In the end, it was neither ants nor spiders. Rory, Angel, Cloud, and Speckle all followed a stream deeper into the island. Rory very much wanted to leave the island–to go back to his home with comfortable, fluffy linens and feathered mattresses and clean, gilded pajamas–but he needed to drink first.
Unfortunately. He couldn’t tell if Cloud was going mad from dehydration or was just being his usual self; Rory had to keep telling him to keep his snapper shut and the ants undisturbed. The dragon was also exhausted, despite his peppy demeanor to everything else in the world. The stream opened up into a lake of clear blue water. The shore was just as sandy as the beach and very few stones poked their way out of the ground. Rory started taking off his shoes to give his feet a break, saw a giant hermit crab scuttle by on the distant shore, and then laced them right back up.
“Well, it isn’t a spring,” he sighed. “Or, I suppose it is–but there’s no getting to the source. At least it should be fresh.” Cloud was more than happy to test out the theory and lopped up some of the algae-laden water. “Right…I’ll just boil it, then.” Go and get some firewood, he instructed the dragon. He romped into the wilderness, hopefully to get something dry at least. At the center of the lake, there appeared to be an island; it was distant enough that he had no clue how large it was. He saw a tiny trickle of water at its center and wondered if the water would be a bit cleaner there. Though…finding out meant finding water bugs. And he didn’t want to find water bugs. He looked at Angel and tried to make polite small talk. “So, you find insects interesting? Are there any you hope to find?”
“I’m not sure about fresh…. But I’m sure the water isn’t salinated so it’s drinkable?” Angel didn’t particularly mind, being in all sorts of water. She did happen to wash herself in between when the water was not the cleanest of environments. She had standards of cleanliness she liked to keep, and being covered in slimy algae or strips of seaweed were very much not considered clean to her. She always was mistaken as a strange sea creature, the added water fauna wouldn’t help that comparison.
“Boil and strain is more like it, though I guess some people are into chunky water. What is that? Jelly drinks?” Speckle wasn’t sure, he watched some people from the safety of the water drink them though, while on ships sailing on cruises. Usually cans and bottles were tossed overboard and he’d collect them as he followed, keeping his watery home as clean as he could.
Tapping her feet against the water as she investigated, a few bubbles shot up as a small mound of what looked like resting algae moved. Again and again, zipping and zooming across the water as she gasped. Little water bumper beetles! Speckle did come to investigate as well, but was less interested in bugs. His rider just found them cute, and he wouldn’t tell her they weren’t.
“I was hoping to find some water skitters or other bugs that float across the water, and we did! Whirligig beetles~” Looking around, she saw something wiggling along a tree trunk. Grabbing it with her claws feet to pull out a decently sized caterpillar that was minding its own business. It was more snake sized but the large wildlife didn’t bother the rider. Wiggling it, the small mounds stopped making random movements and went towards the distress wiggling of the squishy invertebrate.
“We could ride them across to the island?” Speckle suggested, watching the beetles splash about, eventually given the caterpillar that vanished into the water. Bubbles popping to the surface for a moment with some thrashing, but soon it all dissipated to nothing. Slightly terrifying.
Rory squinted at the zooming bugs. They were large enough to hoist a person–maybe even a dragon–across the water. They seemed to have all the strength to do it, too. But, wait, why was he even entertaining this option? He looked at the Rider like she was insane, which was very much his leading theory. “I’m sorry, but…I have to decline that. Surely there are better ways? Your Speckle can do that hovering thing, while Cloud and I will go by air.”
Cloud made a small screech, as if to say ‘no,’ in a language that everyone could understand–nevermind that actual language would suffice just fine. He watched the water beetles whir around, bumping and twisting around as if they were blind. They had honed in so quickly on the caterpillar, so it was possible for them to have a destination. It was just about manipulating them in such a way that they shared destinations. Cloud’s dusty little brain was turning, the cogs surely making creaks and sparks as he set about doing what light dragons were best at: controlling others. He made a wiggly worm illusion and held it above the water. The whirligig beetles saw it and did their best to zoom into it. They passed through every time, but that didn’t stop Rory from watching the huge mandibles click around. When one of them passed close enough to shore, Cloud hopped on and dangled it in front of the beetle. It started zooming towards the unreachable caterpillar with Cloud in tow. Why did he have to be smart at the dumbest things.
Thinking it over, Angel supposed she could ride Speckle over but before even entertaining the thought fully it seemed that Cloud had other plans for himself after a screech that said he very much did not want more riding to be done by his rider. Though coming off as a little dumb and derpy, in a charming way that Angel minded not, he clearly did has a thought process some where in what she assumed was a empty head. The brain knocked around and was maybe the reason he was a little bit of an idiot. Or maybe he had no brain at all, and whatever thoughts went through his head just happened, either a valid option.
“I think Cloud has said otherwise.” He had come up with a lovely idea though, plucking another caterpillar off a tree and stabbing it with a stick, holding it out for Rory as she worked on getting another for herself. “He had come up with a lovely idea, I’m very impressed with your dragon.”
Speckle was fine weaving through the air, not needing a water bug to ride. Even if he did, he was far too big for that to happen. Watching Angel prep for both herself and Rory, he went after Cloud who was off doing what he apparently did best, make his rider sigh and debate his life.
“I’ll go after the other, so he doesn’t get lost.”
“Good idea.” Waving the stick around to draw a few more beetles forward, she held the stick out and then hopped on as well, zipping across the water but had more thought behind how she led, going round and round in circles to see would Rory join them, or abandon ship and wait on land.
In truth, there wasn’t much of a choice. Rory knew that about as well as anyone. He squinted at one of the caterpillars, thanking the heavens he at least wasn’t afraid of bugs, since this was very squirmy. The whirligigs were already excited and caught on to the prospect of free food, so they were waiting close to shore and especially appetized by the waving creature. He carefully held the stick as far away from his body as possible and hopped onto a beetle. It seemed to hum with excitement and happily followed its prey across the lake, bug Rider in tow.