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Chapter 1: Treasure Tower

High in a tree, high on a hill, a gnome was hard at work.

Ludwig van Klunk hated being a gnome. Gnomes were the most powerless creatures in the world. Being only 7-inches tall (okay, if he were being totally honest with himself: 6 inches), he was the same size as fairies and pixies and all those other fae creatures, but they had wings and magic. Gnomes didn’t. The only thing gnomes had was physics. No one had any respect for physics. People saw physics as being an occult, hocus-pocus superstition, nothing at all like good ol’ reliable feet-on-the-ground magic. Everyone knew how magic worked, but physics—it was just too weird to be taken seriously.

Van Klunk put the finishing touches on his aero-glider. This was a non-magical item that could actually fly! Ha!

At least in theory. It would fly if he’d worked out the physics right. Then it should fly. Probably. He had constructed it from parchment stiffened with sheep’s urine and held together by beeswax, and so it should be light enough. Right? Why would it not work? Of course it would work. It had to.

Far down from his tree-crowned hill, was another hill, a shorter hill, a hill upon which sat the Royal Palace of Tâelè. There, in its highest tower, the royal treasury awaited him. Once he laid his hands on all that treasure, then he’d be powerful. He’d be a rich lord, with servants and retainers and an entourage. He might even buy himself his own palace. It was said that money could not buy happiness. Bah, give him all that money, and he could afford to buy himself a puppy; that would be happiness enough. Everything he ever wanted, everything he ever needed, everything he ever dreamed of was waiting for them in that high tower.

He closed and latched his tiny tool box, wrestled it into his backpack, and put in pointy hat in on top of it. (Physics said that, at the speed he’d be flying, his hat would blow off if he were wearing it.) He donned the backpack, climbed into the saddle of the aero-glider, took a deep breath, said a short prayer to any god who might be listening in, and pulled the launch lever.

Yoiks! The aero-glider scraped down the launching ramp and seemingly leaped out into thin air. Very, very, very thin air. But the wings quavered a bit, and then the tiny craft stabilized. He was flying.

HE WAS FLYING!

“Yeeeeeeeha!”

Physics worked! He pushed the stick slightly to one side, and the areo-glider turned a bit. Amazing! He pushed the stick the other way, and the craft turned back. He pulled back on the stick, and the nose rose. He pushed forward on the stick, and he leveled out. So he aimed the nose of his trusty aero-glider right smack-dab square at the middle of the single window in the treasure tower. Riches and power beyond measure, here he came!

He looked around as he passed from his sylvan hill to soar over the outskirts of the city. No one looked up to gape in wonder. If anyone saw movement, they probably just dismissed it as a passing bird. He wanted to bellow down at the people he was flying over, but he was in the early stages of a burglary, and so stealth was a virtue.

The tower was coming closer now. He was almost at the window. Then he saw it, froze in panic, and crashed headlong into the net of warding which was stretched across the opening. Breezes could blow through the net, but any fae creatures which came in contact with it would have their own mana turned back upon them, and they would be barbequed in mid-flight. Birds and bats had no mana, but they’d learned from experience how annoying getting entangled in a warding net could be and so steered clear of them. Van Klunk just hung there, half-in half-out of his aero-glider, upside down and wondering if spewing profanity might help free himself.

After gathering his thoughts, he did an upside-down sit up and grabbed one of the translucent web fibers. It was strong and slightly sticky. He wiggled his feet free from the aero-glider, and then went hand-over-hand underneath the fiber. Don’t-look-down! Don’t-look-down! Don’t-look-down! He made it along the fiber, reached up, got one hand on the stone sill of the window, pulled himself the last few inches, and then clambered up on top of the sill with his lungs heaving as he tried to quell his terror.

Voices.

He heard voices. There were people inside. Oh yoiks, what else could go wrong?

A male voice barked, “Where are you going?! Over here! Over here! Not there! Did I tell you to go there?! Over here!”

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice was trying to interrupt.

“Come on! Come on! It’s just your entire life that hangs in the balance!” the man continued screaming. “I’d think you’d want to take an interest! Pay attention! Pay attention!”

“Excuse me,” she insisted.

“Nonononono!” the man wailed.

“Excuse me!” she shouted.

“What?!” he finally responded to her. “What do you want? I’m right in the middle—Poison? You’re going to try and use poison?! Drop it! Drop it, I say!”

“Excuse me!”

“Sorry, I’m trying to save— Oh, just go ahead. What do you have that more important than me saving the future?!”

Van Klunk had turned on his side and saw a lump-shaped young woman kneeling with her back to the gnome. She was looking into a mirror, a magic mirror by the look of it, for inside the mirror floated a disembodied head behind a transparent map. The floating head’s broad, intelligent face was bearded and wore a turban of deepest blue, fastened with a diamond pendant. The pendant spun, reflecting a plethora of colored light beams.

“Wait a minute!” gasped the head as he focused on one of the teeny images of people who swarmed across the face of the map. “What did I tell you about wheat?!” he shouted at the tiny image. “You’re going to have plenty of wheat! No need to go invading your neighbors. Tell your army to stand down!” He looked back up at the woman and said, “I’m sorry for the interruptions – which wouldn’t happen if people would just pay attention to what I’m saying!”

“Great Quill, I’m here to seek a prophecy from you. My name is Princess Clarabelle.”

The Great Quill!? Van Klunk was agog. The Great Quill was the world’s most celebrated prophet. Unlike most prophets, he was never wrong. Never ever.

The head sneered, “What? Love? Romance? A gallant hero to sweep you of your feet?”

“Well, maybe more than just one,” the princess giggled.

“Very well,” the prophet sighed. A parchment rolled down into trough at the bottom of the golden frame. “Granted.”

Her desperate finger scrabbled out the parchment that had rolled out into the trough, and she unrolled and read it. “Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” She turned and ran off, leaving the magic mirror switched on.

The head switched maps and busied himself by shrieking at an entirely new set of people.

Here went nothing. Van Klunk rolled off the sill, twisted as he fell so that he would land on his feet. He fingered his pointed hat out of his backpack, put it on, and began creeping across the floor towards the piles of treasure which filled the room.

“Ludwig van Klunk!” bellowed the Great Quill. “Where do you think you’re going?”

The gnome froze, astonished the prophet would spot him when he was already busy screaming at other people, and astonished the prophet had guessed his name.

“Oh don’t mind me,” the gnome squeaked. “I’m just here to burglarize the place. Nothing to do with you.” The Great Quill, who knew all and could see all, wouldn’t have had to guess van Klunk’s name now, would he?

“No, you’re not,” snarled the disembodied head.

“Yes, yes, just a bit of burglary is all.”

“How do you intend to carry the loot?”

“Well I was . . . ‘Carry the loot’? Well, you see…” To be honest, he never expected to get this far. He lamely pointed at his backpack.

“That won’t work,” the prophet sneered.

“Yes, it will.”

“There are magical bags into which a person can cram roomfuls of treasure, but that slightly dirty, somewhat worn backpack isn’t one of them. Oh yes, you’ll be able to slip in a few gemstones into it and maybe some coins, but the vast majority of this roomful of wealth, for you, will remain just a painful memory.”

“Listen, I’m an infamous burglar!”

“You’re a cowardly, untrustworthy gnome, who has some—not a lot—talent with physics. You think this ‘caper’ will gain you riches untold, but alas, this is not where you’ll become rich.”

Van Klunk sucked in his breath. What had the Great Quill just said? Looking deep into the mirror, past the Great Quill, the gnome could see his own reflection: a ridiculously small, misshappened, two-legged creature with a pointy hat, a somewhat pudgy face, an ill-fitting shirt, baggy pants, and tiny boots. He was swaying from foot-to-foot nervously. “So,” he began, but his mouth stopped moving. He gathered his courage and tried again, “So just where will I become rich?”
With a rattle, a parchment rolled into the trough at the bottom of the mirror. Van Klunk’s trembling hand reached out and gathered in the scroll. He unrolled it, and began to read.

“Stop that!” barked the Great Quill.

The gnome’s heart seized up until he realized the Great Quill was again shrieking at the tiny images in the mirror. “Appointing your uncle as your High Chancellor will put him in a position to assassinate you! Where’s that simple farm boy I sent you? He’s perfect for the job.” The disembodied head’s attention shifted back to van Klunk. “Sorry for all the interruptions. I can see the future, clear as crystal, but the gods in their finite wisdom have granted people free will. So of course, people are forever doing what they’re not supposed to do and mucking up my prophecies. Then I must come rushing in like a frantic housemaid on ice skates and put the future back on track. Where were we?”

“This can’t be right,” protested van Klunk pointing at the prophecy. “The only Elvis Farstrider I know is the drunken younger brother of a blacksmith I do some occasional work for. Elvis is an idiot. He can’t hold down a job, and he screws up everything he touches. And he’s going to . . .”

“Correct. You and he will invade the lair of the fire dragon Skatheen. He will slay the dragon, and of course, the lair will be filled with her treasure. It will be yours for the taking.”

“Elvis?” Van Klunk shook his head. He knew the Farstriders slightly. He knew them enough to have heard their family history. They had gotten their unique family name because, before they had come to Tâelè, they had already been driven out of every country, every city, every town, every village, and every hamlet in the land. They were not only incompetents; they were jinxes of the highest order. No one wanted to be around them. Okay, the oldest son Tiny Tilden was a fairly good blacksmith, but the rest of them weren’t worth a bucket of night soil. Van Klunk marveled again, “Elvis?”

“That’s right.”

“Me and Elvis? Fighting a dragon?” The gnome shivered. “I’m doomed.”

“If you were doomed, I’d know about it. No, you’ll be fine. –But not you!” The Great Quill was again screaming at an image in the mirror. “Jailing the High Bishop will only infuriate his patron goddess and, believe me, she is one goddess who you do not want to be angry with you!”

In a head-spinning daze, Van Klunk wandered away towards the exit. He and Elvis Farstrider were going to fight a dragon. They were going to win. Then they were going to be rich! Yoiks, this was amazing! He rambled away, then stopped and snuck back to fill top off his backpack with some gemstones and loose coins. The Great Quill probably wouldn’t like this, but what the Great Quill didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, right? A few extra coins could come in handy on a cold winter’s night. The gnome then crept back towards the exit.

The course of the future shifted.

The Great Quill was flabbergasted. The future was like a glacier. It moved inexorably along. Sometimes, it pressed in on itself, causing ridges, ruptures, and uprisings. Sometimes it stretched out, wrenching itself apart, leaving cracks, crevices, and crevasses. But the future always moved in the same general direction. Slowly, it always inched along very slowly, but it always moved, and it always moved in the same direction. It almost never shifted.

The last time the future had changed directions was eons ago, when the Goddess of Dragons had tried to take over all of Creation. The other gods had been infuriated by her bungled attempt. They had captured her and had imprisoned her in another reality on the far side of a Druumbian Archway. They had manacled her to a boulder and had gouged out her eyes. They had obliterated all memory of her. To this very day, even the Great Quill could not remember her name. And lastly, they had driven her beloved dragons into extinction. She had become less substantial than a dust mote floating in the still air. She had become nothing.

And this conflict between the gods had been so momentous that the course of the future had shifted.

Eons later, when the Dragon Goddess had escaped the Druumbian Archway, events had not been momentous enough to shift the future, for the gods had not really minded. She was by that time nothing more than a maimed, minor goddess. She had tried to resurrect her dragons, but with her weakened abilities, she was able to salvage about half of them. She found herself forced to abandon her sun dragons and the other magnanimous dragons. Instead she focused on bringing back the most evil and destructive dragons.

Once again the gods had neither minded nor had interfered. These dragons presented the heroes of the various gods with something to hunt, something to test themselves against. Heroes battled dragons, and in the eyes of the gods, all was right with Creation.

But today, the direction of the future had once again shifted. Peering forward, it looked as if the Goddess of the Dragons was going to launch another takeover attempt. Again she was going to try and snatch all of Creation for her own fiefdom. Although the future was still swirling with chaotic uncertainty, as far as the Great Quill could foresee, there was only one creature who had a possibility of thwarting her attempt.

The Great Quill stared over towards the exit and mouthed the only name which would come to his lips: “Ludwig van Klunk?” He looked up towards the Fates, unseen in their celestial weaving room. “Oh, you have to be kidding me!”

#

Ludwig van Klunk was carried before Queen Inura in the fists of one of her palace guards. The gnome was desperately trying to bite one of the guard’s fingers, but he failed.

“What have we here?” asked the Queen. Some queens are born knowing how to terrorize. Some are purposely educated in this fine art. Yet others adopt it in a desperate bid to survive. With Queen Inura, it was all three. Her voice was as quiet as the slitting of a throat. Her facial features where sharp as a guillotine, and she had the predatory eyes of a hawk. She was slender, for not an ounce of fat dared to accumulate anywhere on her body. She had grown tall so she could tower over her supplicants. Her dark hair was imprisoned in a tight bun which held diamonds, the hardness of which reflected cold shards of light. Her gown was of embossed white satin with a broad belt of purest blue, designed to accentuate her waspish waistline and to give the illusion that she was virtuous. She did not carry scepter. Rather, the queen carried a rider’s crop because, on occasion, she liked to hit people.

“He is a burglar, Your Majesty,” the guard reported. “We caught him coming out of the royal treasury.”

“I’m a tourist!” protested van Klunk. “I got lost and was trying to find my way back outside!”

Around the Queen was grouped her usual entourage. The Royal Mage whispered into her ear, “Check his backpack.”

Queen Inura snapped, “Check his backpack!”

Other guards hurried over, battled van Klunk for possession of his pack, and opened it. “Gemstones, Your Majesty. And some gold and silver coins.”

“I had those when I came in!”

With eyes of ice, the Queen looked him over. “I’m sure if that were true, you’d have used some of your wealth to buy some decent clothing, or do you enjoy going about looking like a scarecrow?”

“This is a fashion statement!”

“The ‘statement’ being that you’d look most appropriate as a resident of my dungeon?”

Van Klunk shook his head. “The ‘statement’ being that I am not fit to be in this fabulous palace and I should be hurled out of here, forthwith!”

“Captain of the Guard, see to it that this creature is granted all the comforts of my dungeon, please. Thank you, sir.”

The Captain of her Guard simpered, “No Your Majesty, it is I who should thank you.”

Van Klunk grumbled. “Yeah, thanks for nothing. Listen, let’s get down to the real reason I’m here.”
“Ah,” sighed the Queen. “A full confession at last. Do go on.”

“I am a dragon hunter.”

A whisper-thin eyebrow of the Queen arched. “Captain, do make sure that our guest gets to sample the wide range of torture techniques for which my dungeon is famous.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“Wait! Wait!” squeaked van Klunk. “Where is my parchment? Where’s the scroll you guys took from me!”

The Queen glared at him.

“It will prove I’m a dragon hunter! It’s all in writing!”

“Did this . . . individual . . . have a scroll on him when he was captured?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“May I see it, please?”

The scroll was quickly produced.

She perused it. “Sir, did you read this?” she asked the guard.

“No, Your Majesty. I don’t know how to read.”

“No. Of course, you don’t.” She thought for a moment. “Royal Scribe?”

Another courtier rushed forward. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

“Prepare a Royal Charter, granting leave for Masters van Klunk and Farstrider to hunt and kill dragons. Upon delivery of one half of any dragon hoard taken, and upon proof of the dragon’s demise, say by delivering its head to this court, then Masters van Klunk and Farstrider shall be entitled to retain the remaining one half of the dragon’s hoard as their reward. All expenses, fees, penalties, encumbrances, etcetera, shall be borne solely by Masters van Klunk and Farstrider.”

“This shall be done immediately, Your Majesty!” He hurried off.

“Captain of the Guard, you may now take Master van Klunk down to our dungeon.”

“What?!”

“Be of good cheer, Master van Klunk. You will be neither imprisoned there nor tortured. I merely think will be an excellent opportunity for you to meet up with your partner. He has been temporarily detained there . . . for being drunk and disorderly?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied her Captain of the Guard, but then he hesitantly added, “and for creating a public nuisance.”

“Of course.”

“And for damaging property, both public and private.”

“Oh dear.”

“For mayhem.”

“I see.”

“And for vomiting on a soldier of the Queen.”

“Ugh. Anything else?”

“And for public nudity.”

“Public nudity? Whatever for?”

“No one is sure, Your Majesty. I assure you, no one wanted to see anything like that.”

In the shadows of a nearby corner, stood Crown Princess Clarabelle. “I would have like to have seen that,” she whispered to herself. “For educational purposes only, of course.”
 

Chapter 2: Night of Fire

 “Gods protect me. Sweet gods protect me,” prayed van Klunk as he scrambled through the night towards the village tavern. Somewhere, a clock tower was chiming midnight. The gnome shot a terrified look back over his shoulder. Seeing nothing soaring through the dark skies scared him even more. “Sweet gods protect me.”

A dry, lifeless wind blew through the village, rattling like a breeze through the ribcage of a skeleton.

He heard the distant bellow of, “I love you guys!” and recognized the voice of Elvis Farstrider. He sounded incredibly drunk. Again. This did not bode well for anyone’s chance of survival.

As van Klunk ran up the sloped street that led from the human’s lower village to their upper village, he slipped when his bouncing backpack pulled him to one side. Sprawled on the ground, he couldn’t help but notice the intricately interlaced paving stones. They were just ingenious in their interconnections, and they --

Skatheen’s horrendous roar tore the night air. Van Klunk suddenly remembered where he was, scrambled to his feet, and dashed on towards the tavern.

The gnome slid to a halt when he found himself stymied by the tavern door. His plan was to lasso the door latch with his elven rope, to pull it down, and to open the door that way. But this tavern had a doorknob. Where did a town this poor ever get the money to buy a doorknob? That was just a bit ostentatious, don’t you think?

From inside, Elvis’s voice cry for, “More rum! More rum for everyone!” was followed immediately by an approving cheer from the drunken townsfolk.

“No more rum,” whimpered van Klunk. “Please don’t be too drunk. Please don’t be too drunk.” He coiled his elven rope back up, stuffed it into his backpack with the rest of his adventuring gear, and began looking for an open window.

He found one, on his first try. Now, how to get up to it?

Sure, he could clamber up the wall. It was in such ill repair that there were handholds and footholds aplenty. But he needed something faster.

Van Klunk spotted the broken branch of a sapling tree. As he snatched it up, he tested its spring. Oh yes, this will do nicely. He wedged it between two heavy stones, hurried over to the tavern wall, turned back around, took two deep breaths. This was physics, right? The one thing he was good at was physics. Yoiks. He scurried towards the broken branch, leaped high into the air, landed on the branch, and felt it bend under his miniscule weight. At the nadir of the bend, van Klunk muttered a hurried prayer. The sapling sprang back straight, hurling van Klunk up, through the open window, and deep into the cleavage of a busty barmaid, who’d been bending over to serve drinks.

“Ieeee!” she screamed as she straightened and began dancing around. “A rat! A rat!” She beat on her chest and upon van Klunk, who was squirming around inside her blouse, trying to climb out. Ow! Girls hit really hard.

Van Klunk lost his grip and slid down to her waistband.

“A rat! A rat!” Other voices were now taking up the cry, and more drunken blows rained down upon the lump wriggling within the barmaid’s blouse.

Van Klunk squirmed more, trying in vain to evade the blows. His writhing caused him to slip underneath the barmaid’s waistband, and he plummeted inside her skirt down to the dirt floor. The impact knocked the wind out of him for a second. His backpack came tumbling after, hitting him on the head.

“I’m not a rat!” he squeaked, once he’d caught his breath.

“A rat! A rat!”

“I’m not a rat!”

“Hey, he says he’s not a rat!”

“He’s as ugly as a rat.”

The barmaid danced backwards. “A talking rat!”

“I’m a gnome!”

“What’s a gnome?”

“Me! I am! I’m a gnome! What kind of stupid rat wears a pointy hat?!”

From across the room, came a drunken chuckle. “Hey little buddy, there you are! Watch this!”

Elvis Farstrider was the biggest dwarf van Klunk had ever seen. He was the biggest anybody he’d ever seen. He claimed to be half dwarf and half elf, and van Klunk certainly believed in the half dwarf part. But as for the elf part, Elvis was about as magical and as graceful as a rock. There was no way his blubbery body could contain a single drop of elf’s blood. Van Klunk guessed Elvis was more likely half giant, but he’d learned the hard way never to mention the word ‘giant’ around any dwarf. By all the gods, how else could anyone explain why this dwarf was a head taller than the tallest human in the room? Elvis was wearing threadbare overalls over a faded, homespun shirt. Both garments budged at the seams, trying to restrain his massive bulk. A gap-toothed grin was plastered across his goofy face.

The crowd had formed a circle along the walls, leaving a large opening in the middle of the room. Glowing fistfuls of embers had been scraped out of the fireplace and now formed a long, incendiary path on the dirt floor. Elvis was at one end, his boots off, his sweaty face nearly purple with drunkenness.

“Fire strider!” the crowd chanted enthusiastically. “Fire strider! Fire strider!”

“Cool moss,” he kept repeating, “cool moss, cool moss, cool moss, cool moss!” He kissed his lucky pinky ring and then launched himself forward, with his naked unwashed feet stepping on the burning embers.

“Yoiks,” whispered van Klunk.

The crowd cheered. “Fire strider! Fire strider!”

“Cool moss, cool moss, cool moss,” chanted Elvis as he hurried forward. “Hot coals, hot coals! I’m burning! Burning! Help me! OH SWEET GODDESS OF THE MOUNTAIN DAFFODILS!” He danced crazily and then leaped off of path of fire, crashing into a table, knocking over drinks and candles, and sending patrons sprawling.

To get cool air onto his throbbing, charred soles, Elvis leapt up for the moose head on the wall. The flea-bitten trophy was held in place by a single two-penny nail. Elvis outweighed the nail about three million times over. It bent like hot wax, sending Elvis and the moose head plummeting onto a table, which collapsed under the weight.

Elvis focused his rum-soaked eyes and found himself looking into the eyes of . . . “A moose!” He did a backwards somersault, which catapulted the moose head across the room. “How did a moose get in here? Don’t worry! I’ll kill it!” Elvis snatched a throwing axe off a nearby patron’s belt and hurled the axe across the room.

“No!” shrieked van Klunk, as he was already leaping up onto a chair, onto a table and into the air to knock the lethally hurtling blade harmlessly up into the rafters of the tavern. Van Klunk came down and bounced into the clothing of the tavern’s other barmaid. She pulled open the top of her blouse and growled down into her cleavage, “What are you doing down there?”

The frantic gnome replied, “Looking for a way out!”

“Looking for a way out, or just looking?!” She plucked him out of her blouse and flung him across the room. He landed head first in the mouth of a bear’s head, which was mounted next to where the moose head used to be. Van Klunk’s legs flailed.

By this time, the candles which Elvis had earlier knocked over ignited the spilled rum with a whoomp!

“Fire! Fire!”

Elvis grabbed a pitcher of beer, limped over on his still-stinging feet, hurled the beer, missed the fire, but hit the first barmaid right in the middle of her cotton blouse. The blouse disappeared, or at least it seemed that way to all the patrons of the tavern.

The fire was forgotten.

The young woman looked down at her chest, squealed, slapped her hands over where all the men were looking, and ran out of the tavern.

The men chuckled appreciatively. “Wow, those were really nice. I mean, really nice.”

Van Klunk popped his head free from the bear’s throat. “Fire!” he reminded everybody.

“What?”

The gnome pointed desperately. “Fire!”

“Oh. Oh! OH!!”

More beer was thrown, this time with more accuracy, with the second barmaid staying as far away from the flying suds as she possibly could.

Elvis was frowning upwards. “Hey little buddy, what’re you doing up there?”

“Remember that dragon? The one we came here to slay?”

“Skatheen? Aye, I do.” Elvis picked up someone’s beer and took a swig. He began to giggle. “What about her?”

“She’s here!”

“Who’s here?”

“Skatheen!”

“You mean . . . now?”

It had gotten very quiet in the tavern.

“Yes. Skatheen. Here. Now!”

“Oh boy.” Elvis looked around at the townsfolk, who were looking at him with great expectation. He kissed his lucky pinky ring. “And we’re going to kill that dragon too! We promised we’d kill her, and we’re going to kill her!”

Van Klunk asked softly, “So, where’s your sword?”

“The Sword of Cregadûr?”

“Aye.”

“Well, it’s back at the inn. Why? –Oh! Oh, I see your point.”

Someone called out, “You’re going to need your sword to kill the dragon, you daftee!”

Someone else called out, “Go and get it! Hurry!”

The night outside echoed with the roar of a dragon.

“Go out . . .” Elvis gulped, “. . . there?”

The thatched roof of the tavern exploded as a dragon claw crashed through it when Skatheen soared just overhead. As debris flew, the townsfolk threw themselves into the sawdust on the floor, covered their heads, and whimpered piteously.

The town sheriff burst in through the front door. “Elvis! Elvis Firestrider!”

“Over here.”

“There’s a dragon outside looking for you.”

“Me?” gasped Elvis. “Why she looking for me?”

“Because you promised to kill her. She’s found out about it, and she’s a wee bit furious.”

A voice rang out, “Elvis, go get your sword!”

Another voice added, “Remember the prophecy. It promised you’ll be the one to kill Skatheen!”

“In her lair!” retorted van Klunk. “It says he’ll kill her in her lair!

“Well, she’s not in her lair, is she? She’s here. She’s destroying our town. And you promised!”

Elvis got that look in his eye, that look which forged together iron determination with tin-plated stupidity. As the gigantic dwarf started to rise from the floor, van Klunk leaped up and grabbed his shirt pocket.

“Where are you going?”

“To get my sword!” Elvis peeled the gnome off and put him back down on the floor. He shoved his feet back into his boots.

“We’re not in the dragon’s lair! The prophecy’s useless here!”

Elvis fastened his boots, stumbled up to his feet, and raced outside into the dancing firelight of the blazes that Skatheen’s breath had already started.

Van Klunk, awash in disbelief, stared after him. The gnome was so angry, his toenails ached. The Great Quill’s prophecy specifically stated that Elvis would kill Skatheen in her treasure-filled lair. With that victory, both of them would become indescribably rich! But, but, but the prophecy said nothing about Elvis fighting Skatheen here in this backwater town where, even if he managed to somehow win, there wouldn’t be a ha’penny of profit in the victory. No one would ever argue that Elvis was not spectacularly stupid, but this reckless charge out into the night was moronic even for him!

Now van Klunk’s choices were to either wait here while Elvis got himself killed, meaning no treasure, or else van Klunk could follow Elvis out into that nightmare of dragon fire and almost assuredly die with him. No wonder the gnome’s toenails ached.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

When lower back problems forced me into early retirement, I moved to the central Philippines, designed and built a “palace” beside a tropical sea, and began living happily ever after. However, a 7.2-point earthquake, followed a few weeks later by a supertyphoon, knocked out our electrical power for months. I bought a solar generator, and using it to power my laptop, I began writing a comedy-fantasy about two incompetent dragon hunters. It is entitled Wee.


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