The Monster

“Drago”, Ben repeated quietly for the third time, shivering slightly as the words caught the breeze. He peered out into the darkness knowing that they were headed into something terrible.

Drago was a notorious legend in the swamp. His name was only whispered, murmured, carefully by the brave, and even then with great trepidation. He was the monster that all swamp creatures  feared.  When the winds turn strange and the sky got dark, it was Drago’s name that rustled in the leaves. On the darkest of nights the howling wind from the south carried his evil screams and the desperate cry’s of his victims. His lair lay somewhere in the middle of the endless bog, the two friends knew. But they didn’t know exactly where. And that was a problem.

The bog was full of evil creatures that would love to make a snack out of the two blinkers. To get to the middle they would have to navigate around the moss of darkness, go through the home of the thickleg brotherhood; an unforgiving family of bullfrogs, and a slew of dangerous plants,animals and insects to get to Drago. And of course there was the problem of facing Drago the Ancient, the largest, meanest and oldest of all the gators in the swamp, a verifiable nightmare.

Ben and Nic sat next to each other on a leaf on the edge of the bog. Huddling together, they looked out into the misty wasteland that was gently lit by a silver sliver of moonlight and it looked almost peaceful. But the bold adventurers knew that was not the case.

*****

The great beast stirred in the water. Small ripples in the dark were the only thing to give him away. His one good eye ever vigilant, a yellow beacon in the darkness. He was old, old as the swamp he inhabited it seemed. But he didn’t get that way by not listening to the marsh noises or trusting his instincts, and his instincts were telling him something was coming. Something that would challenge him. Something that he hadn’t faced before.  He swam slowly around the large pond tail moving gently back and forth.

He dove down to the bottom of the lagoon he currently called home, looking for something to satiate his appetite. A large and unfortunate fish swam past him; Slam! His Jaws clamped down, teeth rend flesh, he shakes his head violently back and forth, and with a gulp, finishes the hapless fish in a single swallow. He lay at the bottom of the pond watching the fish remnants settle around him. He knew something was coming, something different, something bad. And he would destroy it like the many other challengers before.

*********

“So whats the play here, Nic?” asked Ben nervously as he chewed on a sprig of grass in the cool swamp breeze. The smell of  marshwillow floated on the night air and the sounds of the thicklegs could be heard in the distance.

“Hmmm, I think we’ll need to find a guide.” Nic replied, adjusting the many pouches and containers he had on his belt. He felt for his trusty slingshot by his side, and patted the worn wooden handle knowing it would be put to use soon. “Best i can figure is to go to the shrew society and bring an offering to them. They are one of the few groups that might help us.”  “They might also think we are a snack delivered by their blind God.” Ben shot back, with a slight grin a wink. “Well there are many things here that would make dinner of us for sure. I need to do this Ben, I don’t want to go back without what we came for.” he said solemnly. Nic then smiled, looked at Ben  and threw a dollop of dew at his big friend and smirked “Besides your life is definitely worth a chance with Lyla.” Ben looked at his grinning friend and replied “For you maybe. For you”.

“So what in the swamp do we bring to the shrews anyways?” Ben asked as they flew west. “I think I have that covered.” Nic replied. They were flying low to the ground on the outskirts of the bog heading towards the shrew’s burrow. There were odd splashes and strange hisses coming from the mire and the reeds bumping together in the wind sounded like one hundred disconcerted drummers. The ever present croaking of bullfrogs was constant reminder of the danger they were in. Nic was rustling around in one of his containers, “Found it”, he said pulling out a small walnut and landing gently on the marshy ground. “Observe my dim witted but brightly lit friend.” he joked. Slowly Nic cracked open the walnut and grabbed a pinch of white powder inside. “Shrews love sweets. More than almost anything else. They go crazy for it and I think that’ll be enough to put us in their good graces and off their plates.” Nic said as he handed the much bigger firefly a bit of powder. Ben took the powder cautiously, curiosly staring at it “This will do the trick?” he asked. “Taste it, Taste it” mumbled Nic through a mouthful of the sweet powder. Ben licked his hand slowly and his eyes shot open. “O sweet lightness” he moaned. “Muhmm, gubb, mmmrhmgh” he said through each tasty lick. “What in the great glow is that stuff?” he asked. “No idea.” Nic shrugged. “I get it from this cane that grows near our home. It takes a while to get the powder but it has great value.”

Nic looked up into the sky, feeling the breeze on his antenna and said “I don’t think we’re too far now, lets get amoving.” He lifted slowly into the air looking at his friend who was still busily licking every crevice of his hand. “Ok, but wow that was good stuff! No doubt those shrews will love it. Heck they might make you the new shrew king. Long Live Nic the first blinking king of the shrews!” He teased with a grin as he lifted off the ground to meet his friend.

The two looked at each other, glanced into the foreboding bog and headed toward the home of the shrews.

*******

He was scared. And he knew he should be. Nose buried in the ground, eyes cast low he could feel the hot breathe of the beast on his fur. He trembled with fear knowing the great gator could and would devour him in a second if he misspoke or displeased him.”Listen carefully to me, foul rat.” Drago said in his grizzled cracked voice. His eye shone bright in the dark hour, and his massive jaws could  barely be made out  in the silver light of the moon. The terrified water rat replied through chattering teeth “Yesssss, Yessssss. Shank will listen, great one. Shank will listen.” Drago took a deep breathe and snorted, blowing small flies away from his nose. He shifted his large body slightly, tail swaying back and forth in the dark water. “Something stirs in my bog. Something is coming here.” he said as he slowly backed into the water that he called home. Shank glanced up hardly seeing the behemoth any more. Just the yellow eye was visible and now even that was dimming as Drago backed further away from the shore. Shank scampered a little closer to the water and asked “What does Shank need to do?”.

Silence was his only answer for a while and he wondered if he was alone. He was to afraid to move but didnt relish the thought of being so close to the beast who would eat his allies as easily as his enemies. Shank started  slowly to move back when he heard that gravely voice from the distance. “Find them. Find them and bring them to me. And if you fail……………” he trailed off leaving no doubt in Shanks little mind what his fate would be if he failed.

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