|“What then? Shall the worm take up arms, that the battle may be justified?”|
A shadow passed over us. I looked up, thinking it may have been a cloud or something, but I didn't see anything.
Suddenly, Jerak whipped his head around. "Laura, look out!"
Something swept my feet out from under me. I fell forward onto my hands and scrambled to get my feet under me. Something long and scaly struck me from the other side, sending me skidding over the ground on my back. A massive claw pinned me down, and I found myself staring into the huge, pointed face of a young—
"Dragon!" I squeaked.
Wriggling as hard as I could to curl up into the smallest size possible, I could hide under the "palm" of the dragon's claw. The huge, curving nails curled toward me in an attempt to flatten me out again, but I kept dodging them and tucking myself back under again.
"Hold, Worm!" It rumbled. "Prostrate thyself, that I may slay thee and so make a Name for myself!"
"Like heck I will!" I screamed back, still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was struggling under the six-foot-span claw of a dragon easily ten times bigger than that in the length of its whole body.
The claw lifted slightly, and I saw my chance. I scrambled for the opening with every ounce of energy I had.
Jerak, meanwhile, was rearing in the dragon’s face. He couldn’t hurt the dragon, and they both knew it, but at the very least his silver hooves presented an uncomfortable situation, and kept the beast from getting at me as I cowered behind the unicorn.
“Hold, Dragon,” the almost-Guardian commanded imperiously, “Ye shall not slay a harmless worm, lest ye become a Worm likewise.”
From relative safety, I could get a better look at the dragon; he was actually quite pretty, with scales of the deepest emerald sparkling in the sunlight. The thick neck swayed like a palm tree, and his yellow eyes peered down at the two of us.
The dragon picked up his head and sat back on his haunches. “What then? Shall the worm take up arms, that the battle may be justified?” A whiff of smoke escaped his nostrils, as if he found the idea arousing.
I moved to speak, but Jerak beat me to it, working his way between the dragon and me. “Nay, but thou shalt find another deed than killing, for this is not thine to kill.”
“Oh rot!” The dragon dropped his decorum and blasted a nearby tree with a fireball. “The ritual is tonight, and I have yet to find one more suitable deed to earn a name!” He flopped onto the ground and covered his snout with his claws. “I am doomed; I shall remain Dragon for the rest of my days!”
I leaned close to Jerak, “What is he talking about?”
“Here in Phantasm,” the unicorn explained, “Dragons must earn their names by doing noble deeds. Depending on how many or how important a deed the dragon does, he receives a name that will shape his destiny for the rest of his life.”
Thinking quickly, I called out, “Dragon, I canst help thee!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Jerak hissed, but Dragon had already turned toward me.
He prodded me in the stomach with his snout. I could not keep my balance, and fell onto my rear. He chuckled.
“You?” he mocked derisively, “What could you do to help me? A Dragon asks help from no one.”
“That may be so,” I persisted, getting to my feet again, “But I know of a deed that may not require any killing, but will be recognized among your kind as a most noble deed.”
He peered down at me, “Speak, worm; I shall listen.”
“All right,” I began, irritated at the way he kept calling me “worm,” “First, my name is Laura. You must call me that; my plan is this: there is a band of trolls headed for the dark towns; they have trapped a gryphon for their entertainment. Your task will be to rescue this gryphon from them.”
“A gryphon?” Jerak hissed. “Laura, I hardly think a creature that can’t even speak for itself is worth the effort it would take to save it.“
I shot him a look. “Remember how you said you weren’t assigned yet?”
“Not so loud!” Jerak scooted forward so that Dragon couldn’t overhear us. “What does that have to do with anything?”
I shrugged, “Well, I’m just saying—what if you’re going to be a Mountain Guardian? Wouldn’t rescuing the gryphon and earning their respect today work out better for you?”
Jerak sniffed. “If I am their Guardian, the would have no choice but to respect me!”
I rolled my eyes and groaned. Stepping around the arrogant unicorn, I looked up at Dragon. “What say you?” I asked.