The aerie of the Wisest Eagle was located not particularly far from the royal castle, but this was unsurprising, considering that the Kingdom of Promethia was, in fact, located upon an island roughly eight thousand five hundred kilometers square and surrounded on all sides by the Bay of Ballamanca. Eddie and Lexington made good time, the dragon spurred by the impetus of the impending rainstorm which was heralded by a gradually-darkening sky. They were soon flying over the Lestrumbrode Mountains, and Eddie had to lean out over Lexington’s shoulder to scan the vista. She spotted the dark maw of the eagle’s cave, and her companion executed a smooth landing upon the stone ledge outside the cavern.
“Caruso!” called Eddie, dismounting and striding fearlessly into the dim interior. Lexington followed at her heels, shaking himself uneasily. “Caruso!”
“What is it now, you obstreperous human being?”
From the back corner of the cave emerged a bedraggled gray eagle, about a third as tall as Eddie and a fourth the size of Lexington. The eagle crossed the grotto in a few flaps of his ragged wings, making muffled noises of exasperation with every flap, and perched himself on Lexington’s head, his talons digging into the dragon’s paper skin with an unpleasant scraping sound.
“Miss…” growled Lexington, tipping his head back in an experimental manner, as if to see if he could dislodge the raptor so easily. Caruso squawked and dug his claws in deeper, and Eddie shook her head at Lexington.
“Leave him be. You’ll be fine if you hold still. Now,” she went on, turning to the eagle, “I believe you gave me this.” Eddie fumbled at the collar of her t-shirt and withdrew a long, silver claw attached to a leather cord around her neck.
The old eagle squinted at the token. “Oh, that old thing. Yes, I suppose I did give you that. It’ll be just one answer I’m giving you this time, missy, and none of your weaseling more out of me — poor, generous soul that I am. Can’t make a living giving out answers for free, you know.”
“Right. Now, for my question –”
“Token first,” broke in Caruso, holding out an imperious talon. Eddie let out a deep sigh and pulled the cord over her head, dropping the silver claw into Caruso’s own claws, which snapped shut voraciously around the token.
“Continue,” clacked the eagle, sounding smug.
“My question is, where can I find the legendary Chest of Tertia?”
Eddie watched as Caruso closed his eyes and began to rock slowly back and forth, mumbling. “Tertia…Tertia…Chest of Tertia…ahah.” The eagle’s eyes snapped open again, and he gave a cackle. “Can’t get anything past old Caruso, oh no you can’t. I even know that, missy. You’ll find the Chest of Tertia in the Temple of Malaguana, at the foot of the great volcano of Pripyani on the coast of Shastan. Do you want latitude and longitude as well? I can give it to you down to the third decimal.”
“No, thank you,” replied Eddie, rolling her eyes. “We’ll be fine without.”
Caruso looked mildly offended. “Well, it’s your loss. Now, get out of my cave and go find your legendary chest of whatever.” He ruffled his feathers and lifted off of Lexington’s head to return to his perch in the back corner, muttering indeterminably to himself.
Eddie turned towards the cavern mouth, gesturing to Lexington. “Come on, Lex, let’s get go–”
A sonorous peal of thunder cut her short, followed by a patter of rain on the stones outside. Lexington jumped back a full meter at the sound, all the paper spines along his back rattling, his black eyes narrowing to slits.
“I beg your pardon, miss, but I am unable to leave until the rain has stopped.”
Groaning, Eddie leaned against the wall of the cave. “Well, this is just peachy. Can you smell how long the storm will last, Lex?”
“No, miss.” The dragon shuddered again as the sound of rain grew louder.
“I said to get out, you scallions!” Caruso screeched.
Eddie called back, “Come on, Caruso, we can’t leave now. We’ll just stick around until the rain’s done, and then you’ll be good and rid of us, alright?”
The eagle harumphed loudly, but made no further protest, only settling himself in a deliberately-loud shuffle of feathers and claws.
“Just ignore him,” Eddie advised Lexington in a conspiratorial whisper. “Old age has made him crabby.”
“So it would appear, miss.”
“You really have no sense of humor, do you, Lex?”
The dragon looked at Eddie expressionlessly — well, he always looked a bit expressionless — and replied, “I am a tax return envelope, miss. I don’t need a sense of humor.”
“Very true.” Eddie slid down the stone wall and pulled her knees up to her chest, sliding her satchel strap off her shoulder. “Might as well make ourselves comfortable,” she said, smiling at Lexington. “We’re probably going to be here for a pretty long while.”
“Indeed.” Cautiously, the dragon knelt and curled himself up into a mass of crisp corners and bent edges, tucking his tail around himself like a cat.
“Do paper dragons sleep?”
“Oh. Well, wake me when the rain stops, alright?”
Eddie rested her forehead against her knees and nodded off. She dreamed of dancing knights who wore playing cards on their sleeves, and she dreamed that she was searching for the knight who wore the ace of spades, but he was hiding from her; she pushed through the crowds of knights, scanning each, desperately searching for the one who would make it all complete…
Something sharp was prodding her in the side; Eddie grabbed for the pommel of her vorpal blade before her mind caught up with her and realized that it was only Lexington looming over her, backlit by the sunshine pouring through the mouth of the cave. Eddie reached up and patted Lexington’s nose.
“Let’s get on with it, then.” She got to her feet, a little unsteady still from sleeping, and slung her satchel over her shoulder once more. “Thanks, Caruso!” she said loudly, in the direction of the hunched figure in the corner.
“Where are we going now, miss?”
“Can you fly across oceans, Lexington?”
“No. Too much spray and mist in the air, and it’s too long of a flight. I’d get soggy and rip apart and drop you into the sea. I’m sorry, miss.”
“It’s no problem at all, Lex.” Eddie grinned and reached into her satchel to show the dragon a large, spiraling seashell which she had brought along. “This will give us all the help we need.”
“What is it, miss?”
“It’s Horatio’s calling card, that’s what it is. You’ll meet him when we get there.” Eddie shoved the shell back into her pack. “Let’s move out. We, my fine fibrous friend, are going to the beach.”