I Am the Eggman

When Jason told Winlo of the plan, the king found it somewhat unnerving, but agreed it was worth trying.

"There is one thing I do not understand." said Winlo. "What is your role on your ship? You seem to have no rank, yet you function as some kind of authority."

"I'm… the plan guy." said Jason. "Yeah, the plan guy, that's it. I make the plans. It's unofficial, but that's what I'm here for."

The first step was to move the ship out of sight, to ensure that Thorm came for its victim as usual. Gunther took a skeleton crew and sailed a good distance away, then stopped and turned off the power again. The rest of the Argonauts stayed on Hoon and made themselves inconspicuous. It was vital to the plan that Thorm not realize anything was afoot.

Soon it was time for the dragon's regular visit. That morning, the Hoonians gathered in the center of the village for the lottery. It was, as you can imagine, a grim proceeding, the exact details of which I need not go into. Suffice it to say that one particularly unfortunate person, a married woman in her late twenties, was randomly chosen for the slaughter. She was allowed to attend to her final wishes, then swiftly and painlessly killed. There followed a funeral service, and then, on Jason's request, the body was injected with poison—not so much that Thorm would die from it or be able to taste it, but enough to make the dragon mildly ill.

When Thorm was seen flying out of its lair over to the village, the corpse was laid down on the grass. Winlo and his bodyguards stood by it. The trio observed from the window of a building. In a minute, Thorm landed on the ground before the corpse. Now that it was standing right next to some people, providing a sense of scale, Jason could see how really enormous it was. It towered over the group, its burning yellow eyes, like twin suns, gazing down at them as a god glares at mortals quivering before it. Yet Winlo and his guard stood straight and tall, almost defiantly.

Then the dragon spoke. In spite of its gender, but like the first dragon Jason had met, it had a deep, powerful, reverberating voice. It and the king spoke in the latter's native language, which neither Jason nor Roland nor Talbot knew; Winlo translated the conversation for them afterwards. "Winlo," it said, "what was the purpose of the ship that came to this island two days ago?"

"It came here to trade with us." the king replied, as Jason had told him to should the question come up.

The dragon stood there silently for a few moments, then carefully picked up the corpse in its mighty jaws, heaved up into the air, and flew away.

A few hours later, around dusk, Thorm appeared in the sky again. Winlo and his guard went to meet it.

"What do you wish, dragon?" said Winlo, once the monster had landed, to the crocodilian head so far above his own.

"You gave me a tainted corpse!" Thorm roared. "I and each of my brood, all who ate of that body, became sick and vomited it up. The weakest nearly died!" Indeed, its face and voice were marked by the wrath of maternal protectiveness. "Are you trying to poison us, worm?"

"I swear I did not touch the corpse." said Winlo. "What illness you experienced was most likely due not to any feature of that body in particular, but rather, your constant diet of humans. Eating humans is obviously detrimental to your health."

"Nonsense!" said the dragon. "I and my children ate nine before this one, and none caused us any harm."

"That is thanks to your mighty draconic fortitude. As a dragon, you are so robust that anything, so long as it is in modest quantities, cannot hurt you at all. But the chemicals present in the human body are apparently toxic to you, and will ail you if you consume too of them much over time."

Angry as Thorm was, it was obviously a little pleased by Winlo's flattering description of "draconic fortitude", in spite of itself. "If that's the case, why didn't you tell me so earlier?"

"We did not know it ourselves. Clearly, however, it must be the case. There is no other way you could have been so hurt; the body I gave you last was no different from the others."

"That's strange, if it's true." Its anger dissipated somewhat. "I suppose I should trust you. You've always been very cooperative." It thought for a moment. "Still, I'm hesitant to give up such a delicacy as human flesh, something that has so far been so nourishing to my children. You could be wrong. I'll come for another corpse again, at the usual hour." With that, it flew away.

Afterwards, Jason and company met with Winlo.

"Geez!" said Jason. "I was kind of hoping it wouldn't be that suspicious. But it seemed like it believed you, so we definitely have hope!"

"Yes, we do." said Winlo. "The question is how many corpses it will take to convince her."

"Significantly less than however many we'd produce by making a direct assault, I imagine." said Roland, looking at Talbot.

"Maybe, maybe." said Talbot. "We may well scrape through this mess."

Well, to make a longish story short, another villager was killed, this time an old man; the body was poisoned, and Thorm ate it. Once again, the dragon came back to complain of illness (this time, one of its wyrmlings really had died), and once again, it went away mostly (not completely) convinced that foul play was not to blame. It wanted one more corpse.

The morbid process of sacrifice seemed almost routine, now that Jason was seeing it for the third time. The victim, a lad of nineteen, was offered to the dragon, and Thorm arrived on the scene. It didn't take the body immediately, as it had last time. Seeing this, Jason began to get a little nervous.

Then, everything went totally and completely wrong.

Thorm looked at Winlo. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll test your little theory." it growled. It leapt up, flew towards a middle-aged man who'd been observing from afar, grabbed him in its jaws, and soared off to its lair. No one attempted to stop it. The man's screams could still be heard for a while afterwards.

Winlo walked into the building in which the trio was hiding and approached Jason. The boy's heart fluttered; his intestines whirled; his vision blurred. He trembled spastically. His entire soul was overwhelmed with a sickening terror.

Winlo's face was twisted with barely-contained rage. "And what, young sir," he said very slowly, carefully enunciating each word, "do you propose we do now?"

"I… I…" Jason gasped, almost entirely robbed of his powers of speech. Roland looked at him with a mixture of pity and fear. Talbot's expression was that of a mighty wizard deciding how best to punish his disobedient apprentice.

"Well?" Winlo hissed.

Jason took a few deep breaths.


"I didn't… plan for this." said Jason. "I… hoped it wouldn't happen. But you know that."

The dam abruptly burst. "You imbecile!" Winlo bellowed. "Look what you have done, you, you—you have cost us even more lives than we would have paid otherwise! Your naive little optimism has slaughtered four of my people, and robbed us of the chance of attacking the dragons at the most advantageous time!"

"Sir, I―"

Then things began to get ugly. "What was I thinking? What a fool I was to trust an infant's advice! You puerile little urchin—do you not know that children should be seen and not heard? How dare you imagine your childish fancies can solve real problems! How audacious of you to pretend to be an adult, to assume that you, a mere prepubescent, can deal in such mature affairs, ones so far beyond your juvenile comprehension! This is no game—this is a matter of life and death!"

With that last sentence, the flood ceased. The king panted with fervor. His face crumpled; now that his anger was exhausted, only sorrow remained. A bit of moisture formed around his eyes.

"Winlo…" said Jason. "I'm sorry."

The king said nothing. He crossed his arms and sighed deeply. Roland and Talbot glanced at each other and remained silent.

"Listen, Winlo." Jason said softly. "It's not the end of the world. One more guy died, but we didn't lose everything. We might still be able to convince it. We didn't poison that corpse, but if we poison Thorm and its kids somehow, quickly, it'll think eating the human caused it. And it knows we didn't poison that one, so we'd have it totally convinced. We know that they eat the corpse immediately; all we have to do is move quickly…"

"I am not interested in your plans, child." said Winlo.

"What will you do, then?" said Jason, mostly succeeding in preventing his own rage from showing. "If you don't do something tricky, you'll have to attack, now, before Thorm attacks you when it realizes we tricked it. This isn't the best of times for attacking the dragons; they're probably all awake. Many more of your people will die. If you follow along with my plan, on the other hand, you might be able to avoid further death entirely. Say what you will about my age, but I do hope you realize that in such a dire situation as this, you must be practical. What do you have to lose?"

"How, exactly, do you propose we would poison them?" said Winlo.

"Well, I, I don't know. I guess we can't shoot poison needles or something at them; even if the poisoner evaded notice, they'd see the injury and put two and two together. Are there any spells we could use?" he asked, looking at Roland and Talbot hopefully. Roland shook his head. "Well… let's see. The dragons would most likely want a drink with their meal, wouldn't they? Where do they get their water?"

"There is a natural spring just nearby the dragons' lair." said the king.

"That's it!" cried Jason, his eyes lighting up. "Right now—we mustn't delay. We've got to poison the spring."

"That's an idea," said Roland, "but who will bell the cat?"

"You, of course." said Jason eagerly. Roland looked doubtful. "C'mon, man, you're supposed to be an adventurer, remember?"

"Well, I… no, I guess you're right. I'll do it." He turned to Winlo. "Where's the lair?"

"I know I will regret this somehow," said the king. He walked Roland out of the building and pointed at where the cave was anyway.

"No, actually, I don't think you will." said Roland. He cast a spell, and in an instant his suit, skin, and even hair were covered with a forest-camouflage pattern. "I'll be back in a few minutes, if all goes well. Otherwise, get ready for a scuffle." Another spell and he was gone.

In order to teleport somewhere, Jason had learned earlier, it was necessary for the caster to have already clearly seen their destination. That wasn't the case here, so Roland utilized the technique of chain-teleportation, in which the caster teleports to the farthest place they can see as many times as necessary. It took the adventurer three castings to get sufficiently close to the cave. Three teleports and the camouflage spell added up to a lot of stamina spent; he could already feel a bit of fatigue. (To save energy, he would've used a spell to let himself run extremely fast instead, but that involved a rather flashy display, which the dragons would've noticed.)

The cave was built into the side of a hill. In front of it was a small clearing covered with tree stumps and logs; the dragons had apparently torn down the trees so they wouldn't have to squeeze while entering and exiting the cave. Similarly, there was a dragon-sized, dracogenic path that led to a largish pool of murky water, out of sight of anyone looking out of the cave but not very far away.

Roland had been careful to place himself within the woody part of this area—a good thing, since he wasn't entirely alone. Thorm was there, strolling along the path (so much as such a mighty beast as a dragon can do something so pedestrian as "stroll", anyway) towards the spring. What rotten luck!

Roland decided, for myriad reasons, that it was best not to wait for the dragon to leave. He silently made his way further into the underbrush, hid behind a tree, and intentionally made a loud rustling noise.

He had hoped that Thorm would bumble over to the area to investigate. It did indeed hear the noise, but rather than coming to the source, it flew a short distance up into the air, turned towards him, and surveyed the area from above. Roland froze. After a few moments, Thorm fell back to the ground and resumed walking.

Roland thought for a few seconds, and then realized that he had only one choice. He removed the bottle of poison from his suit, opened it, readied some of the powder needed for teleportation, and then made some more noise. The dragon paid no heed. Roland made even more noise, tapping against the bark of the tree, and this time the dragon flew up again.

In a flash, while Thorm's eyes were turned away from the pool, Roland teleported to the edge of it, emptied the whole bottle of poison into it (which wasn't that much, considering actual draconic fortitude), and teleported back to the village. Or rather, he tried to teleport back to the village. The spell failed outright; he was too tired. At the thought that the dragon might spot him, he was struck with a sudden, intense fear. He immediately tried again, and the emotion gave him the power he needed. He disappeared instantly, and reappeared not standing in the center of the village, as he'd planned, but in the air two feet above it, parallel to the ground. His hands flew in front of his face and he caught himself, mostly unharmed. He got up and dusted himself off, panting heavily, as Jason ran up to him.

"Did you do it?" the boy inquired excitedly.

"Yes." the adventurer managed to say. "I… did it… none of them…" he puffed "saw me…"

"All right!" Jason crowed. He turned to Winlo, who had just walked up. "Sir, your dragon problems are over."

"Boy," said Winlo, his expression betraying equal parts hope and fear, "I will believe that when I see it, but I sincerely hope you are correct."

A few tense, anxious hours passed. The Argonauts prepared for a fight as inconspicuously as possible. At sundown, Thorm flew out of its lair. This time, it wasn't alone: along for the ride were its mate, an only slightly smaller beast whose scales were a pale, icy cyan, and three children. Each of the wyrmlings measured a mere six feet long, and all were different colors. They flew more clumsily than the others; whenever one especially floundered, one of its parents gave it a nudge to set it back on track.

Winlo stared at Jason venomously. "Look at this mess you have made! Now we will have to fight them all at once."

"Hey, hold your horses. We probably won't have to fight at all; just you wait and see." In fact, seeing the flight of dragons heading towards the village, Jason felt much less confident than he sounded.

Winlo and his guard went into the usual position to meet Thorm, and—<Thank the gods!> Jason thought—the dragons, rather than attacking, landed before the king. Every human in the entire village, Winlo included, held their breath.

Thorm spoke for its family. "Winlo," it said, "I'm afraid you were right. The human I took this morning made us all sick, even though it was fresh. Another of my wyrmlings died. I'm sorry for suspecting you."

"Wha―" said Winlo, aghast, "then, will you still… eat my people?"

"No," said Thorm, shaking its head sadly, "none of us will eat humans again. It's a shame; your flesh is so tender, so delicious! But we are not suicidal. We'll quit this verse as well, since I've found others with better game."

With that, the mother dragon said something to the others in some native draconic tongue and the five of them lifted off, into the air. True to Thorm's word, they went not to their lair but up, up, up above the clouds and out of sight.

For several seconds, everyone in the village was frozen with fear and disbelief. Jason was the first to speak. Unable to contain his delight, with a huge grin plastered over his face, he turned to Winlo.

"Well," he said, "I told you so."