Two Are Better Than One Chapter 6
All Together Now
By Samara Secor
“And just what kind of hare-brained project would involve stealing a gryphon’s eggs?” Arvad asked, resigning himself to a long argument.
“My class was given the assignment of studying the growth and development of young, magical creatures,” Edrea replied, taking on the tone of someone lecturing a misbehaving child. “All the easy ones to catch, such as Synapse Guards and Gorgons, were already started on by the time I was made aware of the assignment. I am NOT going to study the same creature as someone else. It took me a whole month to even discover that there were gryphons nesting here. Now, I’ll have to spend even more time trying to find something else to study.”
‘I can’t... I can’t take it anymore!’ Conch wearily sank down on a rock and gasped for breath, letting the sitar fall to the rock in front of him. “It’s just too heavy to carry that far. Maybe I should be working out more like Quark keeps getting after me to. Man, I hate it when that old killjoy is right.”
He lay still for a moment, catching his breath, before struggling back to his feet. He studies the sky warily and was relieved to note that the gryphons had vanished. “I suppose it would be all right if I left it here while I go and find them,” Conch began flying towards the direction he’d seen Alicia, Laticia, Neil, and Arvad run, calling out their names.
They heard Conch long before they saw him. Arvad sprang into action and scrambled up the canyon wall, dislodging a shower of pebbles in his haste to reach the top. He leaned out over the edge as far as he dared and, pitching his voice to carry away from the others, he called, “Hey, what’s-your-name... Conch! Up here!”
As Conch drew near, Arvad moved his body so as to block their view of Conch and motioned for him to be quiet. “There’s this nutcase wizard apprentice down there named Edrea, and she’s the one that got the gryphons’ tail feathers all in an uproar.”
“That’s nice, Arvad, but..”
“No buts! Let me finish!” Arvad hissed. “She tried to run off with a couple of eggs so that she could observe the hatchlings for some cockamamie project, claiming all the common magical creatures had already been picked by the other students.”
“So what?” Conch asked, staring at Arvad.
“So?” Arvad growled. “What do you think she’s going to do when you go waltzing on over there? Invite you to a tea party?”
“I sure hope not. I hate tea,” Conch replied.
“Hey, cool off, Arvad. I was only kidding. I get the message,” Conch looked over his shoulder and asked, “Now, will you let ME finish what I was trying to tell you?”
“All right. What is it?”
“I tried to bring your sitar with me, but it got too heavy. I left it back a couple of turns that-a-way,” Conch explained, indicating the direction with a wave of his paw. “Do you want me to come with you, or can you find it by yourself?”
“Oh, please,” Arvad rolled his eyes. “Give me a little credit, will ya? I’m forgetful, not stupid. I think I can manage, but I don’t know if you can. You still haven’t told me how you plan on getting around the crazy lady down there.”
“You can walk and talk at the same time, can’t you? Let’s go get your sitar, and I’ll explain on the way,” Conch said.
“Right,” Arvad stood and yelled down to the rest of them, “I’m off to get my sitar, folks. Don’t go anywhere while I’m gone, okay?”
He made his way down the opposite side of the cliff face only slightly slower than he’d gone up and followed Conch back into the maze of passages. After they had put a little distance between themselves and the others, Conch asked, “You know what I am, don’t you?”
A moment of silence followed, and Arvad said, “Yeah, I do. One of your kind saved me a long time ago. I can’t remember why or from what. The whole experience was traumatic, so I kind of blocked it out... along with he first five or six years of my life.”
“Well, if one of us saved you, how come you’re scared of me.”
Arvad thought about denying his fear but knew it was pointless, “You won’t laugh, will you?”
“No, of course not.”
“It’s because I’m afraid that you’re going to try and make me a Dragonmaster,” Arvad kicked at a loose rock with his foot and sighed, “I’ve read the histories before, and I don’t want to have all those people depending on me only to end up disappointing them. I haven’t got the vision of Leon or the strength of Gaull, and I don’t think that lockpicking is a popular skill for heroes to have. Adventurers maybe, but not heroes. Promise me that you’ll never choose me as a Dragonmaster, and I promise not to freak out any time that you get near me.”
“Deal,” Conch agreed. “Now, about this Edrea... I think we can work something out. If I let her study me, she won’t go stirring up any more trouble. Of course, we won’t tell her that I’m a baby dragon. That will be one of the things that she has to discover for herself. You can’t tell anyone else what I am, either. There’s no sense taking the chance that one of them will accidentally drop a hint.”
“Well, be careful not to go dropping any hints of your own,” Arvad said. “I head Alicia say that you’re quite the blabbermouth.”
“Yeah, well... Maybe it’s because I haven’t had very many people close to my own age to talk to. Dragons live a long time, and new ones aren’t born very often. Even when there are more than usual, only the ones with full access to their power do very much traveling. That means the old geezers get to go out and play while we stay home and rot,” Conch grinned. “I don’t plan on letting that happen to me if I can avoid it.”
The next corner brought them within sight of the sitar, and Arvad picked it up, examining it critically. “Well, I suppose the sitar made it through the battle intact, but you got your dragon slobber all over it. I hope it doesn’t have any weird side effects like warping the strings or anything.”
Conch sniffed, “Just be glad that I’m not a Red Dragon instead of a Blue Dragon. One uncontrolled breath would be the end of it.”
Before Edrea had an opportunity to make a protest, the young man that she’d heard one of the girls call Arvad had disappeared over the lip of the cliff. It annoyed her that he worried more about the well being of an instrument than incurring the wrath of a wizard. Granted, she hadn’t completed her formal studies, but she wasn’t someone to be taken lightly. ‘He’s either incredibly stupid or unbelievably reckless,’ she thought. ‘No, he’s not stupid. It took ingenuity to lift those eggs without me noticing. Reckless seems to fit him pretty well, though. I wouldn’t climb anything that steep without a few wind spells to catch me if a hand or foot slipped.’
The remaining three seemed to be cut from totally different cloth. The blond haired boy reminded her of an immovable rock. Even though blood was trickling down his arm from a gash in his shoulder, he showed no sign of weakening at all. The two girls had identical features, right down to the startling violet eyes. She’d bet her staff that they were twins. “I gathered Arvad’s name from your conversation, but you haven’t introduces yourselves yet,” Edrea said, implying that their failure was a gross breach of etiquette.
“I’m Laticia of Pao, and I’m on my way to join the Magic Guild of Vane,” the girl with the bow and arrows said.
“I’m her twin sister, Alicia,” the other girl said. “I’m just making sure that my sister gets a chance to achieve her dream.”
“And I’m Neil, also of Pao. I just followed them to keep both of them out of trouble,” the boy grimaced. “However, it seems that we’ve landed into trouble despite our efforts.”
A sprightly tune wafted on the air, and Arvad came into view, his fingers dancing across the strings of his sitar. He played a few more measures before stopping and saying, “I suppose you didn’t slobber my strings to death after all. I’ll let you live this time, Conch.”
“Hmph! Ingrate. I should have left it behind for the gryphons. Then, you’d really be wailing,” the voice that Edrea had heard earlier replied.
The owner of the voice followed on the end of that statement, and Edrea’s eyes widened, “What... What are you?”
The flying blue cat-like creature named Conch grinned, “I think she likes me, Arvad. Too bad she’s not my type.”
Arvad had to fight hard to keep from laughing, but he managed and said, “When Conch heard of your plight, he consented to being the subject. He thinks that part of your project should be to figure out what he is.”
Edrea put her hands on her hips. “Can you guarantee that no one else at the magic guild is studying the someone like you?” she asked, eyeing Conch with a mixture of hope and apprehension.
“May Althena strike me down if someone does. I’m positive,” Conch said.
“Then, I suppose you can be my test subject. It looks like I haven’t been set back after all. I’m sorry for tearing into you guys like that. I’ll pay for Neil to be healed at Althena’s Temple. It’s the least I can do,” Edrea said. “But you’ll be on your own through the Cave of Trials. That’s one place that I don’t intend on going through more than once. It was enough of a pain the first time.”
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