“One Slick Dragon” by Damon Garn

THE ABSURD ADVENTURES OF STROM AND ASH – A SHORT STORY SERIES CHRONICLING THE ANTICS OF A WACKY MAGE AND A DAFT DRAGON
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***
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From the historical writings of Bostonius the Legible, events having taken place one thousand years ago. Or so. Probably.
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Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar, was legendary among mages for his cruelty and malice. His partner, Ash Brightspark, was known as the Red Dragon of Death – his fiery breath so hot even the strongest armor melted in an eyeblink. On the party circuit these days they are known as Strom the Bomb and Ash with Cash. After several centuries of mixing healing potions, tequila and special brownies, they didn’t have it all together, but together they had it all.
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Strom and Ash have begun another adventure. Having been gone from the Black Tower of Athar so long that they’ve forgotten where it is actually located, they begin to follow a series of clues that hopefully will bring them back to their Mislaid Tower.
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They are being pursued by Sir Bertholomen (aka Sir Bert) and his trusty talking steed, Misker. The paladin is bent on fulfilling his life’s quest to bring Strom and Ash to justice for a bar tab they skipped out on a couple of centuries earlier. Once free of his quest, Bert can pursue his dream of being a wealthy fiction author.
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In their first encounter with Sir Bert and Misker, Strom and Ash learned of a map maker in the Icecrystal Mountains who may have a map fragment showing Athar. They were flying toward the mountains, enjoying the warm weather…
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***
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Ash the dragon stretched as he flew. The sun warmed his wings. The air was fresh. A sound like frogs in mortal agony tortured his ears.
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“Please quit singing, Strom,” pleaded the dragon to the wizard on his back.
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“Sorry,” whined Strom. “I’m bored.”
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“Can’t you read your spell book or something?”
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“If I read it one more time I’ll have it memorized.”
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“You’re driving me insane.”
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“Humph. That happened long ago,” Strom muttered. Louder, he said “Say, is that snow on those mountains?” He pointed with his staff.
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“Hey! Watch where you’re swinging that thing!” yelled Ash.
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“That’s what she said,” answered Strom glibly. “Can’t you see the mountains over there?”
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The nearsighted dragon could barely see the end of his nose, and would not have noticed much of anything within miles of them. He snorted noncommittally.
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“Oh yeah. I forgot. You’re going blind in your old age,” the mage snickered, though he had seen quite a few birthday parties himself. “C’mon, let’s go over there. I think that’s the Icecrystal Mountains Sir Bert and Misker told us about.”
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“How are we going to find one tiny human in that huge mountain chain?” asked Ash. “You got a spell for that or something?”
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“Nope. We’ll just see what happens when we arrive. How many villages could there be in those mountains anyway? Besides, I don’t remember the last time we frolicked in the snow.”
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“I hate snow!” the dragon argued. “I am a respectable, fire breathing dragon. A dragon does not frolic in the snow. I have the Brightspark name to uphold.”
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“More like Buttspark, if you ask me. Jiminy, you big baby. It’s just snow. You’ll love it. Trust me.”
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Ash groaned but obediently turned and flew toward the snowy mountain slopes.
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***
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Gliding high above the mountains, Strom and Ash finally saw signs of a town nestled among the peaks. There were several hundred houses and shops spread across a broad valley, as well as a good sized blue lake. Snow blanketed the town and surrounding mountains. Long avalanche chutes cut down the mountain slopes.
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“Let’s try this place, Strom,” Ash said. “It’s certainly big enough.”
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They landed some distance from the village. Ash used a spell to transform himself into a male elf. They’d learned long ago that a dragon landing on Main Street was an unwelcome sight for most settlements. He took the form of a wizened old elf, with long reddish hair and deep black eyes. For fun, he retained long fangs in his otherwise handsome face.
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The two trudged up the road and into the town.
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They stopped at a small coffee shop with a polearm over the door called Pike’s Perk to ask directions and get a warm drink.
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“I’ll have a large coffee, no cream, no sugar,” Strom said to the barista.
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“And for you sir?” she said politely to the “elf” next to Strom.
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“I’ll have a tall half caff, half decaff latte, extra shot, with two pumps of sugar free raspberry flavor, low fat whipped cream, three shakes of chocolate shavings, soy milk, no foam, cherry on top, to go, with one of those little paper things so I don’t burn my fingers,” answered the dragon promptly.
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“What the hell -?” Strom spluttered while the barista furiously scribbled notes.
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“I like what I like,” Ash said primly.
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“What happened to a regular old basic coffee?”
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Ash and the barista both glared at Strom.
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“Your friend is pretty unsophisticated,” whispered the barista to Ash.
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“You have no idea, miss,” Ash rolled of his eyes. “He’s even more embarrassing in a sushi tavern. He once ordered fish sticks off the kids menu because he couldn’t pronounce anything else.”
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“If you two are quite finished?” Strom said before heading over to a table.
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Ash’s drink was brought over almost immediately. The barista had to look up the procedure for Strom’s coffee and it took her three tries to get it right.
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“Do you know if there is a good map maker in town?” Ash asked her.
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“You mean a cartologist?”
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“Um, sure.”
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“Yes, we have a very famous cartologist here. Her name is Daraga. Her shop is further on into town. She creates a bunch of different maps from her travels. With winter coming on, I doubt she’ll be on the road again until spring.”
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***
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The walls of Daraga’s map store were covered with maps of varying sizes and scales. Dusty globes lined shelves. Great cases of rolled maps consumed much of the worn wooden floor. Several large tables filled out the rest of the space. Behind a low counter stood three more immense tables with long sheets unrolled across them, anchored by a number of miscellaneous knick knacks. A dark haired woman with a long braid bent over one of the tables, meticulously drawing on one of the sheets.
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“Be right with you!” she called, continuing her work.
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Strom browsed the map displays, looking for references to his homeland of Athar. Ash took down one of the globes, admiring its detail.
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Finally the woman stepped around the counter.
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“I’m Daraga. How can I help you?”
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“Strom Coalbeard,” said the mage with a bow.
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“Ash,” said the dragon to her.
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“Just Ash?”
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“Yep.”
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“Uh, ok.”
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“We’re looking for a small country,” Strom said.
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“Aren’t we all,” Daraga responded with a smirk. “I don’t sell those.”
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“No no, I mean we lost the country.”
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“You lost it? Did it fall out of your pocket or get lifted by a thief in the city?”
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“Um. No. We forgot where it is.”
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“You forgot? Where your country is?”
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“We aren’t usually this irresponsible,” Ash assured her. “We haven’t been there in almost a thousand years.”
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“A thousand years? You two are remarkably well preserved.”
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“Thank you!” said Strom. “I don’t feel a day over seven hundred.”
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“Er – right. It’s a good thing I like older men,” she leered at the mage.
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“The country is called Athar,” said Strom nervously after a moment of her scrutiny. “Have you heard of it?”
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“No, I can’t say that I have. I don’t recognize the name, but countries change hands regularly and they are often renamed. Do you have an idea of what region it was in?”
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“No, those really aren’t the kind of details we keep track of,” sighed Ash.
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“I see.” She thought for a moment, eying Strom again. “I’ll tell you what. I have some very old maps in storage. It will take me some time to find them. In addition, I’m pretty busy right now. How long did you plan to be in town?”
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“We’re only here to meet with you before continuing our journey home.”
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“Aw you know how to make a girl feel good. You came all this way to see little ole me.” She beamed at Strom. “I’d say you need to find a room for a few weeks. I’m backed up and those old maps will take a while to track down.”
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“What are you working on that takes so much time?” asked Ash curiously. “Maybe we can help.”
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“Not unless you can fly,” she replied.
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“As a matter of fact…”
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***
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It took a while to work out a bargain. Once they convinced Daraga that Ash was really a dragon and could fly her high above the peaks to help her make more accurate maps, she immediately tried to hire them to work for her for a few months. Eventually the three of them agreed that Strom would have dinner with her once a week, Ash would fly her over the mountains on clear days so she could continue sketching possible trade routes, and Daraga would search her archives for any reference to Athar. Her crush on Strom was a source of amusement for Ash.
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***
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“Just one more peak, Ash,” said Daraga.
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“You said that two peaks ago,” grumbled the dragon as he drifted toward the mountain top the map maker pointed to.
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He landed on the steeply pointed summit. The mountain over looked Daraga’s village and offered an impressive view to the west. They could see many of the roads that bisected the area. Daraga was busy making sketches and taking measurements, attempting to give her maps as much accuracy as possible. She clearly worked very hard for her reputation.
O
Ash dozed, stretched out in the snow. Strom was digging through his bottomless bags, looking for something to do. Daraga often took an hour or more to make her drawings.
O
Strom was the first to notice that something was wrong. Daraga had been uncharacteristically quiet for several minutes. When the mage looked over at her, she was slumped over her sketchbook.
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“Daraga? Daraga?” Strom shook her shoulder.
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She didn’t respond. When he pulled her back toward him, she flopped limply into his arms.
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“Ash!” called Strom. “Daraga is unconscious. I think the altitude got to her.”
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“Bring her over and we’ll fly her down to the village.”
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Ash grunted as Strom lifted Daraga on his back. “Give her a shot of that ole bottle you carry,” suggested the dragon.
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Strom looked around guiltily. “Shhh. No one is supposed to know about that, you fool. You’ll make me look like a lush.” Nonetheless, he pulled a small flask from a hidden pocket. He placed it against the map maker’s lips and tilted it back.
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“Open her mouth first,” Ash suggested as he felt the liquid dribble down his back.
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“Oh, right.” Strom tried again, this time getting the woman to swallow some of the fiery liquor. With a surreptitious glance around, Strom took a long pull at the bottle himself.
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“Hey! I saw that, old man,” cried the dragon.
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“Shut up and fly, you relic,” returned the mage after a long belch. “Before we all freeze to death up here.”
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During this exchange Daraga woke up and realized she was being cuddled by the old man chugging the contents of a flask.
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“Well hello, my hero,” she murmured. Ash stifled a laugh.
O
“I think she wants to be warmed up, Strom.”
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“Give it a rest and get us out of here,” said Strom. “My beard is freezing to my lips.”
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The dragon flexed and gave a mighty stroke with his wings and went absolutely no where. “Uh-oh,” he muttered. “We have a problem.”
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“Tell me about it while we fly to warmer territory,” ordered Strom. “These robes are drafty.”
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“That’s the problem — I’m stuck, frozen right to the ground.”
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“Oh great, what were you thinking? I — hey, we’re moving!”
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“I know, the snow is breaking away under us! We’re sliding! Avalanche!”
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Strom grinned with a slightly insane smile as Ash began to slide. The dragon’s scaly belly, worn smooth with age, made for an excellent sled. His legs couldn’t slow his progress and within moments they were plummeting down the side of the mountain; the largest living sled in the world.
O
Ash was moving at close to his flying speed, vaporizing drifts and sending snow hundreds of feet in the air. Strom screamed in delight and hunched over Ash’s neck like a jockey on a prize horse. Daraga clung desperately to the mage and began to turn a sickly shade of green. The old man’s beard kept wending its way into her open mouth like a living thing, and his shapeless hat battered her mercilessly in the face. Startled birds squawked as they were nearly run over by the out of control dragon, and a great white stag bounded rapidly out of their way, then stood shaking his majestic head in apparent disgust.
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“YEEHAW!” screamed Strom.
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“Uh-oh,” cried the dragon. “We’re coming to treeline, Strom. What are we going to do?”
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“Use your tail as a rudder! Steer!” Daraga cried. Both dragon and wizard turned to look at her incredulously. “Well, got any better ideas?” she asked sarcastically. “Try it.”
O
Ash tried Daraga’s idea, with remarkably good results.
O
“Hey, I’m getting good results,” Ash remarked, steering himself through the trees with his gigantic tail. The trees were a blur. Ahead, an old avalanche chute opened up. Ash steered into it.
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The dragon shot through the chute like a greased goblin through a gutter. Suddenly, the three realized they were being watched. Hundreds of villagers lined the edges of the chute as they careened by. More scrambled quickly out of their way. The people had apparently been enjoying a bit of sledding themselves. They were entirely out-classed by the three newcomers, who sped by in a blaze of twigs, snow and wild cries.
O
“Watch the dog!” cried Strom. One brown pup could not escape the chute quickly enough. Its tiny paws dug desperately into the snow as the great dragon bore down upon it. Just before Ash plowed over it, Strom cast a spell. With a howl of terror the dog was flipped over the dragon’s head and right into Daraga arms, where it cowered and whined as they went sliding down the hill.
O
“Hey! No pets allowed,” Ash yelled.
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“You’re the one that nearly ran it over,” scolded Strom. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
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“Big trouble ahead!” the dragon cried. “The lake.”
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“I see it! We’ll freeze,” the wizard answered.
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“You’ve got to stop!” the human yelled.
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“Yip! Yip!” the dog agreed.
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“Well, I believe this is where I get off, my lady,” said Strom to Daraga. With a wicked grin, he bailed off the side of the dragon, landing in a fluffy snowbank. Daraga turned and saw the old man emerge from the snow and wave his hat sadly as the woman, the dog and the dragon met their fate in the lake with an explosion of steam, snow and water.
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***
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The dragon skidded across the surface of the lake, kicking up water in a huge plume behind him.  Eventually his momentum died out and he sank like a rock, dragging Daraga and the dog under with him.
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Moments later, three heads broke the surface of the water, staring at each other in wonder.
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“I don’t believe it!” said Ash.
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“Amazing, isn’t it?” Daraga sighed.
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“Woof!” barked the dog, who was already paddling around the small lake.
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Strom, standing at the shore of the steaming lake along with hundreds of stunned villagers, blinked in surprise at this exchange. He’d expected a lot of whining and complaining, particularly from Ash. It actually appeared the three were enjoying themselves. Looking around, he saw a small sign posted in the snow. Clearing it off, he read “Klantith Hot Springs.”
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As they climbed out of the natural hot springs, Ash and Daraga were surrounded by the towns people, who had watched the last half of their journey in disbelief. It seems the villagers used a short portion of the mountain for sledding, but it was too much effort to hike very far up the snowy slope. They were clapping and cheering for the adventurers.
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A group of teenagers was already trying to get Ash’s attention so they could beg for a ride to the top. The fact that he was a huge red dragon didn’t seem to bother anyone – their sense of fun overwhelmed their sense of fear.
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“I’ve got a plan, Ash,” Strom said.
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“Yeah? Let’s hear it.”
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“We could open a sledding company! Here’s what we do…” He whispered in the dragon’s ear.
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Ash got a big grin.
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And so they spent the winter in the village. Ash transported sledders and their sleds to the top of the avalanche chute, and twice a day took a group in a specially designed dragonsaddle for the entire summit to bottom run, right into the hot springs.
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Daraga did her research for them that winter. She didn’t have any maps showing the tower itself, but she did have a very old map fragment with the word “Athar” and a skull and crossbones warning. The fragment showed the land of Athar near a coast, but there was no indication which sea it might be close to.
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They copied the map, tipping Daraga handsomely. When spring came they planned to depart and try to find more clues about their lost home. Daraga had suggested a minstrel named Selena she knew that traveled a great deal and collected stories about the old world. She said the bard could usually be found further to the east in the warmer climates this time of year. They’d agreed to look the woman up to find out what she knew.
O
Daraga continued her weekly dates in pursuit of Strom, but the old wizard seemed completely oblivious of her crush. Eventually she gave up, returning her focus to her cartography work.
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It had been a fabulous and profitable winter, until one morning Ash spotted a shiny figure riding up the main road toward the mountain village.
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“That silly paladin,” Ash said, shaking his head. “I thought the horse might have talked some sense into him.”
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The paladin was Sir Bert, of course, their enemy. His family had been pursuing Ash and Strom for hundreds of years regarding a forgotten bar tab. Now the interest and additional fees had stacked up to the point where even the duo’s vast fortune couldn’t cover it. In addition, Sir Bert felt he was obligated to complete the quest on behalf of his family so that he could follow his own dreams. The quickest way for him to accomplish that was to kill Ash and Strom.
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“Trouble,” Ash said when he encountered Strom in the village. “Bert and Misker are almost here.”
O
“Here?”
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“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
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“Well it was about time for us to leave anyway. I don’t feel like dealing with those two every time we turn around.”
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Ash nodded in agreement.
O
The snow was thinning anyway and the villagers had had their fill of long sledding runs for the winter, so it was probably a good time for them to depart.
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Strom took Daraga aside and offered her half the money they’d made that winter if she’d throw the paladin off their track.
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“Tell him we died in an avalanche or something,” Strom suggested.
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“A fire breathing dragon die in an avalanche?” argued Ash. “I don’t think that’s even possible.”
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“Whatever, just do what you can to keep him off our backs for a while.”
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“Sure thing, guys,” Daraga said. “I’ll see what I can do. Pretty hard to lie to a paladin though.”
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“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Strom encouraged her.
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With that they took off, skimming low to the ground to avoid the notice of the approaching paladin, and continued to the east in search of the minstrel that might guide them closer to their home.
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The adventures of Strom and Ash continue as they search for their forgotten tower and try to avoid their paladin nemesis. They needed to find the wandering minstrel Daraga had suggested before Sir Bert caught up to them again. Perhaps the minstrel would know the next step in their journey. The good news was that minstrels also always knew which bars were having Ladies Night…
O

OneSlickDragon-GARN-CoverBergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at dmgwrites.wordpress.com


2 thoughts on ““One Slick Dragon” by Damon Garn

  1. Pingback: An Introduction to Our May 2018 Performance | The Evening Theatre

  2. Pingback: Introduction to July 2018 Performance | The Evening Theatre

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