And soon they did. Only a few minutes later - the smoke still far off in the distance - they trotted up behind a lump of tuxedo jacket and twigs that lay panting across the ground.
Between breaths, the lump called up to them, “I… may have… misjudged… the distance…” it didn’t move except for the ragged rise and fall in the back of the tuxedo jacket.
“D’you hear something?” Iona said to Edna.
Edna rolled her eyes in response, which said to Iona, well, actually you know that one. Then she knelt down to the lump that had once been called Highmond and, patting its back, said, “I hope you’re right that Pythagoras is waiting at that smoke, but you shouldn’t go running off. It could be a trap, or a town of people who hate men in stick pants, or you could fall off the edge of the universe…”
“It’s all…” he said, as the other two helped him up “part of… the plan…”
While he caught his breath, Highmond informed them that this was, most assuredly, a signal from Pythagoras. It was all in the rescue plan he and the turtoid had cooked up years ago, if ever such an occasion arose.
Actually it was, quite specifically, for this such an occasion. Highmond explained, as they continued walking, that he and “the old boy, well er, not a boy, but you know what I mean” had spent years working out elaborate plans for every woeful scenario they could concoct. Preparing this list was one of the many ways they had convinced themselves that they weren’t yet ready to try their hands (and dextrous beak) at the life of which they dreamt.
“If we waltz into the adventuring world,” their reasoning went, “without a plan for, say, a sentient hurricane… Well, we’ll be laughed right out, won’t we?” And so they had eighteen plans for sentient hurricanes, depending on the size, intellect, and amiability of the storm.
The scenario in which they found themselves now - Scenario Epsilon B: The Road to Turtoid - was laid out like so: IF the zeppelin catches fire (due to raid or sabotage), forcing Highmond to flee while Pythagoras stays behind, AND Pythagoras succeeds at eliminating the fire, AND Highmond is believed (at time of departure from the ship) to be fit for travel, THEN Highmond will estimate the direction in which the ship crashed, Pythagoras will estimate the time it will take Highmond to reach them, Highmond will make his way there while Pythagoras repairs the ship, AND when Pythagoras estimates (through whatever method is deemed appropriate at the time) that Highmond is close, the turtoid will set off a signal (also to be decided at the time).
Edna folded this into her pre-formed ideas of Highmond. He was not the first would-be adventurer she had encountered with such a list of eventualities - it was a common enough stalling tactic. What set the old man apart, to her mind, was that he actually seemed to remember it all.
“Highmond, what's the first thing I said to you?”
Without pause he replied, “To me? You said, ‘Well, they're certainly persistent,’ referring to your Adventuring League. About me? You called me a brawny idiot. Mistakenly, I must add.”
“Yeah, nothin’ brawny about this idiot,” Iona said. She winked at him, but he didn’t know what to make of it.
“You’ve got a remarkable memory, don’t you?” Edna pressed.
“Oh,” he blushed then blustered, “Well, I mean, remarkable? I don’t--”
“Highmond,” Iona said, soft and stern.
“Right. Yes. It’s excellent, my memory. Top notch.”
Edna laughed, “Why haven’t you mentioned this before? Highmond, we had a whole talk about your thing!”
Highmond turned a deeper red. “Well,” he replied, “one mustn’t brag, you know.”
“Second save us,” Iona muttered, “You’re really Inglish, huh?”
“Well now’s your chance, old man: brag,” Edna said.
Highmond cringed at the idea, and didn’t say anything for a while. Finally, after much goading and prompting from his companions, he waded into these new waters, “Oh fine! I mean, if you insist, or else -- I don’t have to. I couldn’t. Well, alright, I--” his voice dropped to a whisper as he looked around, “I used to employ this memory of mine to cheat, on tests and the like.”
“How so?” Edna asked, skeptical.
“Yeah, I’m always lookin’ for good ways to cheat,” Iona chimed in.
“I really shouldn’t say,” he was giddy with the impropriety of it all now, “Nevertheless, I would commit to memory everything my governess said and wrote, and then when she would quiz me on those things later, I’d dig through the old archives,” he pointed at his head, “as it were - and find all the information, stored safely away.” He laughed, “She never had any idea.”
Edna and Iona looked at each other, with no special code - no expression at all - for a full second, and burst into laughter. Highmond’s face scorched red as he babbled a string of confused syllables at them.
“I’m sorry Highmond, but that’s not cheating,” said Edna.
“It’s -- well, it’s... not?”
Edna continued, “That’s just taking the test.”
Highmond began to stammer a response, but Iona cut in first, “Yeah,” she offered, “cheatin’ is like when all your little classmates would copy off’a you ‘cause they knew you’d get everythin’ right.”
“I--” he stopped as quickly as he’d begun. After a moment of thought he continued, “I didn’t have any classmates. I had a private teacher.”
“What about your siblings?” Edna asked.
The flush of his face faded a little. “I don’t have any siblings,” was all he said.
“Really? A fancy lad like you?” she pushed, “I’d have thought your parents would have filled the mansion with potential heirs.”
His face was dim now, like a lightbulb that was purchased but never used, shoved in a drawer somewhere. He was neither angry nor sad, simply resigned to a life that had already been.
Edna looked to Iona, hoping she was saying something complex and pithy with only her right cheek and nostril, but the other woman was staring ahead, clearly lost in some other thought.
Starved for options, Edna began to say, “It’s still an impressive feat of memory,” but before she could, they emerged beneath a long patch of open sky. In front of them stretched about, oh, two zeppelin’s worth of broken tree stumps and turned up earth (the second).
The ground was muddy and covered in small puddles. A wide skid in the mud dragged across the center of the clearing, with several smaller to the sides. In short, it looked like a place where a zeppelin had crashed, but there was no zeppelin. There wasn’t even a blimp.