked her green eyes several times.  A dream, she realized.  It was a dream.  A very weird, strange dream.

It was now full day.  Through the foliage of her refuge she could make out the grasslands and the distant forest on the far side.  She yawned, pulled her goggles down, adjusted them to binocular-function, and surveyed her surroundings in detail.  Through the branches of her perch she could see most of the meadow and the forest beyond.  Nothing stirred, not out in the grass and wildflowers.

Only a few branches were in her way, but even with the goggles, the distance was too great for her to make out the tents of the soldiers' camp... and there was no sign of the Sky Woman crash site.  Perhaps she'd catch a glimpse of the airship as she climbed the mountain.

Anyway, in her immediate vicinity, out in the meadow and under the trees, there were no patrolling soldiers, no herds of grazing herbivores of any species, and no evidence of trails or roads.

Mac settled back down, as best she could, and closed her eyes.  What a strange dream, she thought as she drifted back to sleep, remembering the beautiful, pleading voice.  Does the voice symbolize Bonnie and George? ...and my quest to rescue them?  That must be it, she decided, even though the voice hadn't sounded anything like either Bonnie or George.  The voice had been beautiful, like a trained opera singer, or a female bard blessed by Brigit.  However, in the back of her mind, Mac knew the voice was... something else.

Of course I'm going to rescue Bonnie and George, Mac thought. I don't need a dream to tell me to do my duty.  No, the voice  is... something else... but what?

 Chapter 4


Chapter 3
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