Talking to Dragons, стр. 32

"Is it magic?" the dragon asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, find out!" Shiara said impatiently. "I thought that was what the stupid sword was for."

I sighed a little and shifted all the things I was carrying until I could put my left hand on the hilt of the Sword of the Sleeping King.

I didn't feel any tingles, but the key started to glow.

We all stared at the key for a minute.

"I knew it was magic? the dragon said happily.

"I don't feel anything from the sword, though," I said. I took my hand off the hilt, and the key stopped glowing.

"So? The sword makes it glow, doesn't it?" Shiara said. "It has to be magic. What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm going to keep it, at least until we talk to Kazul," I said. "She may know what it's for, or who it belongs to."

"It b-b-belongs in the c-c-cave," something said in a bubbly voice behind us.

I jumped and turned around. There wasn't anyone there. Shiara and the dragon and I all peered into the darkness. Nightwitch looked up from washing her back long enough to hiss, then continued washing.

"Who said that?" Shiara demanded.

"M-m-me. You b-better put that k-k-key back right away," said the same voice.

I still didn't see anyone.

"Why?" I asked.

"B-because it b-belongs there!" the voice said. It sounded like water hitting a hot frying pan. "Gug-give it to me, and I'll put it back."

"If you want it, you'll have to come out here where we can see you," Shiara said firmly.

There was an unhappy bubbling noise from the dark part of the tunnel, then a series of unpleasant squishing sounds. A moment later something wobbled into the light from the silver lamp. It was about four feet tall, and it looked like a slightly sloppy pillar of very dark blackberry jelly.

"There?" it said. "Now, gug-give me that key!"

I was so busy trying to figure out how it could talk when it didn't have a mouth that I didn't answer. I was still trying when Shiara asked, "How do we know it's your key?"

"It isn't my key. I just take care of it. Gug-give it to me!" The jelly was shaking angrily and bobbing up and down like the lid on a teakettle. Every time it bobbed up, the pillar of jelly stretched thin; and when it bobbed down, the jelly made a sort of flattened lump; and every time it moved at all, it wobbled.

The dragon, who had been standing behind Shiara, poked its head over her shoulder to see better. "That stuff reminds me of something," the dragon said. "I can't think what, though. What is it?"

'I" huffed the jelly, "am a quozzel." It leaned forward as if it were trying to peer at us and asked haughtily, "What are you?"

"It's a dragon," Shiara said, a little nastily. "Can't you tell?"

The pillar froze in mid-wobble. "There are n-n-no dragons under-gug-ground," it said. "None!" It leaned cautiously in Shiara's direction for a minute, then started bobbing again. "You aren't a dragon. I want that k-k-key! It belongs in the cave, and it's g-going to stay there!"

"Of course she's not a dragon!" the dragon said. "I'm a dragon. And I've never heard of a quozzel before."

The quozzel bent a little, then froze again. "Glurb," it said.

The dragon tilted its head to one side. "I don't think you're very polite," it said.

The jelly burbled unhappily to itself. It looked as if it were boiling. The little dragon kept staring at it, and suddenly the dragon's eyes started to glow. "I know what this reminds me of!" it said triumphantly. "Dessert!"

The quozzel shrieked and collapsed backward into the darkness just as the dragon's head shot toward it. The dragon kept going, knocking Shiara and me out of the way as it went past. We heard several squishing noises, then an angry snort from the dragon, followed closely by a small puff of flame that lit up the dark end of the tunnel. I got a brief glimpse of the dragon before the light died, but I didn't see the quozzel anywhere. There was a disgusted-sounding growl, and a moment later the dragon stalked back into the light from the silver lamp. "It got away."

"Well, I'm glad it's gone," Shiara said. She frowned. "You shouldn't go around trying to eat things all the time, especially if you don't know what they are. I wouldn't be surprised if quozzels were poisonous or something."

"Dragonsbane is the only thing that poisons dragons, and that quozzel wasn't polite, and I'm hungry," the dragon said. It shook its head sadly.

"Wizards taste good, but they aren't very filling."

I put the key in my pocket and rummaged in Morwen's bundle. I was sure I still had some meat pies, and I didn't like the idea of traveling with a hungry dragon. I found the food and offered it to the dragon, who brightened up a little and accepted.

"We ought to keep going," Shiara said as the dragon sat back against the wall of the tunnel and started eating. "Suppose that quozzel thing comes back?"

"I don't think it could really do much to us," I said. "It didn't look very dangerous."

"You can't always tell by looking," Shiara said darkly. "And if that marmalade mess wants the stupid key badly enough, it'll think of something."

"Marmalade is orange," I said. "The quozzel looked more like blackberry jelly to me. And I still don't think it's going to come back. Not while the dragon is around."

"Well, you'd better carry that key in your hand," Shiara said. "I think it's important, and it might fall out of your pocket or something."

"All right, but you'll have to keep the lamp. I don't think I can manage the sword and the things Morwen gave us and the lamp, and still hold the key." I dug the key out of my pocket again. Maybe it did belong to the quozzel, but the more I thought about it, the less likely that seemed. And if the key had something to do with the sword, I wanted to hang on to it.

"You won't have to juggle things until we start walking again," Shiara said, but she kept the lamp.

Just then the dragon looked up. "I'm done," it said. "Where do we go now?"


In Which Things Get Very Dark for a While

Wee started walking again. I don't know how far we went or how long it took us. The tunnel forked and we turned right, then it forked again and we went left. We walked through a large cave with walls like black mirrors, and a damp one that dripped water onto our heads, and an unpleasant slimy one with gray moss on the walls. I was very glad that Telemain had told us which way to go. We would have gotten lost very quickly without his directions.

A few times I thought I heard squishing noises behind us, but I wasn't sure enough to say anything. I was a lot more worried about remembering all the things Telemain had told us than I was about the quozzel.

Just when I was beginning to think we had taken a wrong turn somewhere, we came to another cavern.

This one was long and narrow, full of orange light and very hot. The tunnel came out halfway up one wall, about a hundred feet above the floor of the cave. A narrow path ran along one wall from where we stood to a dark opening on the opposite side of the cave.

"Are you sure we're going the right way?" Shiara asked, eyeing the path dubiously.

"I am now," I said. "This was the last cave Telemain mentioned. Once we're on the other side, it shouldn't take long to get to the castle."

"We have to get to the other side first," Shiara pointed out. "That doesn't look very safe."

"The Caves of Chance aren't supposed to be safe," I said. "I'm surprised we haven't run into something a lot more dangerous than the quozzel."

"I suppose-Nightwitch!" Shiara shouted, a minute too late; the kitten was already halfway across the narrow path. Shiara sighed. "Well, now we have to go across."

Shiara insisted on going first, because Nightwitch was her cat. I didn't argue much. I went next, and the dragon came last. I had to hug the wall to keep from losing my balance and falling, which was hard to do with the key in one hand, Morwen's bundle in the other, and the sword under one arm.