Hope everyone is having a very merry x-mas eve. Sorry this is running late tonight. There will be an installment tomorrow as well.
“Careful there,” Staghorn said as Alchemy maneuvered his horse through the thick jungle trees. All around them the jungle night was alive with noise. Crickets were the least of it, owls hooted high above them. In the distance, a big cat screamed and closer by something large crashed through the dense underbrush trying to get away from the invaders of its peaceful realm.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Gavin asked softly.
“We’re getting near the outer line of the Manticore hunting area,” the Ursa replied. “From here on out there’s a chance we might stumble on one of them feeding.”
“Should we stop, make camp and leave the horses here?” Alchemy asked, scanning the darkness in front of them for signs of danger.
“Might not be a bad idea,” Staghorn agreed. “But one of us will need to stay here and guard the horses. There are too many things around here that would be happy to eat them given the opportunity.”
Gavin swung down off his borrowed mount. “I can stay. Buck, you know the area better than I do, and Alchemy’s magic might come in handy if things get rough.”
“Luckily you two killed the dragon,” the Ursa said, sliding down from the huge draft horse he rode.
“Yeah, but there’s still a ton of manticores,” Alchemy reminded them.
The three of them set about arranging a small cold camp for Gavin and the horses. The jungle around them suddenly went silent.
“Something’s coming,” Staghorn hissed.
A roar erupted from the undergrowth and two dragonettes charged out of the greenery. The horses screamed and ran away from the attacking beasts that were nearly as large as they were. Alchemy fumbled to get his wand out as the stench of decaying meat washed over him. From the reek, it was obvious that the two young dragons had been feeding on carcasses somewhere nearby. His fingers closed on the wand handle, and he whipped it out just as one of the smelly monsters leapt at him. “Shield up!” he shouted.
The dragonette slammed into the magical barrier that sprang up in front of the Elf. It staggered back, shaking its head. It roared and a tiny jet of flame bounced off the shield.
“Hang on Buck!” Gavin shouted behind Alchemy.
The wizard want to turn and see what was going on, but even young, the beast in front of him was still a dragon and had to be dealt with. It waddled forward and pressed its nose against the shield. The sight was almost comical, if the creature’s sharp fangs hadn’t been mere inches away from Alchemy’s face. The Elf didn’t really want to hurt the little guy. There was a good chance he’d been orphaned when they killed his mother. But this dragon wasn’t old enough to be able to be reasoned with yet. At this stage they were just as dangerous as they would be full grown, just not as powerful. The dragonette slid his nose against the shield, Alchemy wondered if it was trying to find the edge of it.
“Alchemy, look out!” Gavin yelled as something caught the wizard in the back. Alchemy flew forward into the shield that protected him from the little dragon in front of him. The collision knocked the wand from his hand. The shield vanished and he fell across the face of the dragon. The putrid odor made him gag.
Reflexively hitting with all his might, Alchemy punched the dragonette in the eye. The beast roared in pain and flipped its head out of reach of the Elf. Flying backwards, Alchemy tried to think of a way to safely land without his wand. A thick tree trunk stopped his flight, driving the breath from him as he slumped to the ground. Through bleary eyes, he watched as the dragon stepped over his wand and rushed toward him.
The roar of an enraged Ursa shook the jungle. Staghorn stepped between Alchemy and the oncoming dragon. The hunter planted his feet and caught the dragon’s head in his massive paw-like hands and with the force of his entire body behind him, twisted. A resounding crack shattered the night. The dragonette slumped to the ground at the Ursa’s feet.
As Alchemy’s vision and breathing returned to normal, he saw Gavin standing over the body of the other beast, whipping blood off his sword.
“That got a bit touchy for a minute or two,” the warrior grinned. “But my bear here knows how to take out dragons.”
“I’d prefer to leave it to you two,” Staghorn smiled back. “But you both seemed to be having a bit of difficulty with these little guys.” He walked over and caught Gavin in a huge hug before planting a big kiss on the Elf.
Alchemy eased his way back to a standing position. “Well please don’t stop your efforts, we don’t mind the help.” His back hurt from where he’d connected with the tree.
“So you think Griz will want the meat from these guys?” Gavin asked once Staghorn set him back on the ground.
“I’m sure he will.” Staghorn replied. “You know that young meat is tenderer.”
“You know we need to get the horses back,” Alchemy said. He stretched trying to releive some of the pain in his back.
“I’ll go round them up,” the warrior said. “You guys go ahead and get up Manticore Hill. I’ll ride back to town to get Griz to collect these guys. If you’re not back here by this time tomorrow night, I’ll come looking for you.”
The wizard nodded. “Plan.”
Staghorn walked over and caught Gavin up in another big embrace. “You take care, remember the forest can be dangerous.”
Gavin laughed and pointed at stinking carcasses of the two dead dragonettes. “Oh it’ll be hard to forget that.” He kissed the big Ursa. “You be careful too, you big fur ball.”