With a sigh, I punched my pillow and flopped onto my back for the umpteenth time. I just couldn’t get comfortable. The lumpy cot creaked under my weight, and my eyes stared up at nothing, into the darkness before dawn.
I couldn’t sleep.
“Talon,” I whispered, “are you out there?”
Talon’s reply was immediate. —I am here, Dragonsbane— she said in my mind. That’s how Talon spoke to me. In my mind, like a whisper that no one else could hear. She could speak to me and hear what I said from far away.
Talon was a wyvern, a kind of tiny dragon with colorful feathers. She was the size of a big raven and had beautiful metallic scales and wings that shone like polished mirrors. She was also my friend and guardian.
“I can’t sleep,” I told her. I probably didn’t need to say the words out loud, but thinking alone in the dark isn’t all that comforting.
—Have you tried eating sheep?— she asked without any hint of humor.
“Eating sheep!” I gasped, sitting straight up. “A person who can’t sleep is supposed to count sheep, not eat them.”
—What an interesting idea— Talon said dryly.
That was something else about the wyvern. She liked to tease. She could be fierce and reliable one moment, silly the next.
At least I hoped she was being silly right then.
“Forget it,” I grumped. “I’m getting up.”
Talon hissed a chuckle. —Good idea, sleepyhead. Your friends are already waiting on the bridge.—
By friends, she meant Connor and Simon. The three of us were going to talk to Wizard Ast today about where to find the next piece of the Dragonsbane Horn.
That’s where I got my name. From the Horn. I was Jasiah Dragonsbane, and the Horn was my responsibility. Long ago, the Horn had been broken into four parts and then hidden. So far, I’d found two of the pieces. Finding the last two wouldn’t be easy.
A terrifying black dragon named Shelolth wanted the Horn for herself. Her ghostly servants, called shaddim, were hunting the pieces of the Horn. And for me.
Now, I wasn’t much of a hero, but I couldn’t let Shelolth or anyone else find the lost pieces. With all of them, a person—or a monster—could control all the dragons in the world.
I dressed quickly in the dark, careful not to wake anyone. I didn’t have to put on my right-handed gauntlet. A gauntlet is an armored glove that fits over the hand and forearm. The gauntlet’s magic wouldn’t allow me to take it off even at bedtime, and Talon liked it that way. She used it as her favorite perch.
I grabbed my pack and went outside. Lucky for me, I didn’t have any trouble seeing in darkness. I think it has something to do with being a Dragonsbane.
I found Connor and Simon on Mosswood Bridge just as the sun was rising. That’s the bridge outside the village of Tiller’s Field.
“Not more apples!” Connor groaned, rolling his eyes at Simon. “Don’t you know any other tricks, peasant?” Simon ignored him and concentrated on juggling. Seven polished apples whirled over his head. His hands blurred as he tossed and caught the fruit.
“Excellence Demands Dedication,” he said with a smirk. The words were from the Noble Deeds and Duties, the code of behavior for knights. One hundred sayings called Acts made up the code.
Connor and Simon had trained together as pages. A page is a young knight. Simon was Wizard Ast’s apprentice now, but he hadn’t forgotten his chivalry lessons.
An eighth apple zipped from a pocket in his robe. Two more quickly followed. Simon was juggling ten apples at once!
“What do you think, Jasiah?” he grinned at me. “How’s my juggling?”
I glanced at Connor before answering. The big, blond boy was staring at his fingernails, pretending not to listen.
Unlike Simon, Connor was still a page and on his way to becoming a real knight. He looked it, too. He was big, tall, and strong for a thirteen year old.
That’s why he’d been picked to join me on the quest for the Dragonsbane Horn. We were opposites. I was short and small, with brown hair, and only eleven.
“The juggling is great,” I told Simon, “but maybe we shouldn’t be goofing off right now.” I hoped the comment didn’t upset either of my friends. I didn’t want to pick sides.
Simon shrugged with a smile, lowered his arms, and flopped onto the bridge. To my amazement, all ten apples kept spinning in the air.
“Hey, you cheated!” I objected, pointing at the apples. He’d used magic to keep them afloat.
Simon held up a finger and shook it back and forth. “Ah-ah-ah. Never trust your eyes when a wizard is near.”
I started to protest but clamped my jaw shut, realizing I’d already lost the argument. Simon hadn’t said anything about not using magic. In the future, I’d have to be cautious around wizards.
Connor snorted and mumbled one word. “Peasant.” It was his favorite. He called most anyone who wasn’t a knight peasant.
“So when will Wizard Ast get here?” I asked Simon.
“He isn’t coming,” Simon said. “The two of you will be taken to him as soon as transportation arrives.”
“You aren’t coming?” I asked just as Connor snapped his head up.
“What exact—?” the blond boy demanded.
He never finished.
Dirt, grass, and pebbles suddenly exploded upward like water after a big splash. The ground trembled and sent the three of us sprawling.
I threw myself flat and started to roll. Getting to my feet was impossible. Clumps of grassy soil hurtled through the air, and the ground continued to quake.
“Oh, no! No!” Connor choked out, sounding more irritated than afraid.
“Huzzah!” Simon cheered.
Lying flat on my stomach, I watched the dust from the eruption settle. New shapes slowly appeared.
A hole about twenty feet wide gaped at the foot of the bridge. Two pinkish tentacles swayed like charmed snakes, emerging from the opening and inching steadily higher.
“Look out!” I cried.
I knew what was coming—some kind of monster from the center of the earth.
“That’s not transportation!” Connor bellowed, flailing his arms. “That’s a slithersaur!”
Next to him, Simon hooted with delight. “I know! Isn’t it wonderful? You get to travel with the princess.”
Wonderful? The princess? Exactly what was Simon looking at? All I saw was a monster.
The pink tentacles turned out to be antennae on the head of a gigantic white worm. The creature—the slithersaur—was as long as three horses standing in a row and had a body like an unfolded accordion.
S-C-R-E-N-C-H, the slithersaur stretched from the hole like a turtle extending its neck from its shell. I’d never seen anything like it.
But I did a double-take when I saw that the creature wasn’t alone. On its back sat a tiny girl.
Seated in a fancy red saddle, she rode the worm as confidently as if it were a horse. Her brilliant purple eyes shone fiercely and matched the color of her hair. The look on her dainty face was serious.
She’s a gnome! I realized in astonishment. The girl was one of the gnomish people from Castle Burrowfar, many miles to the south.
“Hi, Princess Oti!” Simon cheered.
“Hello, Oti,” Connor mumbled glumly. He definitely wasn’t as pleased to see the girl as Simon was.
Princess Oti didn’t seem pleased either. She waved her arms frantically and shouted. “No-time, no-time!” she squeaked almost too fast to understand. “Get-back!”
“Wha—?” Connor and Simon both gasped, leaping out of the slithersaur’s way as it rumbled forward. The creature wasn’t stopping for anything.
“Close-up-the-hole, Simon!” Oti wailed. “Something-is-coming!”
A knot twisted my stomach. I knew what was chasing the princess. Shaddim, the ghostly servants of Shelolth. To prove it, the monsters’ moaning drifted up from underground.
The eerie noise sent shivers up my spine. In the hole, dark shapes writhed like shadows cast by flickering flames. The shaddim were coming!
“Hurry, Simon!” I cried. The shaddim were after me. They were hunting the Horn.
Simon didn’t ask questions. He sensed the danger and jumped into action, pushing up the sleeves of his robe and raising his arms. In a strong voice, he chanted:
Stone and sand,
Dust welled up from the hole, and the ground around it buckled. Dirt and rocks tumbled into its depths.
The shaddim moaned angrily but their voices sounded muffled and far away. Simon’s magic was filling the hole and trapping the monsters underground. In seconds, the dust settled and the shaddim were gone.
Simon exhaled loudly and lowered his arms. “Simon one, monsters zero,” he said to no one in particular.
I stared at the ground where the hole had been. The shaddim were bolder than I remembered. They used to come out only at night or when it was very cloudy, but something had changed. They were different, and I shivered. The shaddim were getting stronger.
Feeling eyes on me, I raised my head. Connor, Simon, Princess Oti, and the slithersaur were staring. Simon asked the question on all of their minds. “What were those things?”
Now it was my turn to exhale. “Shaddim,” I said quietly. “Servants of a dragon named Shelolth. They’re after the Horn…and me. Usually water or light will chase them away.”
I paused, looking around at the early-morning sky. Usually light will chase them away.
Connor straightened his shoulders. “They’re after the Horn and us, you mean,” he corrected. “Never Let a Friend Face Danger Alone.” Simon and Oti nodded in agreement.
I smiled gratefully. Connor might like to tease and call people peasant, but he was good to have around. The Noble Deeds and Duties, I realized, taught everyone how to be a better person—and a better friend.
Oti hopped from the slithersaur’s back and landed gracefully before me. “You-are-Jasiah-the-Dragonsbane,” she chirped. “I-am-Princess-Oti-and-very-pleased-to-meet-you.” She curtsied formally.
Her words were fast. Being small, I suppose gnomes did everything a little faster than normal, including talk.
Before I could respond, she spoke again. “If-you-would-climb-aboard-Opal, I-will-take-you-to-Wizard-Ast.”
After saying goodbye to Simon, I glanced from Oti to Connor, who nodded. It was time to go. It was time to begin our quest for the third piece of the Dragonsbane Horn.
End of the preview.
Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2004 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
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