'It's my Quarkbeast.'
'Is that so?' said Maltca.s.sion as he leaned closer to look. 'So that's what one looks like. Does it change colour?'
'Only when there's too much silicon in its diet.'
He then dug his two front claws into the hard-packed soil and pushed with his hind legs to stretch. The power of his rear easily overcame the anchoring properties of his front, and his claws pushed through the solid earth like twin ploughshares. There was a large crack crack from his back and he relaxed. from his back and he relaxed.
'Ooh!' he muttered. 'That's better.'
This done, his wings snapped open like a spring-loaded umbrella and he beat them furiously, setting up a dust storm that made me cough. I noticed that one wing was badly tattered; the membrane covering was ripped in several places. After a minute or two of this he folded them delicately across his back, then turned his attention back to me. He came closer and sniffed at me delicately. Oddly, I felt no fear of him. Perhaps that was my training; I didn't suppose I would have dared stand next to forty tons of fire-breathing dragon twenty-four hours ago without feeling at least some anxiety. I could feel the sharp inrush of air tug violently at me as he inhaled. He seemed satisfied at last and put his head down again, so once more his scaly skin looked like nothing more than a huge pile of rubble.
'So, Dragonslayer,' he asked loftily, 'you have a name?'
'My name is Jennifer Strange,' I announced as grandly as I could. 'I present myself to you by way of introduction. I sincerely hope that I have no need of my calling, and that you and the citizenry-'
'Claptrap,' said Maltca.s.sion, 'pure claptrap. But I thank you anyway. Before you go, could you do me a favour?'
He rolled on to his side and lifted a front leg, pointing with the other to an area just behind his shoulder blade.
'Old wound. Would you mind?'
I clambered on to his chest and looked at the area he indicated. Just behind a leathery scale was a rusty object protruding from a wound that had obviously been trying to heal for a while. I grasped the object with both hands and then, pressing my feet against his rough hide, pulled with all my might. I was just beginning to think that it would never come out when I was suddenly on my back in the dust. In my hands was a very rusted and very bent sword.
'Thank you!' said Maltca.s.sion, reaching round to lick the wound with a tongue the size of a mattress. 'That's been annoying me for about four centuries.'
I threw the rusty sword away.
'You may help yourself to some gold or jewels by way of payment, Miss Strange.'
'I require no payment, sir.'
'Really? I thought all mankind gravitated towards things that were s.h.i.+ny? I'm not saying it's necessarily necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to species development, it
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