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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 23

          Instead of leaves growing from the branches, all the trees looked bare and dead. Crispin didn’t hear any sounds of nature. An evil quietness hung over the land, like the fog swirling around his legs. “This place is giving me the creeps.” He sniffed the air. “Hmmm. I smell roasted lamb with mint sauce. Can you smell it too? Wait, now I smell apple strudel, with spicy apples, nuts and syrup. I’m starving. Someone’s cooking.”            Rosenwyn’s and Jago’s nostrils twitched. They smelled something too.

           Following his nose, Crispin increased his pace until he was running. “Roasted lamb, here I come.”

            Something lifted from the ground right in front of him, stopping his pace. “Where did this come…” Before he finished his sentence, he found himself slipping down the sides of something sickly sweet smelling, slick and sticky.

            The dragons, sensing danger, grabbed the back of Crispin’s shirt with their claws and held him so he didn’t fall all the way in.

            “Help! Help! Pull me out of here!”

            The dragons tried to fly backward with Crispin, but met with little success.

            “I’m too heavy for you. Don’t let me fall.” He saw a vine dangling over the edge. “Swing me over to that vine. Be careful. Don’t drop me.”

The dragons flapped with all their power, inching their way over to the vine. Crispin grabbed it just as the last of the dragon’s strength ran out. They released him and flew to the ground, peering over the edge.

“Where am I?” Having a tight hold on the vine, he looked down into the pit. “It’s not a hole. It’s a carnivorous plant, a Venus flytrap, or something like that. I see animal bones down here.” Bubbles from the findori flower floated past him and gurgling sounds belched from the liquid at the bottom. He pulled on the vine. Every time he tried to step up, he slid down the slippery surface of the findori flower. “How am I ever going to get out of this?” Struggling for ten minutes, he pulled himself up, hand over hand. More bubbles popped around him, each emitting a pleasant aroma.

Jago and Rosenwyn helped pull him over the edge. No sooner had he slipped his foot over the edge than the lid to the carnivorous flower shut tight.

 “Tricky flower. You lured us to you by making us smell our favorite foods. You can read our minds too. What sort of strange place is this? Where are we?” He wiped the sticky mess off his pants with a rock and then tossed it on top of the flower lid.

            “That’s twice in the last two hours that I’ve nearly been killed, not to mention the tidal wave earlier. I think it’s safe to assume we’re in a lot of danger here.” He wiped more slime off his shoes and pounded them on the dirt. “What’s that?” He saw something in the distance. “It looks like huts. I don’t think Quirin, Marti, and Gretel are in those huts, but someone is. I saw something moving. Okay, you two need to be very quiet, just incase it’s the guy with the dragonslayer breastplate and cape, or Gretel’s mom and dad; I mean Jorna and Provan. Shhh.”

            They crept toward the window of the closest hut. Crispin peeked inside. He gasped when he saw Darmantha sitting at a wooden table. “Shhh. It is the dragonslayers.”         Provan and Jorna slouched on a torn couch across from him. They looked bored. A large black crow perched on Darmantha’s shoulder. He picked up a wooden goblet filled with some sort of light purple juice and gave the crow something to drink. Its yellow beak dipped inside. Provan dozed and Jorna picked at her fingernails.

“Shhh.” Crispin pointed to the next hut and tiptoed toward it. Once safely out of hearing distance, he muttered, “You two stay here and keep your eye on them. I’m going to see what’s in the other hut. Be really quiet though. If you make any sounds at all, they’ll hear you.” Crispin ran off.

The dragons, full of curiosity, flew back to the first hut. They landed on the ground below the window. Using his claws, Jago tore open a piece of the woven straw wall. He lay on his belly and looked in through the hole.

            Crispin went to the next hut. He looked in through one of the bamboo cane barred windows. There lay the baby dragons, all forty of them, each curled up against one another in fear and hunger. He went around to the back and opened the door. “Hmm. It’s not locked.”

            The dragons jumped up and ran to the other side of the hut, afraid of him. When they recognized Crispin, they screeched and flew at him, licking him with gladness.     “Shhh. They’ll hear you. You must be quiet.” The noise died down.  “I’ll open the door and let you go. Go and find Quirin. He’s on this island. You know where he is, don’t you?”  More screeches filled the air. “Good, you understand. Now go!” He pushed the door open.

            The dragons darted into the sky.

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