Chapter no 78: Poison

The Name of the Wind

THE ROAR OF THE draccus was like a trumpet, if you can imagine a trumpet big as a house, and made of stone, and thunder, and molten lead. I didn’t feel it in my chest. I felt it in my feet as the earth shook with it.

The roar made us jump nearly out of our skins. The top of Denna’s head banged into my nose, and I staggered, blinded with pain. Denna didn’t notice, as she was busy tripping and falling over into a loose, laughing tangle of arms and legs.

As I helped Denna to her feet I heard a distant crashing, and we made our way carefully back up to the lookout.

The draccus was…cavorting, bounding around like a drunken dog, knocking over trees like a boy would topple cornstalks in a field.

I watched breathlessly as it came to an ancient oak tree, a hundred years old and massive as a greystone. The draccus reared up and brought its front legs down on one of the lower branches, as if it wanted to climb. The branch, big as a tree itself, practically exploded.

The draccus reared again, coming down hard on the tree. I watched, certain that it was about to impale itself on the broken limb, but the jagged spear of hard wood barely dimpled its chest before splintering. The draccus crashed into the trunk, and though it didn’t snap, it fractured with a sound like a crack of lightning.

The draccus threw itself around, hopped and fell, rolling over jagged spurs of rock. It belched a huge gout of flame and charged the fractured oak tree again, striking with its great blunt wedge of a head. This time, it knocked the tree over, causing an explosion of earth and rock as the tree’s roots tore out of the ground.

All I could think of was the futility of trying to hurt this creature. It was bringing more force to bear against itself than I could ever hope to muster.

“There’s no way we can kill that,” I said. “It would be like trying to attack a thunderstorm. How could we possibly hurt it?”

“We lure her over the side of a cliff,” Denna said matter-of-factly. “She?” I asked. “Why do you think it’s a she?”

“Why do you think it’s a he?” she replied, then shook her head as if to

clear it. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. We know it’s drawn to fires. We just build one and hang it from a branch.” She pointed to a few trees overhanging the cliff below. “Then, when it rushes over to put it out….” She made a pantomime with both hands of something falling.

“Do you think even that would hurt it?” I asked dubiously.

“Well,” Denna said, “when you flick an ant off a table it doesn’t get hurt even though for an ant that has to be like dropping off a cliff. But if one of us jumped off a roof, we’d get hurt because we’re heavier. It makes sense that bigger things fall even harder.” She gave a pointed look down at the draccus. “You don’t get much bigger than that.”

She was right, of course. She was talking about the square-cube ratio, though she didn’t know what to call it.

“It should at least injure it,” Denna continued. “Then, I don’t know, we could roll rocks down onto it or something.” She looked at me. “What? Is there something wrong with my idea?”

“It’s not very heroic,” I said dismissively. “I was expecting something with a little more flair.”

“Well I left my armor and warhorse at home,” she said. “You’re just upset because your big University brain couldn’t think of a way, and my plan is brilliant.” She pointed behind us, to the box canyon. “We’ll build the fire in one of those metal pans. They’re wide and shallow and they’ll take the heat. Was there any rope in that shed?”

“I…” I felt the familiar sinking feeling in my gut. “No. I don’t think so.”

Denna patted me on the arm. “Don’t look like that. When it leaves we’ll check the wreckage of the house. I’ll bet there’s some rope in there.” She looked at the draccus. “Honestly, I know how she feels. I feel a little like running around and jumping on things too.”

“That’s the mania I was talking about,” I said.

After a quarter-hour the draccus left the valley. Only then did Denna and I emerge from our hiding place, me carrying my travelsack, she with the heavy oilskin bag that held all the resin we’d found, nearly a full bushel of it.

“Give me your loden-stone,” she said, setting down the sack. I handed it over. “You find some rope. I’m going to go get you a present.” She skipped away lightly, her dark hair flying behind her.

I made a quick search of the house, holding my breath as much as possible. I found a hatchet, broken crockery, a barrel of wormy flour, a mildewy straw tick, a ball of twine, but no rope.

Denna gave a delighted shout from the trees, ran up to me, and pressed a black scale into my hand. It was warm with the sun, slightly larger than hers but more oval than tear-shaped.

“Thank you kindly, m’lady.”

She bobbed a charming curtsey, grinning. “Rope?”

I held up a ball of rough twine. “This is as close as I could find. Sorry.”

Denna frowned, then shrugged it off. “Oh well. Your turn for a plan. You have any strange and wonderful magics from the University? Any dark powers better left alone?”

I turned the scale over in my hands and thought about it. I had wax, and this scale would make as good a link as any hair. I could make a simulacrum of the draccus, but then what? A hotfoot wasn’t going to bother a creature that was perfectly comfortable lying on a bed of coals.

But there are more sinister things you can do with a mommet. Things no good arcanist was ever supposed to consider. Things with pins and knives that would leave a man bleeding even though he was miles away. True malfeasance.

I looked at the scale in my hand, considering it. The thing was mostly iron and thicker than my palm in the middle. Even with a mommet and a hot fire for energy, I didn’t know if I could make it through the scales to hurt the thing.

Worst of all, if I tried I wouldn’t know if it had worked. I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting idly by some fire, sticking pins into a wax doll while miles away a drug-crazed draccus rolled in the flaming wreckage of some innocent family’s farm.

“No,” I said. “No magic I can think of.”

“We can go tell the constable that he needs to deputize about a dozen men with bows to come kill a drug-crazed big-as-a-house dragon-chicken.”

It came to me in a flash. “Poison,” I said. “We’ll have to poison it.” “You’ve got two quarts of arsenic on you?” she asked skeptically. “Would

that even be enough for something big as that?”

“Not arsenic.” I nudged the oilskin sack with my foot.

She looked down. “Oh,” she said, crestfallen. “What about my pony?” “You’ll probably have to skip your pony,” I said. “But we’ll still have

enough to buy you a half-harp. In fact, I bet we’ll be able to make even more money from the draccus’ body. The scales will be worth a lot. And the naturalists at the University will love to be able—”

“You don’t need to sell me,” she said. “I know it’s the right thing to do.” She looked up at me and grinned. “Besides, we get to be heroes and kill the dragon. Its treasure is just a perk.”

I laughed. “Right then,” I said. “I think we should head back to the greystone hill and build a fire there to lure it in.”

Denna looked puzzled. “Why? We know it’s going to come back here.

Why don’t we just camp here and wait?”

I shook my head. “Look at how many denner trees are left.” She looked around. “It ate all of them?”

I nodded. “If we kill it this evening, we can be back in Trebon by

tonight,” I said. “I’m tired of sleeping outdoors. I want to get a bath, a hot meal, and a real bed.”

“You’re lying again,” she said cheerfully. “Your delivery’s getting better, but to me you’re clear as a shallow stream.” She prodded my chest with a finger. “Tell me the truth.”

“I want to get you back to Trebon,” I said. “Just in case you ate more resin than is good for you. I wouldn’t trust any doctor living there, but they probably have some medicines I could use. Just in case.”

“My hero.” Denna smiled. “You’re sweet, but I feel fine.”

I reached out and flicked her ear with the tip of my finger, hard.

Her hand went to the side of her head, her expression outraged. “Ow… oh.” She looked confused.

“Doesn’t hurt at all, does it?” “No,” she said.

“Here is the truth,” I said seriously. “I think you’re going to be fine, but I don’t know for certain. I don’t know how much of that stuff you have left working its way into your system. In an hour I’ll have a better idea, but if something goes wrong I’d rather be an hour closer to Trebon. It means I won’t have to carry you as far.” I looked her square in the eye. “I don’t gamble with the lives of people I care for.”

She listened to me, her expression somber. Then the grin blossomed back onto her face. “I like your manly bravado,” she said. “Do it some more.”

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