When I sat down to write this one I only had a note I’d made to myself regarding the storyline. It was literally three words. I can’t say what words those were without spoilers but you can probably work them out by the end. I thought about what I had for a few minutes, decided what I wanted and this story was born. It came together in about the same time it took to write. It all just came together. I wish all the stuff I wrote arrived as easily as this. Alas, I doubt that will happen, so I should just make the most of it when it happens.
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Dessig moved along the narrow passageway towards the sound of scraping in the near distance. He was carrying a small wooden shield in his left hand and a weighted quarterstaff in the other. The weapon, the shield and a plate on the front of his helm shone with the light of magic. Moving as quietly as he could, Dessig approached the sound and soon found a deep pit that smelled like the worst midden he ever encountered. Something was moving down there, revealed as a long worm-like creature covered in legs, scales and wire-like bristles when he let more light fall into the pit. They had several names and scholars were still arguing about whether they were worms or not. Dessig knew them as Lockjaw Worms and Bonecrackers, both very accurate names in his opinion.
They were totally blind so he could shine his lights around without being noticed. In the darkness where they lived they moved around using the sensitive whiskers on their heads, vibration senses on their feet and a supernatural sense of smell. The worm he was observing turned its head towards him, revealing huge vertical jaws. It was a large one, as high as his waist and about ten paces long. The worm rolled its head in a circular motion, which Dessig knew was a sign the worm was examining him. As soon as the jaws began to open Dessig turned and ran, heading out of the cave the way he’d entered.
In only a few heartbeats the worm was in motion and moving almost as fast as him. They moved by undulating and turning their bodies like an expanding auger, which was very efficient in the tunnels and caves they lived in. The distinctive slither and scrape of the action told Dessig all he needed to know about how close the massive jaws were to his back. As he ran he slung the shield on his back where the thick wood could give him a small amount of protection as the worm caught up. With the staff held out in front of him, he navigated the familiar cave system, ducking under low-hanging rocks and jumping over ankle-shattering cracks in the ground. The worm had his scent now and wouldn’t be happy until one of them was dead. Up ahead there was a low roof leading into a larger cavern and beyond that safety of a kind. Unfortunately for him, the worm would fit through easily and barely slow down. He would have to squat down and scramble under, which would slow him down a lot.
Dessig made a dash for the low hole, got a few paces ahead of the worm and ducked under. He walked in a squatting position to keep the shield at his back and managed to get back into an upright position as the worm came scraping through. With more open space to move around in, Dessig now had more of an advantage. The worm had less walls to press against and so moved slower. As if to balance this out, the cavern had a pool of water in the middle that he would have to wade through. It wasn’t deep, only about up to his knees, but it was hot and slippery.
He waded into it with the worm at his back, slowing a little as he tried to high-step through the water, splashing it everywhere and making a lot of noise. The worm didn’t slow at all but slid through the water like a giant eel.
Dessig’s next challenge was a steep incline. It was a difficult climb at the best of times, with wet boots it was worse. He would never make it before the worm could reach up and use its length to grab him and lock his jaws around his body. As he reached the bottom of the slope he jumped to one side, turned and smacked his quarterstaff against the worm’s face, aiming for one of the whiskers. The weapon hit with a crack and the worm snapped its jaws in the direction of the impact. Wasting no time, Dessig turned back to the slope and ran up it, using his quarterstaff for its intended purpose now. He’d barely reached the top before the worm had recovered, stretching out its body and grinding its jaws against the shield.
The attack pushed Dessig forward and allowed him to reach the top of the incline and start down the other side. With the jaws tapping and nibbling at the shield, Dessig ran down the slope in a barely-controlled sprint, knowing if he fell it would be the end of him. The worm sped up too, the jaws opening wider as it anticipated a successful hunt. The cavern opened up suddenly into a vast cave, Dessig burst out and dodged sideways as a huge clawed foot came down and stamped on the worm.
Dessig looked up and saw a huge silver-white dragon. The creature was now holding the worm and carefully pulling off its head. Once that was done it set the jaws to one side and discarded the body into a corner of the cave.
The dragon lowered its head and looked closer at Dessig. “I need five more, so chop-chop.”
“Yes, master, just catching my breath.”
“Don’t take too long about it, time is passing.”
“Of course, master.” Dessig hesitated, then said, “I feel it would be a lot easier if it could perhaps have some magical assistance.”
“We’ve been through this before, Dessig. Magic would taint the material and ruin my research. It’s only because your human eyes need it that I allow the light spells.”
“Yes, master, of course.”
“And besides, I pay you well, do I not?”
“Yes, master, very well, but I can’t spend it if I’m dead.”
“Then let that thought drive you on.”
Dessig sighed. Five more, he could manage that. He took a deep breath and headed for the cavern entrance.
“See if you can find me a really large one.”
“Of course, master.”