...... and with a huge effort you fire out the word deal as if your whole history of people eating is being compromised.
"But" you roar, " If you think my reading a book is going to change your fate and that I will happily give up my hard fought gold you must be as deluded as the rest of your puny race."
The boy just smiled a knowing smile, laid the half tomb on the grass and whistled as he made his way down the path towards the village.
This infuriated you even more. How dare he be so brazen to challenge such a creature as you, you are king of the world! But the words 'heart burnt dragon' come back to you and for the first time in your life memories of your past come flooding in. A large cave and an old, ailing dragon throwing carved stones on the floor and mumbling something about the future of the dragon empire and don't let your heart get burnt.
Rubbish you say but still gingerly pick up the book, careful that it doesn't burst into flames. It's old and has a musty smell and is very similar to books you saw in the village. The villagers had them housed in a large building and when you torched it to see how quickly it would burn they ran inside to try to save them. Strange creatures hanging onto the pieces of paper like that.
Now you had a dilemma. You couldn't read! Should you lure the boy back and snack on him without finding out about the story or should you find somebody who could read. Feather brained Phoenix, of course couldn't, but the one thing he had was contacts.
So even before your smoke signal had dissipated Phoenix was settling in beside you squawking on about the price of matches and how the fire balls these days were made so badly it was ruining the tennis.
"Shut it Phoenix," you say, "we have important business to discuss, do you know anyone that can read?"
Phoenix stops in mid sentence and thinks for a minute, "well Jimmy the Ratcatcher can read the weather and the Witch on Paragoyle Mountain can read the future and..."
" A book, a book" you shout in exasperation, "you scatter-brained bunch of tawdry feathers."
" Ahhhhh" says Phoenix looking as wise as he can, "you need the Taniwha."
Phoenix takes his time, leans back and picks at a talon, knowing he's got a captive audience, "legend has it that in the southern region lives a creature who has read every book in the universe and has so much knowledge he employs owls to store the facts, one for phil...philo....for unanswered questions, one for history etc. etc. he just googles them up and down and out comes the information."
"And how do I find this Taniwha."
"Well you could look for a lot of owls jumping up and down," Phoenix smiles, enjoying his moment, "but really, they say he lives under the bridge over the Tongariro River and is the best in the business of scaring and eating people."
"How do I recognise him." knowing Phoenix is wrong on one count, you are the best pillager in the world.
"Well that is a problem, because he takes many guises and can change at the blink of an eye."
So here you are, high in the sky, on the trade winds south, clutching half a book that could hold your future or make you a laughing stock of the dragon world. Below you the sea stretches away to the southern lands, flat and dark, with an occasional island ringed in white. A feeling of loneliness pushes you faster and you are glad when wispy, enveloping cloud cushions you from the bleak landscape.
A smell of smoke signals your arrival and flying lower the land is revealed. Fires are everywhere, with great cone shaped mountains spewing hot lava rivers, and spectacular stands of boiling water being thrown high in the air. There are signs of habitation with wooden houses huddled together ringed by tall palisades and the mighty Tongariro like a huge glistening eel lay from the mountains in the east to the western coast, spanned at the narrowest point by a crude bridge of big poles and woven flax ropes.
Perfect place to ambush dinner you thought swooping to a landing, but first the Taniwha. It was dark and wet under the bridge and you could just make out two worn ropes hanging from pivots with signs cut into the rock above them. The first read 'wake me and you're dead' and the next 'pull the other one'.
Do you pull the first one and take your chances with the Taniwha or
Pull the other one