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The project was not a piece of cake. In the violet of twilight, cumulus clouds were amassing around us, gnashing and stewing like chewing meat, and it took all I could do to steady myself in the crushing wind. It usually wasn’t this difficult, but we were above the tropical mountains, and the winds up here were even more fierce.

“What do we do?” I shouted. It was all I could muster to be even faintly heard. “It may be calmer if we go inside the cloud!”

“What, do you want to get us killed? Don’t be so incompetent! The serpent could be anywhere in there! Besides, it won’t be long before the cloud starts to build up an electric charge!” said Grondin.

I huffed.

“But the cumulus serpent is inside! Its scales absorb the electricity in the air, and the wind won’t be as strong!” I shouted. Grondin scowled.

“We go up from the outside, and now, before the wind knocks one of my wings off!” he said. I shouted in frustration, but the wind swallowed the sound, and I had no choice but to follow him.

With every beat of my wings, I was tossed wherever the weather wanted me to go. It was maddening, and at one point I even stumbled within the outside haze. Panicking, I put a brake on it, stiffening my wings, and steadied myself again.

“Watch it, klutz!” Grondin barked over the wind. But then, a fierce gust kicked him in the ribs, knocking his breath out, flinging him straight into the cloud. Both triumphant and alarmed, I ducked after him to make sure he didn’t awaken the beast.

Suddenly, I heard a yelp in the distance, followed by a growing rumble and a slithering of air. My stomach froze like an ice-dragon’s breath.

“Grondin?” I called softly.

“Don’t make noise, idiot!” he hissed. The air shifted a bit faster, and for a moment I could see the nick of a tail a ways in front of me. I shivered and hovered as lightly as I could.

Then, the air lurched, Grondin yelled, and there was a violent thrashing out of sight. A sudden fire filled me, and I blindly rushed toward the sound, hitting its gray ear with my teeth and claws as Grondin’s shadow parried at its teeth. The monster screeched, letting Grondin dart away; I looked up to see him, but he vanished into the clouds.

Coward! I thought, and I snarled, digging my claws into the serpent’s ear harder. If he wasn't going to help me, then I’d do what I could to help myself.

The serpent tossed its horse-sized head in a frenzy, nearly throwing me off— but I grabbed onto its ears for dear life, biting down where it was soft. It thrashed around wildly, and though I managed to stay on for a few moments, I was soon flung upward. Its jealous jaws would have snapped me up if I hadn't let myself tilt just to the left, and as its snout closed next to me, I batted at it with my claws. Trying to dig them in, I only managed to scratch at the steely scales, and it took the opportunity snap at me again. This time, it nicked my fleeting tail, which slipped out of its jaws and led it downward. Parrying and avoiding it, I managed to keep it busy for some time, but it wasn’t enough to keep it away forever.

Suddenly, Grondin’s shadow appeared above.

“Demna! Come on, I found the gems!” he called. I paused for a moment in my flight, and the serpent managed to snag part of my tail in its mouth, its tooth opening a nasty gash on the side. I yelped, trying to slip out, but the serpent’s mouth remained clamped around me. Grondin flapped nervously. “Come on!”

I tugged, unable to get myself out.

“I thought you abandoned me, you jerk!” He didn't respond. “Can’t you claw its eyes or something? I need your help!”

Grondin eyed the serpent again warily, but steeled his gaze and swooped over, skillfully slashing one of its eyes. The serpent opened its mouth to yowl in pain, and I rushed over to where he’d come from.

“Happy?” he huffed.

“Yeah. Where are those gems?” I said. He took off swiftly, and I followed close behind. Aware of the serpent’s diligent breath just behind us, we ignored the burning pain in our wings, and finally emerged into a patch of cloud dappled with crystals the size of wolves. Wrapping our arms around the first ones we found, we took off upward, emerging above the cloud quickly.

Without looking back, we didn’t stop flying until we had left the mountain range by a long while, and were closer to the grounder to relax our aching wings. We were as silent as we were on the way over, but now somehow in a more awkward way. Thinking about the evening’s events, I realized he hadn’t really kept on his promise to abandon me.

“Um. Thanks for saving me there,” I said. “I guess you’re not a complete jerk.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” he snorted. I shrugged. We sailed home, battle-scarred and worn out, but too tired to be tense.
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The project was not a piece of cake.
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December 11, 2016
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