Towards midday the magician finally spoke.  “Lots of very excited bees in the air today,” he observed.  Aithan had seen them too, moving in vast liquid swarms past them.  As they continued walking they came upon a great buzzing cloud at the base of an oak tree.  The bees were agitated but did not seem aggressive towards them, so the magician moved closer and Aithan followed.  Around the base of the tree were countless dead bees, and thousands more were crawling over some bloated creature, many stinging it even though it was clearly dead.  The magician gently moved the bees off the dead thing with his staff, and took a sharp breath at what he saw.  It was some form of winged lizard, twisted and demented in death, showing rows of sharp black teeth in a cruel mouth.

“A dragon!” cried Aithan, stepping back.

“Seems to be,” agreed the magician.

“I told you so!  You never believed me!”

“Not until yesterday.  I thought they’d be bigger.”

“Yes, much bigger!” said Aithan, suddenly delighting at the thought.

“The bees have done a good day’s work,” said the magician, poking the dead dragon one last time.  At the same moment, another small dragon glided onto the ground near the oak tree.  Aithan and the magician both stepped back, but the dragon seemed only to see its dead comrade.  It bit the dead dragon and shook it roughly, then released it when there was no reaction.  Then it looked up at Aithan and the magician, black teeth glistening.  The magician raised his staff, and Aithan wished his wooden sword were nearby.  The thrum of the bees grew angry again.  The three stood that way for some time, the dragon jerking its head back and forth and occasionally biting at its own wings.  Then it screeched and tumbled backwards as a dark form flew between the travellers and overwhelmed it.  It was a wolf and it quickly had the dragon’s neck in its mouth and was shaking it violently.  The dragon screamed and scratched and bit at the wolf, but soon it was dead and limp in the wolf’s mouth.  The wolf dropped the broken dragon, turned and looked at the travellers.  It was frothing at the muzzle, and it attempted to wipe the froth away on the grass.  Then it trotted off, shaking foam from its mouth as it moved.  Other wolves now appeared out of the thick growth and began licking the froth away, and after a time the pack moved off, back into the high grass.

“An entire pack of wolves, and they show no interest in us,” said the magician.  “It seems that the world changed while we were asleep, boy.”

“But at least they’re small dragons,” said Aithan with obvious relief.

“Two of them are small,” corrected the magician.  He moved in and poked the second dragon, which remained dead.

“It seems the simple creatures of this world do not like these dragons,” he said.  As they stood there looking at the disturbing bodies, the dragons began to putrefy.  They dissolved into lumpy puddles of green and yellow decay, and Aithan and the magician had to move away to avoid the terrible odor.

“I never knew there could be such a stench!” said Aithan when they had reached fresh air.

“No,” said the magician.  “These are evil things indeed.”


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