Knightscares
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Chapter 1

I dreamed of fire in underground tunnels. Blazing pillars erupted from the floor and bathed the walls in bloody red. Smoke stung my eyes. Fumes choked my breath. I screamed without making a sound.

Laughter filled my dream, too. Taunting, hateful laughter. It hissed in every corner and flame, always ahead of me, behind, and close. Hearing it reminded me of a red-faced bully.

I started to run. My skin dripped with sweat and my vision blurred. Waves of heat rippled and danced in the air.

Racing wildly around a corner, I spotted it—the Dragonsbane Horn. The magical instrument hung in the air, rotating slowly over a cauldron of simmering lava.

That’s why I’m here, I realized. The Horn needs me. I wasn’t named Jasiah Dragonsbane for nothing. Protecting the Horn was part of what I’d been born to do.

But the Horn didn’t look quite the way I expected. This Horn was whole. It had four pieces connected together end-to-end. My Horn—the real Horn—only had three pieces. The fourth was lost, and it was my job to find it.

That told me this dream wasn’t about the present. It was a vision of the past or the future. I reached timidly for the Horn with my right hand. Even in a dream, I wasn’t surprised to find that I wore my gauntlet. It had become a part of me.

The gauntlet was a thick leather glove that reached almost to my elbow. A number of buckles and straps kept it in place, and deep scratches covered its surface.

It was a sign of who I was and more. My Uncle Arick had given it to me but hadn’t told me why. I’d had to figure that out myself. One of the first things I’d learned was that I couldn’t take it off no matter how hard I tried. The gauntlet’s magic stopped me whenever I tried.

My fingers brushed the Horn, causing it to spin faster. It bobbed out of reach like a cork bobbing on water.

“Come … here,” I grunted, standing on my tiptoes and stretching for all I was worth.

Glurp! The lava in the cauldron suddenly belched, and I snatched my arm back.

Glurp, gloop-gloop, glurp!

Hiccupping bubbles swelled and popped. Sizzling droplets splattered my tunic. Something was rising up from the lava.

A flame-red shape slowly took form. First a jelly-like ooze, the shape solidified as it continued to rise. Five fingers appeared then a hand and arm. Straps and buckles coiled about its length.

The lava was imitating my gauntlet!

The lava-gauntlet’s fingers spread and grasped the Dragonsbane Horn. A flash of orange light pulsed, and the fresh scent of something burning clogged the air.

I yelped in horror. The Horn was melting, and I had to save it.

This time I leaped, both hands clutching after the Horn. The lava-gauntlet was pulling it down, down into the cauldron. If that happened, the Horn would be lost forever.

My hands found their mark, but I shrieked and let go instantly. Such pain! Awful heat burned into my skin and seared my bones. The agony of it drove me to my knees.

Through tears, I gazed up as the Horn slipped away. The lava dragged it into the cauldron, bubbled once more, then went still. A deep red splotch pooled at the surface like blood rising from a wound.

I hung my head, tears still streaming from my eyes. One thought echoed hauntingly in my mind.

I’ve destroyed the Dragonsbane Horn.

Laughter howled through the tunnels and the flames danced higher.

Chapter 2

I came awake gasping for air. My blanket lay kicked on the floor, and I was sweating. My palms and fingers tingled painfully.

The Horn! I panicked, stabbing a hand beneath my pillow. If anything had happened …

Toongk.

My fingers collided with something solid, and I sighed with relief. The Horn was unharmed and exactly where I’d left it. Too bad I couldn’t say the same about my tender hand.

I rolled over, hoping to fall back to sleep. Darkness outside the window told me it was too early to be morning. There was no reason to be awake.

But my mind had other ideas. It replayed my dream, demanding answers. Had the dream been a glimpse of the future? Had it been some kind of warning?

Normally I don’t pay attention to dreams. They’re mostly meaningless, not predictions of the future. The only thing more boring than trying to figure out my own dreams was to hear about someone else’s.

But this dream was different. It had a feeling of magic about it. A feeling of doom. It told me I would destroy the Dragonsbane Horn.

But why would I do that? I’d spent so much time trying to find it and keep it safe. A lot of people had. I couldn’t imagine harming the Horn.

Long ago, the Horn had been broken into four pieces. Wizard Ast had given me the first piece. My friends and I had rescued the next two from monsters. The fourth was still missing, but I thought I knew who had it.

Shelolth.

Shelolth was a horrible black dragon who wanted the Horn. She hunted its pieces and me. She’d even created a terrifying army of ghost-like monsters called shaddim to help her.

If anyone had the last piece, it was Shelolth. I didn’t need a nightmare to tell me that. My quest wouldn’t end until I faced her.

—You will not face her alone, Jasiah Dragonsbane—a metallic female voice whispered reassuringly in my mind.

The voice belonged to Talon, my guardian and best friend. Talon was a wyvern, a creature similar to a dragon but small enough to perch on my gauntlet like a falcon. She had amazingly colorful feathers and scales, and could speak to me and hear what I said over great distances. She could also read my mind.

“Eavesdropping again?” I joked. I was glad to know she’d be with me when I faced Shelolth, but I wasn’t going to come right out and say that. It was more fun to tease her. “Don’t you ever sleep?”

Talon’s reply came immediately. —Don’t you?—

Like I said, I liked to tease Talon, and she teased right back. I’m just not sure if I ever got the best of her. “I’m going to check on the egg,” I said to change the subject. Talon had won that round.

—In the middle of the night? It could be dangerous.— By dangerous, she meant there could be shaddim, Shelolth’s ghosts. They came out in dark places, especially at night.

I shrugged even though Talon couldn’t see me. “I can’t sleep. Besides, with you around, what do I have to be afraid of?”

Talon didn’t respond, and I thought I might have actually won a round. If she argued, what would that say about her ability to protect me?

I smiled at that. Talon one, Jasiah one. It was a whole new game.

I cleaned up and dressed quietly. My Uncle Arick slept in the next bed, and I didn’t want to wake him. He was as big as a bear and would be as grouchy as one if he knew where I was going.

That wasn’t to say Uncle Arick was mean. He was protective. He was also the biggest, strongest, and bravest man I’d ever met. People from all around called him a hero, including me.

Unfortunately, big and strong ran out in my family after Uncle Arick. Who knew about brave? I’m so short and small that most strangers think I’m nine years old. That would be fine if I weren’t eleven and a half!

But what I’ve learned on my quest for the Horn is that heroes come in all varieties. Looks, talent, background, gender—these things don’t make heroes. Regular people make heroes through heart and hard work.

I slipped silently out the window. My uncle and I were guests in Sheriff Logan’s home. It wouldn’t be polite to wake the sheriff in the middle of the night.

On top of that, it wouldn’t do me any good to wake anyone. If I did, I’d be sent to bed without seeing the egg.

My friend Connor had found the egg while helping me search for the third piece of the Horn. It was an unhatched dragon egg. Only it wouldn’t stay unhatched for long. A long crack had recently appeared down its center.

No one in Tiller’s Field wanted the egg in their house, so Sheriff Logan let us store it in his shed. I guess the thought of waking up to a baby dragon at the foot of the bed seemed like a bad idea. It would sure give new meaning to the expression the early bird gets the wyrm! Wyrm is a word for dragon that sounds just like worm.

I tiptoed across the backyard. The sky was cloudy, and I couldn’t see the moon or stars. Lucky for me my eyes and ears are as good as a cat’s, even at night.

Vrrr-errr-nnnt.

The door to the shed creaked as it opened, and the sudden noise set my heart to racing. Why was I breathing so hard?

The first thing I noticed inside the shed was all the weapons. Spears, swords, bows, maces, and dangerous-looking things I couldn’t name hung from the walls. Sheriff Logan obviously didn’t have yard work in mind. There wasn’t a single rake or wheelbarrow.

Soft red light filled the shed, casting bloody shadows on the weapons. I was starting to have second thoughts. Maybe this wasn’t the best place to visit in the middle of the night.

K-k-k-krrreck!

A scratchy cracking sound grabbed my attention. The egg was hatching!

As tall as the space between the floor and a door handle, the egg stood balanced on its larger rounded end in one corner. Red and black swirls painted its surface. We had wrapped blankets around it to keep it warm.

K-k-k-krrreck!

The egg trembled and cracked again. Bits of dark shell popped free.

I took a cautious step back. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be near the egg. When the dragon hatched, wouldn’t it be hungry? A hatched dragon wouldn’t behave like a newborn puppy!

—Get out!— Talon’s voice was almost a shriek in my mind.

I wanted to flee, but my eyes were glued to the egg.

K-k-k-KRRRECK! The crack down its center split wide.


End of the preview.
Thanks for reading!

Copyright © 2004 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.


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