Night of the Bright Blue Bems
By: Walter G. Esselman
"It wasn't our fault," whined Gideon as they stepped through the woods. The fifteen-year-old dragged his fighting staff forlornly, which left a furrow in the dirt behind him.
"Sure," scoffed the tall nymph in the middle. He strode between them in his uniform for the Nymphari Expeditionary Forces. The nymph, Regent, shot the boy a hard look.
"You almost ran over the Lords of Bon Su Pear," said Regent.
"Not all of them," insisted the boy, who was mostly human.
"Darn near," said Regent crisply. "And they are not young, and sprightly, men. Someone could have broken a hip."
"They appeared outta nowhere," countered Gideon.
"They are allowed to walk through the castle unharmed."
"This is just a few days in the sun," explained Commander Regent for the nineteenth time. "I got an expeditionary force that needs boots on the ground."
"I don't wear boots," said Pavataro on Regent's right. Since the dragon was the same age as Gideon, his head only bobbed six feet off the ground.
Regent, for this part, just ignored the dragon's comment.
"And what about our studies?" tried Pavataro.
Regent just fixed the young dragon with a glare that made Pavataro look down.
"Besides, it was Lunchmeat's fault," muttered Pavataro while using his old schoolyard nickname for the boy.
"My fault!?!" snapped Gideon. "You knocked over that vase."
Regent just smiled while the boys bickered.
"Ho Commander!" cried out the Nymphari sentry, Viss. The sentry then turned back to the camp. "Hey, Regent spotted. And he brought more."
"Soldiers?" asked Sergeant Angus curiously.
"Naw, a boy and a dragon," replied Viss.
"A dragon?" snapped the Cook irritably. "What the Netherhells? I didn't requisition enough food for a dragon."
"It looks like a young dragon," said Viss helpfully.
"Don't care how small he iseven if he's just up to my kneethose things can eat," grumbled the Cook.
There was a snap of wings and suddenly Pavataro was in the air. The young dragon arced, like a cannonball, over the sentry and dropped hard in front of the Cook. If the Cook had not been battle-hardened, he would have run away gibbering.
At the Cook's big boots, Pavataro dropped a razor deer that he had caught.
"Who're you calling small?" asked the dragon in a dangerous voice.
"PAV!" cried out Regent as he and Gideon ran into the camp. "Pavataro! Do Not Eat Our Cook!"
The young dragon swiveled his head to glare back at Regent who then dropped into a fast walk.
"But he called me small," explained Pavataro with menace.
"He was grumbling because I had not told him that I was bringing you and Gideon along," said Regent who walked up and turned to the Cook. "Sorry. Last minute change Northy."
"I understand sir," said the Cook, Northy, but he did not take his eyes off the dragon.
Commander Regent rolled his eyes.
"Pavataro!" bellowed Regent right next to the dragon's triangular ears. The splitting noise made Pavataro wince and back up. With that, the old soldier moved between the dragon and the Cook. "Pav. This nice fellow is going to make you food."
The dragon blinked in surprise at that. "I do like food."
"Right," agreed Regent. "Now apologize for stepping on the Cook's shadow, and then I need you and Gideon to go get more firewood."
"But ," started Gideon who motioned at the big pile of wood next to the newly dug fire pit. But Regent just glared at the boy until he looked down.
"Sorry," mumbled Pavataro to the Cook.
"You're probably hungry," shrugged the Cook as he loosened his shoulders. "We'll have some razor deer steaks tonight. I do have an amazing glaze that will make them delectable."
Pavataro's eyes grew wide in wonder and joy. "Yum."
Regent pointed at Pavataro, and then Gideon. "Now get."
"We still have to?" asked Gideon, who had pulled a book from his coat.
"Get!" ordered Regent.
Gideon jammed his fighting staff in the dirt near the firewood that had already been collected. The boy made the book disappear inside the many pockets of his coat. As he and the dragon walked off, Gideon grumbled at Pavataro.
"Good job dummy," said the boy.
"He called me ‘small'," retorted the dragon.
"And don't go too far!" called out Regent as the two wandered off bickering.
"New charges?" asked Sergeant Angus as he stepped up.
"Kind of," said Regent. "Friends of my niece Brianna. And last time I left them back at the castle, a room mysteriously broke."
"And your niece is back at the castle?" asked the Cook.
"Without any other family there," said Regent.
"And the boy is sweet on her?" asked the Cook.
"Like honey and a bear," grumbled Regent. His eyes widened a moment. "Worse. I don't know who's the honey, and who's the bear."
"I am familiar with such happenings from my youth," mused Angus sagely.
"That's what worries me," said Regent, but he gave a chuckle.
Angus pulled at his majestic red beard as he turned to Regent. "Been awhile since you've shown your face."
"Been incognito," replied Regent. "Your kids good?"
"Growing like weeds," grinned Angus.
"Excellent," said Regent, and then his face grew formal. "Report sergeant."
And Angus immediately snapped to attention. "Camp is set, latrine dug, and dinner is being prepared."
"Hopefully not in the same place," said Regent.
"What? And ruin the flavor?" asked Angus with a serious face, but there was a twinkle of humor in his eye.
"Not that you'd notice," shot back the Cook.
Regent pointed at the cave at the north end of camp. "And the cave?"
"Since this is Goblin country," said Angus. "I stomped on the floor myself, but it's solid rock."
"Don't want to end up like Thrainson's party of thirteen," nodded Regent. "Good job sergeant." And he looked over towards the cook. "You good?"
"Can't complain," shrugged the Cook as he looked at the ex-razor deer at his feet.
But that was before hot breath nearly singed the hair off his large knuckles. The Cook looked up from making razor deer steak and turned his big knife menacingly towards the dragon.
"You keep back!" warned the Cook.
Pavataro pulled back a sliver and looked offended. "I never !"
At the campfire, Gideon did not even look up from his book. "Yes, you would."
The dragon just shrugged and sat back on his haunches to give the Cook more room.
"I love watching people prepare my food," sighed Pavataro happily.
The Cook glanced at Regent who had been keeping an ear open.
"Our food," reminded Regent with a warning tone.
"Of course," said the young dragon, while pretending to agree with Regent.
The Cook looked meaningfully. "Sir?"
Regent sighed. "Pav, you and Gideon get us more firewood."
"What?" demanded both of them.
"Now!" said Regent as he easily stared down both of them.
The boys walked by the growing pile of firewood and out of camp.
"Idiot," huffed Gideon to the dragon.
"Shut it Lunchmeat," snapped Pavataro.
And the cook breathed a little easier.
Gideon mumbled something around his food.
"Chew your food, then talk," said Regent in a paternal tone.
Quickly swallowing, the boy spoke excitedly. "Wait, this is goblin country, isn't it? I read about goblins in this one book, Hackenstein's ‘Lousy Spots To Vacation With Disconnected Kittens'', but I don't think he knew what he was talking about. Do you think we'll see any goblins?"
"Hopefully not," said Regent honestly as darkness settled around the campfire.
"Nasty bits," agreed Sergeant Angus with a growl. "Fight vicious they do, but not as bad as Bems. And this is Bem country too."
"Wait! Bems?" asked the Cook as he feigned terror. "Here? We might need two guards on watch!"
Gideon's brow furrowed. "Bems? What are those?"
"Oh, you never heard of them?" asked Angus in a scary, campfire voice. "That's probably because they leave no survivors. Whole villages have been known to disappear overnight."
"Pfft," said Pavataro dismissively. "How's a whole village going to disappear?"
"There's a sound," whispered Angus. "A noise that sounds like a saw scraping on rusty metal armor. Then swift movements in the shadows."
"If there haven't been any survivors, then how do you know what kind of sound they make?" asked Gideon thoughtfully. Angus' eyes widened for half a second as he thought quickly.
Regent began to smile.
"That's ‘cause some ," started Angus. "Who were outside the village, heard the noise before the village was attacked."
"So, it could be an unrelated noise," muttered Gideon to himself.
Regent's smile continued to grow.
"No!" barked Angus quickly as he tried to return to his spooky story. "These beasts are vicious brutes, and they travel in packs. You'll know them by the sight of their blue fur and big ears."
"They sound kinda cute," suggested Pavataro.
"They're not cute when they're eating you feet first, just so's you can watch," insisted Angus.
"But since there are no survivors, we can't know their eating patterns," mused Gideon. "Not really. That would require watching them in their native habitat."
"You'd be dead in a second in their native habitat," said Angus, his voice raising in frustration.
"If they are eating you feet first," suggested Pavataro conversationally. "You'd only be conscious until blood loss, or shock, gets you.
"Good point," nodded Gideon to the dragon. "And what about your tail?"
"They'd have to stop and rearrange themselves " began Pavataro.
"The real point is ," growled Angus. "You hear the sound of them coming, an' you're done for. Right?" He glared at the boy and dragon in turn. "Okay? Kiss your butt's goodbye. And there've been sightings in this very wood. They could be watching us right now."
"But no survivors," said Gideon pointing out that flaw again.
Before Angus could start yelling, Regent cut in.
"So, we better set guard rotation for the night ," started Regent.
"Oooh," said Gideon, who actually raised his hand. "I could do it."
"Maybe next time," said Regent smoothly and he looked back at Angus. "I think, since you know all about these nasty beasties, you should go first sergeant."
Sergeant Angus opened his mouth to protest but found himself trapped in his own web.
"Yes sir," he said reluctantly.
"I'll probably stay up reading," said Gideon without guile. "So, I can keep you company."
"Wonderful," said Angus in a dour voice while the Cook smirked mockingly at his friend, the sergeant.
The boy snored gently. Teetering in his hand was an open book, but it was thankfully leaning away from the fire.
Across the campfire, Pavataro slept. The young dragon lay on his back with his blue belly toward the stars, and his long blue tongue lolling out.
Sergeant Angus paced slowly around the camp with his back to the fireso as not to destroy his night visionas he watched the woods beyond.
Gideon heard a little happy popping noise and blinked his crusty eyes open. He started to rub his eyes, but suddenly froze.
By the fire, with a piece of discarded food in its mouth, was a creature the size of a large cannonball with bright blue fur. Its wide set eyes focused on Gideon. The Bem watched the boy for a moment, and then went back to chewing a hunk of spud that someone had dropped.
Another Bem crept over and pulled some greens, which Pavataro had refused to eat, from a small refuse pile. It chewed quickly and nervously with big, stubby teeth. Soon, more Bems arrived in a cautious approach. One stopped and sniffed tentatively at the sleeping dragon, but it made a disgusted face before moving on.
As the Bems settled in to scrounge what they could, they shifted their own bodies inward and puffed out their bright blue fur.
Gideon saw Angus, at the edge of the camp, suddenly spot the Bems. The sergeant was going to draw his sword, but Gideon held up a hand telling the sergeant to hold. Angus almost ignored the boy, but Gideon's eyes pleaded with the sergeant to wait. The sergeant stilled, but he kept his hand on his sword.
A menacing voice hissed just behind Gideon's left ear.
"What am seeing here?" growled Regent softly. Gideon stiffened but managed not to jump. He was about to reply when a small burble of popping noises came from the growing group of Bems.
"Are they talking?" wondered Gideon.
"Gideon?" said Regent urgently.
"They're foraging for food," suggested Gideon. "They're just hungry."
"I can tell that," Said Regent icily. "That's what I'm worried about."
"But their eyes ," started Gideon, and then his voice trailed off.
After a moment, Regent gave in to curiosity. "What about their eyes?"
"Aren't their eyes kind of far apart for a predator?" asked Gideon.
"So, you're saying ," started Regent.
Beyond the edge of the firelight, a harsh noise suddenly pierced through the dark wood. It sounded like a saw scraping across rusty metal armor. Everyone, including the Bems, turned west toward the sound. The Bems froze, and their fur vibrated in terror.
"Was that me?" blinked Pavataro as he woke.
"If these are the Bems ?" started Gideon.
"Everyone in the cave!" called out Regent.