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"Please!" said Rufo. "I'm airsick already and we're not off the ground."

"Later, Oscar, if you still want to know. In any case we daren't risk encountering them—and won't; they stay up higher than the dragons can reach, they must. How tar to the forest?"

"Mmm, eight and a half miles, by that map and how far we've come—and not more than two beyond that to the Cave of the Gate."

"All right. Arms tight around my waist, both of you, and as much body contact as possible; it's got to work on all of us equally." Rufo and I settled each an arm in a hug about her and clasped hands across her tummy. That's good. Hang on tight." Star wrote figures on the rock beside the arrow.

It sailed away into the night with us after it.

I don't see how to avoid calling this magic, as I can't see any way to build Buck Rogers belts into elastic garters. Oh, if you like, Star hypnotized us, then used psi powers to teleport us eight and a half miles. "Psi" is a better word than "magic"; monosyllables are stronger than polysyllables—see Winston Churchill's speeches. I don't understand either word, any more than I can explain why I never get lost. I just think it's preposterous that other people can.

When I fly in dreams, I use two styles: one is a swan dive and I swoop and swirl and cut didos; the other is sitting Turk fashion like the Little Lame Prince and sailing along by sheer force of personality.

The latter is how we did it, like sailing in a glider with no glider. It was a fine night for flying (all nights in Nevia are fine; it rains just before dawn in the rainy season, they tell me) and the greater moon silvered the ground below us. The woods opened up and became clumps of trees; the forest we were heading for showed black against the distance, much higher and enormously more imposing than the pretty woods behind us. Far off to the left I could glimpse fields of house Lerdki.

We had been in the air about two minutes when Rufo said, "Pa'don me!" and turned his head away. He doesn't have a weak stomach; he didn't get a drop on us. It arched like a fountain. That was the only incident of a perfect flight.

Just before we reached the tall trees Star said crisply, "Amech!" We checked like a heli and settled straight down to a three-fanny landing. The arrow rested on the ground in front of us, again dead. Rufo returned it to his quiver. "How do you feel?" I asked. "And how's your leg?"

He gulped. "Leg's all right. Ground's going up and down."

"Hush!" Star whispered. "Hell be all right. But hush, for your lives!"

We set out moments later, myself leading with drawn sword, Star behind me, and Rufo dogging her, an arrow nocked and ready.

The change from moonlight to deep shadow was blinding and I crept along, feeling for tree trunks and praying that no dragon would be in the path my bump of direction led. Certainly I knew that the dragons slept at night, but I place no faith in dragons. Maybe the bachelors stood watches, the way bachelor baboons do. I wanted to surrender that place of honor to St. George and take a spot farther back.

Once my nose stopped me, a whiff of ancient musk. I waited and slowly became aware of a shape the size of a real estate office—a dragon, sleeping with its head on its tail. I led them around it, making no noise and hoping that my heart wasn't as loud as it sounded.

My eyes were doing better now, reaching out for every stray moonbeam that trickled down—and something else developed. The ground was mossy and barely phosphorescent the way a rotten log sometimes is. Not much. Oh, very little. But it was the way a darkroom light, almost nothing when you go inside, later is plenty of light. I could see trees now and the ground—and dragons.

I had thought earlier, Oh, what's a dozen or so dragons in a big forest? Chances are we won't see one, any more than you catch sight of deer most days in deer country.

The man who gets the all-night parking concession in that forest will make a fortune if he figures out a way to make dragons pay up. We never were out of sight of one after we could see.

Of course these aren't dragons. No, they are uglier. They are saurians, more like tyrannosaurus rex than anything else—big hindquarters and heavy hind legs, heavy tail, and smaller front legs that they use either in walking or to grasp their prey. The head is mostly teeth. They are omnivores whereas I understand that T. rex ate only meat. This is no help; the dragons eat meat when they can get it, they prefer it. Furthermore, these not-so-fake dragons have evolved that charming trick of burning their own sewer gas. But no evolutionary quirk can be considered odd if you use the way octopi make love as a comparison.

Once, far off to the left, an enormous jet lighted up, with a grunting bellow like a very old alligator. The light stayed on several seconds, then died away. Don't ask me—two males arguing over a female, maybe. We kept going, but I slowed after the light went out, as even that much was enough to affect our eyes until our night sight recovered.

I'm allergic to dragons—literally, not just scared silly. Allergic the way poor old Rufo is to Dramamine but more the way cat fur affects some people.

My eyes were watering as soon as we were in that forest, then my sinuses started to clog up and before we had gone half a mile I was using my left fist to rub my upper lip as hard as I could, trying to kill a sneeze with pain. At last I couldn't make it and jammed fingers up my nostrils and bit my lips and the contained explosion almost burst my eardrums. It happened as we were skirting the south end of a truck-and-trailer-size job; I stopped dead and they stopped and we waited. It didn't wake up.

When I started up, my beloved closed on me, grasped my arm; I stopped again. She reached into her pouch, silently found something, rubbed it on my nose and up my nostrils, then with a gentle push signed that we could move on.

First my nose burned cold, as with Vick's salve, then it felt numb, and presently it began to clear.

After more than an hour of this agelong spooky sneak through tall trees and giant shapes, I thought we were going to win "home free." The Cave of the Gate should be not more than a hundred yards ahead and I could see the rise in ground where the entrance would be—and only one dragon in our way and that not in direct line.

I hurried.

There was this little fellow, no bigger than a wallaby and about the same shape, aside from baby teeth four inches long. Maybe he was so young he had to wake to potty in the night, I don't know. All I know is that I passed close to a tree he was behind and stepped on his tail, and he squealed!

He had every right to. But that's when it hit the fan. The adult dragon between us and the cave woke up at once. Not a big one—say about forty feet, including the tail.

Good old Rufo went into action as if he had had endless time to rehearse, dashing around to the brute's south end, arrow nocked and bow bent, ready to loose in a hurry. "Get its tail up!" he called out.

I ran to the front end and tried to antagonize the beast by shouting and waving my sword while wondering how far that flame-thrower could throw. There are only four places to put an arrow into a Nevian dragon; the rest is armored like a rhino only heavier. Those four are his mouth (when open), his eyes (a difficult shot; they are little and piggish), and that spot right under his tail where almost any animal is vulnerable. I had figured that an arrow placed in that tender area should add mightily to that "itching, burning" sensation featured in small ads in the backs of newspapers, the ones that say AVOID SURGERY!

My notion was that, if the dragon, not too bright, was unbearably annoyed at both ends at once, his coordination should go all to hell and we could peck away at him until he was useless, or until he got sick of it and ran. But I had to get his tail up, to let Rufo get in a shot. These creatures, satchel-heavy like old T. rex, charge head up and front legs up and balance this by lifting the tail.