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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Three - The Dragon's Hope - Chapter 42

“So this is Sparma Springs. This is the place where the great Zelinda, Queen of Utheria hid with her son, Caffi.” Claring sat down at its edge.

The mid-morning sunlight danced on the water. Wisteria and other flowers hung from the tree branches dangling over the springs. The air smelled of their perfume and the colors reflected on the still water around the bubbling springs. “I smell ginger.” Marti  took a deep breath.

“I smell jasmine and white gardenias.” Claring grinned.

Quirin sniffed the air. “I smell frangipani. It’s the effect of the springs. We all can smell our favorite smells. Marti, you must enjoy the fragrance of ginger. It must be stored in your memory somewhere.”

Marti nodded. “Mother used to bake gingerbread for me when I was a little boy, like Crispin. To this day, whenever I smell ginger, I think of those days.”

“I’d wager that you have a fondness for jasmine and white gardenias, am I right, Claring?”

“True. My mother, bless her heart, always smelled of white gardenias. It must have been her favorite perfume. One day she took me out into the garden and showed me the jasmine growing. She was so proud of it. I’d often see her standing outside among it, inhaling the fragrance.” Claring reminisced.

“Like the two of you, I will always love frangipani. To me there’s no scent lovelier in the world. Marti, you probably know it better as plumeria. Oh, I wish I had a bottle of that smell to carry with me always,” Quirin said, a smile upon his face. “These springs are magical. They give us the wishes of our heart, to an extent that is. I wonder what flower Zelinda thought of while she sat by the waters with a broken heart.”

“Roses. I smell them.” Marti sniffed the air.

“All this talk of flowers is nice, Quirin, but we’ve got a quest to finish. Let’s fill your wand with the water and be on our way.” Claring stood and picked up his bag.

Marti looked at the water bubbling from the ground. “What’s that?”

“It’s blood, Zelinda’s blood.” Quirin dipped the tip of his wand into the red liquid, catching some inside the hollow shaft, along with the spring water.

“Zelinda’s blood? Who is this Zelinda anyway?” Marti had no idea who Quirin spoke of.

“There’s a history to this place. I’ve spoken to Gretel about it. Now, I’ll tell you and then we must leave.” Quirin told Marti of the story of Zelinda, Kumtur, and their relationship to Darmantha. “So you see, Marti, the blood we see now, is her blood. It will bubble to the surface for eternity, always reminding those who stop by to drink of its waters of the great city that once stood near this spot.”

“That’s a sad story,” Marti said.

“It’s also Darmantha’s blood, along with Jago’s, Rosenwyn’s, and all the other dragons. Darmantha is Zelinda’s descendant.” Quirin scowled.

“It’s time to leave. Let’s not forget Gordinth and all the others that lay dead.” Claring’s heart swelled with anger against Darmantha. “We’ll tell Marti the rest of the story as we continue our journey.”

Quirin led the way. The group passed from a lush tropical setting into a place of desolation. “Will you look at this! There’s hardly a leaf on any tree. All I see is bare limbs and noxious weeds. The streams are filthy and full of pollution and if I see another lizard, I’m going to scream!” Quirin lifted his foot and watched a dark brown lizard run through the dirt into a cluster of sticker-bushes.

“It is rather dismal looking. Did either of you notice that snake hanging from a branch a half mile back?” Marti cringed just thinking of it.

Neither Quirin nor Claring had seen it.

“It was the strangest looking snake. It had two heads, each with a nice set of fangs longer than my finger. One head was gray with brown spots and the other was black with purple spots. It must have been at least twenty feet long and by the size of it, probably could have swallowed one of us whole.”

“I’m glad I didn’t see it, Marti. I hate snakes!” Claring shivered at the thought.

“Why don’t we sit a while and rest.” Quirin collapsed on the ground, leaning his back against a large rock.

Marti and Claring sat next to him.

“I’m just going to close my eyes for a few minutes and try to think of some of that frangipani.”

The others did the same. While they sat in silence, thousands of tinkini spiders spun their webs, enclosing the dozing men in a dome of silky threads.

 Marti woke up and saw millions of small eyes staring at him. “Father. Quirin, I think you’d better wake up.”

“What…what?” Quirin stirred and saw the web.

Claring jumped to his feet. “Tinkini spiders,” he whispered to the others. “Don’t make any sudden moves. These spiders are the deadliest spiders in the world. One bite and you’ll be dead so quickly, you won’t even realize you are dead.”

“What in the world are they?” Marti didn’t move. “I’ve never seen banana yellow spiders with blue butts before.”

“They’re quite rare and to have this many in one place is…” Claring stopped.

Marti finished the sentence, “…the work of Darmantha.”

“Exactly.” He saw the dome surrounding them. “It’s like being inside a glass globe, with no way out. The threads of their webs are stronger than steel. We can’t just push our way out.” Claring picked up a pebble and tossed it at the web. It bounced right back to the ground.

“What are we going to do? Are they going to attack us?” Marti looked at the spiders, certain he saw huge smiles spread across their tiny faces.

“They like their meat fresh. They’ll leave us in here until we die of starvation or lack of water. I’ve got an idea.” Quirin pulled out his wand and shot a ray of fire into the web, like a scorching blowtorch. The web sizzled and the spiders squealed and ran around, trying to escape the fire. The first layer of web burned to ashes, but  disappointment showed in his face when he noticed the other layers.

The web went silent and all the spiders disappeared. “I don’t like this one bit.” Marti looked up after hearing a noise. Spiders were dropping from the top of the dome on strands of web. “Here we go. The attack begins.” Something entered his mind. He concentrated as he thought. Spiders, cease now. We are not your enemy.

“What’s going on?” Claring watched the spiders stop in mid air and dangle.

“I have no idea. I just realized I could talk to animals.” Once again he concentrated. We have an offering for you. Instead of eating us, we shall replace ourselves with another creature.

The same thoughts entered Quirin’s mind too. “We will?” Quirin looked at Marti. “Where do you suppose these other creatures will come from, Marti?”

“You’re a wizard. Use your magic wand and bring three lagupas here.” Marti smiled. “I don’t know what a lagupa is, mind you, but I overheard Gretel and Mother talking about them earlier.”

Quirin raised his eyebrows and lifted his wand. “It is not a magic wand. It is simply a wand.”

“Will you stop arguing and bring the lagupas here. Those spiders look rather hungry. If they want something to eat, I’d rather it not be me.”  Claring watched the spiders above him.

Quirin mumbled a spell, “Cambo Rapi Tulan,” and three of the bright red hairy beasts appeared inside the dome.

“They’re ugly creatures.” Marti cringed. Spiders, take this offering and let us go. We mean you no harm.

The spiders fell to the ground and instead of attacking them, circled the lagupas. The rest of the spiders came in through the wand-blasted hole Quirin had made and joined the others.

“I think it’s time we got out of here.” Quirin blew a hole in the other side of the web and kept blasting away at it until he’d made a hole big enough for them to escape. They ran out, leaving the three helpless lagupas at the mercy of the spiders. After pulling strands of sticky web off them, they heard the pain-filled screeches and howls of the lagupas, suffering as the spiders devoured them.

“That was not a particularly fond experience.” Marti said, “That’s another one I owe Darmantha.”

“I’m sorry for the lagupas, but better those horrible creatures than us,” Claring said.

“I don’t think we’ll stop to rest again. We’ve only a short way to go. Onward.” Quirin pulled out his staff and used it to help keep his balance on the rocky terrain.

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