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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 22

          “It’s not as pretty here as it was earlier. Where are the trees with fruits and the birds with lime green and lemon yellow feathers? There are no wildflowers anywhere. I thought all of Arbutel was supposed to be beautiful,” Crispin said. Jago and Rosenwyn flew ahead, both noticing the same things. “It’s ugly here. It’s not beautiful at all.”

No longer did the fragrance of tropical flowers fill the air. Instead, it stank of putridness. “This smells worse than William’s Butcher Shop.”

Jago put his claws to his nose. Crispin laughed.

 “You’ve never been to William’s Butcher Shop, but you can imagine the smell, can’t you? It’s bad stuff.”

Rosenwyn screeched with displeasure. “I don’t think we’re going the right way either.”

When they entered Tooma Bog, Crispin noticed a light gray mist seeping up from the ground. Instead of walking on firm, solid ground, his feet squished and slopped with every step. His shoes were nearly sucked off his feet and he had to pull them up using all the muscle he could muster. “This is sickening. It stinks like rotten eggs and the ground’s all mushy. We must be in a bog. You’d better both stay close to me. Something feels wrong here. I don’t like this at all.”

The two dragons moved in closer, hovering a few feet above his head.

Something slithered across the path in front of him and he jumped back. “What was that? Did you see it, Jago? Was it a snake?”

Jago flew ahead and skimmed a few inches over the top of the bog. He saw nothing unusual and flew back to Crispin.

“You didn’t see anything? Well, I did.” Watching the ground as he walked, he paid attention to each step. Because of the distraction, he didn’t notice the four long tentacles reaching for his leg. Each oozed a slimy mustard colored puss.

Rosenwyn screeched, warning the boy only seconds before the creature grabbed at him.

“Yikes!” He ran, barely escaping, leaping over puddles of brown, milky water. The dragons swooped at the tentacles, trying to take bites out of them. “What is that thing, an octopus?” He didn’t stop to find out.

From behind him he heard a rumbling noise. He stopped and turned to see a grayish yellow mass rising out of the water. The burnip’s twenty-foot long tentacles flapped around in the air, trying to grab the dragons. Crispin noticed each had a red eyeball on the end. “Fly away!” He shouted to the dragons. “Go up higher!”

Jago soared into the safety of the clouds.

Rosenwyn barely escaped the tentacle’s deadly grasp.

In a rage, the monster roared. Its mouth, full of rows of short, sharp fangs, frightened Crispin. In anger and defeat, the beast’s blubbery body quivered and it sank back down into the boggy water. “Go to that hill up ahead. I’m right behind you!” He called to the dragons and then ran away.

They waited at the top of the hill for the boy. A few minutes later he sat on the ground next to them. “What was that? It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s as ugly as this whole place is. I’m glad it didn’t come after us.” Crispin wiped his brow. “I’m hungry; how about you two?”

The dragons screeched and jumped up and down.

“Remember, I don’t have my back pack any more. Let’s look around and see if we can find anything.”

Crispin stood and walked towards a cluster of trees. “Hey Jago, Rosenwyn, come and look at this.” A vine twisted around one of the trees in a strangling grip. Large petaled flowers, black as a moonless midnight sky, dotted the vines, each closed up tight. “I’ve never seen black flowers before. I wonder what makes them open up.” Just then the flower petals peeled back, one layer at a time. “They must have been listening,” Crispin nervously giggled. He stepped backwards. When the last petal opened, it revealed a round periwinkle blue head in the middle with a protruding bright tangerine orange beak. Two golden eyes with black pupils opened, staring at the dragons and Crispin. “What in the world are those? They look like bird flowers. I wonder if they’re dangerous.” No sooner did the words flow from his mouth than each flower sprouted a set of pencil-thin horns with a hole at the top. “Get back, Jago. I don’t like the looks of this.” The horns sprayed a mist. It floated through the air. A careless sparrow-type bird flew overhead and right through the mist. It stopped, gasping for breath and fell to the ground in front of Crispin. “Poison. The flowers are poison. Let’s get out of here.” The dragons flew quicker than Crispin ran. The vine jiggled and all the dorbons sprayed their poisonous mist at the same time. Before the mist reached him, Crispin took a deep breath and ran. Some of the spray landed on his arm, burning the skin a blistery red. Grabbing his shirttail, he wiped it off and ran on.

Once out of harms way, he wiped the rest of it off his arm. “That stung. I’m going to have sores here for a while. The flower creatures must have sensed our presence when I spoke and you both screeched. Maybe we need to whisper from now on, at least until we’re out of this place.”

Rosenwyn, seeing the sores on Crispin’s arm, flew over and licked them with her raspy tongue. The sores shriveled up and disappeared, all within a minute’s time.

 “How did you do that?” He looked at his arm again. “You’ve got some sort of magic, don’t you?”

 Rosenwyn licked his face with affection.

 “Thanks,” he said, touched by the dragon’s attention.

            He stood and looked around. “I’m not sure which way we should go. That gray mist is getting deeper. I can hardly see my feet, or the ground now. Where are you, Quirin, Marti and Gretel? I don’t like being alone.”

            Jago and Rosenwyn screeched softly.

            “I know. I know. I’m not alone. I’ve got you both. I’m glad you’re here with me.” They flew closer to him and stroked his hair with their wings. “You can understand me, can’t you? I can’t understand you though. This is all so strange. I hope we find the others soon.”

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