Especially today. Although his first summon ritual had been a few weeks ago, today's lesson was a definite step up from the tiny stuff he'd been meddling with.
After the last words had been spoken and the last layers of energy put into place, he risked a glance at his teacher. Mahvek was standing off to the side trying to look disinterested, but his eyes were quite uncharacteristically glued to the circle. Ciriluin apparently wasn't the only nervous one. And he didn't like the implications of that. Nobody had said anything about summoning being dangerous. But why else would Mahvek be keeping such close watch?
Before he had time to follow up that thought, the air shimmered. A form was starting to appear.
And he quickly realized something was terribly, deeply wrong.
Ciriluin hadn't been at all certain what to expect -- the point, after all, had been to do an actual summoning of a random spirit instead of the small, controlled experiments he'd done thus far -- but he hadn't expected anything quite so ... large. The form taking shape in front of him barely fit inside the circle, and towered well over his head. All he could make out were the giant wings and scaled haunches of what appeared to be an honest-to-goodness dragon facing the other direction.
Now that it was fully solid, its scales glistened in the bare room's light. As it shifted, getting to its feet, armored forelimbs glinted, wicked spikes jutting from its joints. The dragon began to orient itself, and as its giant head pivoted around, burning red eyes fixed on the pair of anthro-unicorns. More terrifying than the red eyes, though, was its reddened muzzle. Small spots of liquid fell to the ground, staining the stone.
It opened its mouth, revealing a craggy expanse of gleaming teeth. "You interrupt my dinner," it growled, a bass that seemed to shake the room. "Are you dessert?"
To punctutate the sentence -- with all the casualness of an afterthought -- it lifted a foreleg, balled its clawed fingers into a fist, and swung sideways. The energy field of the summoning circle discolored, twisted, and shattered into a thousand amber fragments, like a window smashed by a rock.
Ciriluin stared, frozen in terror, his brain scrambling to process even a fight-or-flight response. That giant head snaked toward him, mouth agape, bloody teeth expanding to fill his field of vision --
And it glanced off of empty air. The dragon's eyes narrowed. Snarling, it reared back, then lowered its muzzle, headbutting the shield with its armored skull. Again, energy twisted and crackled, but barely held.
A blast of energy knocked the dragon's head sideways. It whipped around to snarl at Mahvek, who was visibly struggling to maintain the shield protecting his student.
"Damn it! Run, you fool! Get Cszherny from the library -- I'll hold it back!" Mahvek shouted, focusing and firing another blast that the dragon braced against and shrugged off.
His mentor's words finally seemed to shake Ciriluin free of his paralysis. He staggered back toward the door, eyes still fixed on the giant beast, who was reaching a claw out to Mahvek. When the claw skittered off of Mahvek's shield, the dragon reared back, bringing both forelegs out, and sunks its claws into the shield, muscles bulging as it pried the invisible sphere open.
"Go!" Mahvek shouted. Ciriluin whirled and ran.
As the unicorn dashed down the empty hallway toward the library, he heard screams and crunches behind him.
* * *
The door to the small but roomy library burst open.
"-- keeper of the Key like?"
"For a Yelani, you'd like him," Cszherny answered. "An older fellow -- a scholar ..." His voice trailed off as he glanced up from his book at the wide-eyed student in the doorway.
Ciriluin stared in total uncomprehension at the scene. There were several books open on the research table, and Cszherny and his visitor were consulting them while chatting. Cszherny was sitting facing the door. His guest was settled on the floor to one side, wings tucked in, armored hide still shining in the duller light.
The dragon looked up from its book and swung its bloodied muzzle toward the door, blinking fiery eyes in recognition at the newcomer.
The long, awkward pause was broken by Cszherny and the dragon bursting into a giggling fit.
"I'm sorry," the dragon finally gasped out. "But that was priceless."
Mahvek trotted up behind Ciriluin from the open doorway, catching the laughter almost immediately. "Hey, guys."
"Oh, man," Cszherny said, still laughing. "You should have seen his face."
Ciriluin shook his head with an embarrassed grin, finally putting the last piece of the puzzle together.
The dragon caught its breath, waved a claw to evaporate the red from its muzzle in a puff of steam, and turned to Cszherny, smiling. "Well, I reckon my work is done here."
Cszherny took a deep breath to steady himself and smiled back. "Yeah. And thanks."
"No problem." The dragon glanced back at Ciriluin. "You take care. And, seriously, be careful with those summons."
Mahvek and Cshzerny exchanged glances, then burst back into giggles.
Note 1: "Would you be willing to do me a small favor in return? ... Oh, don't worry. You'll enjoy it."
Note 2: Life imitates art.