|Image from DeviantArt|
We heard a deafening roar before we saw anything.
“Dragons!” Mark yelled, as the gryphons began flying in random patterns around each other in an attempt to shake them off.
As if I thought I’d glimpsed every species in Phantasm, along came the scaly, winged behemoths, flying full speed toward us. It didn’t take long until they were among the gryphons, clawing and snapping at them. I knew the gryphons could not fight with us humans on their backs.
“Put us down, we can run!” I cried, and Akhrie relayed the message to her friends.
They set down in the middle of a wide field.
“Okay, everybody run!” I yelled, swinging off Akhrie’s back and helping my wife down. The forest was less than a mile away, and I knew Linda was on the other side of it. If we could get among the trees before the battle between the gryphons and the dragons was over—
Another loud roar caused us to turn. The dragons were alone in the skies! They had driven the gryphons away!
“Incoming!” Sheerya warned, as a fireball landed in the grass not twenty yards away.
“Keep running!” I yelled.
Halfway toward the forest, the dragons caught up with us. Ironically, in that tense situation, the one thing running through my mind (besides, of course, “run!”) was, What do you call a group of dragons? A flock? A herd? Or would it be a drove, maybe?
Meanwhile, we were getting closer to the forest, but the dragons were now close enough to dive-bomb us. We had the advantage of being able to spread out, stop, and change directions much faster than they could, but they were much larger and stronger than we were. They would fly low to the ground and swing their long necks like huge, flexible tree trunks and snapping at us.
Dani’s hand slipped from my grasp as she clutched her right side. I stopped beside her. She was gasping for breath.
“Come on, honey,” I tried to encourage her, to lift her back to her feet, “I’m not going to lose you again, we’re almost there! Just keep going!”
“Look out!” Sheerya cried. I ducked and threw my left arm around Dani, also protecting my own head with my right arm. I heard the dragon roar as it swept over our heads so closely that a wad of spittle from its mouth dropped on the back of my shirt.
“Ready?” I asked Dani.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
“Let’s go!” We took off together toward the forest.
Mark and Linnea were already among the trees, and Barbara, Tom, Chen, and Hammad were within the tree line. The dragons knew this too, for they began to drop back.
Barbara turned around as she neared the forest. Her eyes grew wide and she pointed toward me. “Behind you!”
I pushed Danielle into the tree line and crouched low, still running. Relief swept over me when I saw the hind legs of the dragon pass over my head. I was safe!
Just as my feet hit the tree line, something caught my knee and jerked me into the air.
“Aahhh!” I screamed.
“Casey!” Dani shrieked.
It was the dragon’s tail! It whipped me right into the hind-claws of the dragon, and the beast lifted straight into the air with its claws around my waist.
“Keep them safe, Sheerya!” I yelled, and just barely heard her reply, “Okay!” before the dragon darted through a cloud and I could not see the forest any more.
When we finally exited the cloud, a vast expanse of forest spread beneath me, and a gigantic mountain range loomed on the horizon. The dragon flew higher and higher until the huge forest look like a patch of moss under my feet. Then it descended so rapidly I felt sick. Very soon, we flew into the mountains. The grand, snow-covered peaks dipping into tree-lined valleys, and the orange sun setting on the horizon probably would have been gorgeous to admire if I had not been in such pain from the claws digging into my ribs and a savage dragon carrying me to some far away location. I took what comfort I could find in the fact that if the dragon wanted to eat me itself, it probably would have done so by now. Yet a little voice prevented any comfort by insinuating that perhaps it was a mother dragon, taking me back to her nest (if dragons had nests; I had no idea!) to feed me to her babies.
The dragon took a hard right, and I saw a huge, hollow cavern looming before us.
So dragons didn’t live in nests.
A cliff extended about one hundred feet from the entrance to the cave. The evening sky blazed vermillion as the dragon honed in to land on the cliff.
I was worried she was going to either drop me from a great height, or crush me under her claws, but just before my feet touched the cliff, she tossed me up to her left fore-claw and landed catlike on her other three claws. She entered the cavern and none too gently tossed me against the wall. I lay there, too weak and sore to move, as she turned away from me. To my surprise, I saw her glance out of the corner of her eye as her great tail came swinging right for me! I cried out and ducked as the heavy barb smashed into the wall over my head.
The she-dragon whirled around and snarled at me as I cowered in a little ball against the empty cavern wall. Closer and closer she crept, growling fiercer and fiercer. What did she want with me? I tried to remember the stories my mom would read to me about dragons. What got their attention?
In that moment, I remembered one tale that she would read all the time; I’d entirely forgotten the story, but at least I remembered that the single quality dragons respected in someone who was not a dragon was valor. I needed to show valor in the face of this angry dragon.
I stopped cowering as the she-dragon came so close her breath felt burning hot on my skin. I stood up and looked her in the eye as she came closer. As soon as we made eye contact, she stopped. I sensed that perhaps this dragon was not a wanton savage; she was testing my courage!
She reared back on her hind legs, sending a spray of fire in the air with a roar. I did not budge. Truthfully, I was more or less petrified in that position; I couldn’t move if I wanted to! She bent down directly over me, mouth wide open as if to swallow me. She brought her head down, and I suddenly threw my arms out, as if inviting her to carry out her apparent intentions. She let her head fall toward me—
and snapped her mouth shut so close to me, I could feel her snout brush my chest.
The she-dragon pulled her head back and looked at me with my arms still spread, duly impressed. She grunted and lost all aggressiveness. After how roughly she had treated me before, I was surprised at the gentleness with which she prodded my shoulder, prompting me to venture deeper into the cavern. I obediently walked ahead of her, unsure of what I would find in the dark recesses of the cave.