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Excerpt from The Dragons of Lazaronia
NZ Forest Native Birds

Chapter 9
Ash Goes Exploring

 Now that he could fly Ash was fast losing his timidity, and his self-confidence began to grow. He even felt sure that one day he would be

able to fly properly. But at the moment he was more intent on exploring his new home.  “I want to see that dreadful chimney that we fell down to get here,” he said to Mark later that day when both of them were feeling at a loose end without the other three.

     “Well, I suppose it won’t hurt,” Mark said. “There’s a map of the caverns on a noticeboard near the entrance. It has all the easiest routes marked on it. I’ll draw a copy to take with us.”

     When Mark had made his map Rhodonia created two flames to light the way for him and soon boy and dragon were gazing in awe at the limestone formations.

      “The pillars are called stalagmites and the things like icicles are stalactites,” Mark told the young dragon as they gazed at the great pearly arches in the ceiling of one of the caves. “In order to tell one from the other all you have to remember is that a stalactite must hold on tight. Therefore it’s the one that looks like an icicle.”

     If he was expecting praise for his learning and wit he was disappointed: Ash made no comment at all. And, when Mark turned round sharply to find out why, the little dragon was nowhere to be seen.

     “Ash!” The caverns rang with Mark’s shrill, panic-stricken cry. Then he remembered: dragons could see as well in the dark as in daylight. Though his heart still pounded with the fright Ash had given him, when he called again his voice was more normal, although he tried to sound as stern as possible. “Ash, where are you? Come back at once!” When the echoes had died, Mark strained his ears for the slightest noise that wasn’t natural to the caves. But all he heard was the usual amplified sound of droplets of water falling into pools.

     The little devil must have gone straight to the chimney, he thought. He pulled the map he had made out of his pocket and bent his head to peer at it. Rhodonia’s flames lowered themselves to light the page better.

     He reached the chimney without any trouble. But Ash wasn’t there. He weaved his way between the stalagmites, calling softly. But Ash certainly wasn’t hiding there. Mark craned his neck, straining his eyes into the gloom of the enormous shaft. One of the flames danced upwards as though to light the tunnel. But there was nothing to see.

     “Ash!” His voice boomed oddly. It bounced back down the chimney as though mocking him.

     Then, as the last echoes died, he thought he heard an answering cry, small and faint. Although the echoes muffled the words, the voice was definitely that of Ash.

     “Little wretch!” Mark muttered. “He knows I can’t fly.” Then the second flame started to move up the chimney to join the first. “Oy! Don’t leave me! I can’t see in the dark.”

     The flames returned, only to rise again. Up and down they danced. It was almost as though they were beckoning him to follow. “I can’t, you daft idiots,” Mark said—and felt like an idiot himself.

     The flames’ movements became jerkier. They were almost like beckoning fingers, urging him up. Then the rhythm of their dance became almost hypnotic. And Mark realised his feet were no longer on the ground: the flames were pulling him upwards like magnets. Faster and faster they went until the limestone walls were nothing but a creamy blur. When he felt solid ground under his feet again he stumbled, just managing to save himself from falling by grabbing at the nearest stalagmite.

     But the flames had apparently not finished with him, although their magnetic force was no longer working. However, Mark ignored them.

     “Ash! Where are you?” he called.

     “Here! Quick!” Ash squeaked. “Come and look at this!”

     Ash’s voice was coming from the direction in which the flames were trying to lead him.

     “Smart alecs!” Mark muttered under his breath as he started making his way towards Ash’s voice.

     The cave was almost unrecognisable. Ignarius’s explosion had turned the tunnel leading to the mountainside into a great hole. Broken pieces of limestone lay everywhere. Only the area around the pit had escaped damage.

     Then he saw Ash. And right in front of the little dragon was something he had seen before: a clutch of eggs. There were six of them, in two piles that suggested two separate clutches. But there was something different about them: they were much larger. And they were green instead of white.

     Ash looked up. He spoke in a whisper. “Piksendragon eggs! They must have been buried here for hundreds of years!” And the little fellow began making odd crooning noises. It took Mark a few moments to realise what he was doing—trying to encourage the eggs to hatch.

     Mark started to say “They’ll be dead by now” when one of the eggs moved. He nearly jumped out of his skin. Then the shell started to crack. A scaly green head emerged. Another egg began to crack. Then a third.

     “This means Piksendragons aren’t extinct after all!” Ash was nearly crying for joy.

     There was a noise behind them. At the same time the stream of daylight was abruptly cut off. A grating, alien-sounding voice spoke.

     “They soon will be.” It was as though a huge rusty hinge had spoken.

     Mark and Ash spun round. A large winged creature stood in the entrance. At first it looked like a black dragon. But it had none of the beauty of Flame the Tame: its scales were dull and lifeless; its neck was thick and graceless; its head was broad and heavy. Then he saw it had only two legs. It lifted one leg and flexed its talons. And just one of its feet was big enough to pick him up.

     Ash gave a high squeal of terror. “A wyvern!”

     With deliberate slowness the wyvern placed its stretched-out claws on the ground. It moved one pace forward. Then it raised the other foot and opened its mouth to show all its teeth. It was like looking into the open jaws of a crocodile or alligator. It looked Mark up and down with its yellow eyes. Mark felt a cold chill of terror as it struck him that the creature was measuring his worth as a meal. Saliva dripped from its tongue. When the spittle hit the floor it sizzled like acid, leaving great dents in the limestone.

     “I’ll wait till they’re all hatched. It’ll be more fun,” the wyvern said in its rusty, grinding voice.

      And it smiled the smile of a crocodile.

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