We were in the air, where I'd never been before, totally exposed to the weather, with nothing but a cotton saddle and a dragon's muscles between our rear ends and a long drop with a sudden stop at the end. A bit of a metaphor for life, if you think of it that way. Were we more secure than usual, or less? I was too shaken to know.
We flew, or rather rode, what felt like hours but wasn't, trying (in my case) very hard not to look down, until we came to a place where Traroth landed on a hill, above a municipal reservoir, and walked the rest of the way to a small stream, which kept the reservoir from overflowing. There he stopped, and there he drank, and there Annamaria took Tim off to a shady spot under some trees, and left me with Traroth and Clipson.
The latter looked me in the eye for the first time, smiled, and said: 'Have a drink, Oddworld?', and pulled out two cups from his knapsack, which he filled at the stream, a little above Traroth, and handed one of them to me. Then he said, 'So, now, Mr. Thomas, what exactly are we waiting for?'.
I said, a little surprised: 'Don't you know?'.
He answered: 'All I know, Oddball, is, Madame called on me a few days ago, and asked if I wanted to help her and you in something, and if I did, we two should be where we found you at the time you were, as we valued our lives. So, there we were. It surprised me a little she knew about the two of us; but I wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth'.
I said: 'But, if he's real, why aren't you making headlines?'.
He answered: 'Who'd believe us? Let's face it; I'm not considered the most reliable of witnesses. If I say anything the audience didn't learn at their mothers' knees, they say, That's not true, and he might as well be a child's imaginary dragon-in-the-garage for all the good it does to explain'.
I asked: 'Why do they treat you like that? And who does, anyway?'.
He answered: 'It's the usual way; and everyone, nearly. But enough about me. Let's talk about you. How long have you known that lady?'.
I said: 'Not too long; what about you?'.
He said: 'Less than you; but I expect you know better than to question her, by now. Have you any idea of what she is?'.
I answered: 'Yeah, I know better. What do you mean, What she is?'.
He said: 'I mean something you'd never believe, dragon or no dragon. But you're not jumping out of your skin at him, either'.
I answered: 'I've seen strange things, too'.
Said he: 'That makes us even, in spite of your name'.
I asked: 'Speaking of names, what's the E for, in yours?'. (I half-expected it to stand for Even, or some similar name, which would give a further background to his wisecrack.)
He answered: 'It's not for anything; but people expect something in its place (a middle-name as they call it), and I got tired of writing None Given on official forms. So I gave myself an E. Commonest letter in English usage, after all'.
I tried: 'Do you know why you needed to come for us?'.
He answered: 'Something was after you, which even you and Madame and Little Big Eyes couldn't face'. (Which obviously meant Tim).
I tried again: 'Do you know what?'.
He answered: 'Nothing you haven't seen before, I expect; or me, either. But never mind that now. The important part is already said'.
I wasn't getting anywhere with that line of inquiry, so I changed the subject: 'Do you know there's a cat sitting on your shoulders?'.
'A cat? What's it look like?'.
'Like a Maine coon, but with tabby markings'.
At that, Clipson gave me a long sad look and said: 'So it's true; you can see the dead. How does he look to you?'.
I caught the changed pronoun, and realized what must be going on. I said: 'He looks fine; like he's happy to be with you, whatever that means to cats. He's nuzzling you, now;–– O no, now he's come over to me', and held out a hand to him.
Said Clipson: 'I wish I could stroke him, too. He died years ago'.
'What was his name?'.
'Mogget;–– which means, "Kitling". Simple, yet dramatic. Here, now, let's not stay maudlin over it; have a sandwich. There's a long road ahead of us all'.
So he passed out sandwiches;–– cheese, tomato, onion, pickled beets, roasted red pepper, and a dash of vinegar for him and us, and tuna fish, chocolate sauce, pastrami, and motor-oil for Traroth;–– and we ate, with Mogget on our laps. After a while, Annamaria and Tim came back, and I asked: 'Where were you, and what were you doing?'.
She answered: 'Just explaining Tim's next step to him. Pass me a sandwich, too, odd one', and so I did.
We sat, and ate, and watched the sunlight through the trees, for maybe an hour or two, and I felt more peaceful than I'd ever felt, before or since. It was almost soporific. I almost did fall asleep, but woke myself just in time, only to hear Annamaria say, 'No need to jump up again, odd one. No need to do anything more than relax'.
So there we stayed, until even relaxing got too tiring for us, and we started off again.