Egbert trudged along the rocky mountain trail practically dragging his resistant mule up the steep incline. The gray, overcast sky cast a foreboding tone to the already grim task that lie ahead - just around the next bend. "Master, you do not need to do this," Egbert pleaded over his shoulder to the cloaked figure astride the irascible mule. "We might still turn around and be back in town by nightfall tomorrow." The white-bearded man looked up from the large tome he had been poring over the entire journey; how he could read anything on the back of a jouncing jackass was beyond Egbert. Egbert did not have to turn around to see that those all-seeing eyes were drilling into the back of his head. "Always the doubting student you are, young Egbert, full of skepticism and uncertainty. And that is why you will never become a mage of any great power." Egbert shrugged off the last bit of his mentor's comment. The mage was constantly degrading him, but Edgar accepted that as part of his schooling. The old man did hit a chord, though; Edgar was seriously doubting the elder wizard's power this time. "But, a dragon, Master? Why cross a dragon if you truly do not have to?" Egbert stopped, staring up at the mouth of the cave in the black stone of the mountainside. A thin wisp of steam curled out dissipating quickly in the cool morning air. The wizard, too, was looking up but with a look of determination rather than the fear that his protégé wore. He slammed closed the heavy, leather-bound tome and slid from the back of his cranky steed. He stretched his sore back to its full height and felt the vertebrae crackle back into place. He dropped a withering glare over his nervous assistant. "Why, you ask? Why do I go to do battle with one of the grandest creatures in all of the lands?" He paused to watch the lack of confidence crease Egbert's face. "Because I, Shaltezar the Powerful, am no coward, and because I alone possess more potent magics than all of the wizards in the East Provinces together! I will destroy this menace to the lands, and I will be able to retire with one of the greatest trophies in my considerable repertoire." Egbert stared incredulously at his teacher who had puffed up to twice his normal size with all of the considerable flattery he had given himself. With a huff, Shaltezar the Powerful thrust his well-worn spellbook into Egbert's hands and moved to begin the short scramble necessary to reach the dragon's cave. Abruptly Shaltezar turned back to Egbert with a harsh gaze and a single skeletal finger held up in warning. "Egbert, I will return shortly after having swiftly dispatching this miserable beast. I do not want to come back and find that you have sneaked a peek into my grimoire." With that, he resumed his climb. Egbert stared down in disbelief at the heavy tome in his hands. He could not even remember all of the times he had wished to glance upon the pages of this considerable book. His fingertips itched to draw back the cover and read one of the arcane spells inside; but he had been warned, and somehow he knew that if he opened the manual, his teacher would find out and he would be in the worst trouble his short life had ever seen. He decided to resist his urges. Egbert looked up just in time to see that his mentor had gained the ledge in front of the dragon's cave. The old mage straightened his robes and cast a few spells of protection upon himself. With a stern look down to his apprentice and a nod that suggested he was about to undertake the most menial of tasks, Shaltezar the Powerful thrust himself into the dragon's lair. "Come out and meet your death, you miserable wyrm," the wizard's magically enhanced voice boomed from the cave. "Your days of pillaging towns and devouring young maidens have come to an end." Egbert nodded approvingly at his mentor's courage and even chuckled at the words he used to force the dragon to become enraged and make a foolish mistake that would mean his demise at the hands of the powerful spellcaster. Egbert prepared himself for the long battle that would now ensue between the two strong opponents. Spell combat, powerful dragons were known to be have the ability to cast spells too, was notoriously drawn out as the combatants attacked and defended attempting to wear each other down over time. The earth-shattering roar that Egbert expected did not come; the sound from the cave was more of a snort. Billowing yellow flames erupted from the cave leaping out hundreds of feet. Egbert threw himself to the ground and his mule brayed in terror and bolted. The heat radiating from the gout of flame was so tremendous that Egbert thought he was going to be cooked to a crisp even this distance away. As suddenly as the flames had come, they stopped. An odd sound made Egbert glance up toward the mouth of the cave that was glowing red from the heat of the great wyrm's breath. Bouncing down the mountainside and coming directly toward him was a flaming object. Egbert watched in dismay as he recognized the burning travel boot of his now deceased mentor. Egbert stood and brushed himself off. He glanced quickly at the barbecued footwear that had come to rest only ten feet away then his eyes fell upon the spellbook that he had so unceremoniously dumped on the ground. With a shrug, he lifted the tome from the mud and went about the arduous task of retrieving his mule. Why would a wizard cross a dragon, you ask? My friend, I cannot, for the life of me, figure that one out.
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