Part Five: First Kill


PART FIVE

FIRST KILL

He awoke abruptly, and found the cell doors being opened by Orcs. Two lifted him by his collar, while two others kicked Krish awake and into a limp standing position. Drake said nothing. He let himself be escorted back to the main room, with the glowing domed walls and the tunnels. Certrain was waiting.

‘Sleep well?’ He was smiling disturbingly, as before. ‘You’re going off to fight a dragon now. I hope you die horribly. Good luck!’ Upon that cheerful note, Drake was pushed into a new corridor, while Krish was being told that he was to go and fight some vampires. The corridor Drake was marched down was panelled with rusting metal, and turned, twisted and writhed incessantly. Must be a pain to draw a map, he thought.

At length, he emerged in a bright forest at the foot of one of the mountains. A griffon was chained to a tree at the base of the mountain. Drake wasn’t too surprised to see the golden-feathered beast; after all that had happened within the last few hours, he wouldn’t think it surprising if a winged unicorn descended and told him he was the heir to the Lollipop King. He wondered if there had ever been such a thing as a Lollipop King, or a King of Large Turnips, or anything like that.

The griffon, still chained, bore him up the mountain on great eagle wings until they reached the mouth of a cave. Drake knew it was a dragon’s cave. He could smell the sulphurous breath; hear the gentle clink of the scales. It must be a massive one, he thought; if I can hear the actual scales.

The griffon gave him a pitying ‘good luck’ glance, then dove off the mountainside and flew back to the bottom of the mountain. Drake turned around.

There were swords on a weapon rack, a few feet into the cave. There was also a large shield. Drake strapped the shield onto his arm and took the sharpest-looking sword in his left hand. He hefted it, swinging it back and forth, testing its weight. He would have preferred a drop-point blade, but it would do. There was a sphere of crystal, the size of Drake’s head, embedded in a corner of the cave mouth. Probably how Certrain watches the fight, Drake thought. He stepped further into the cave, wondering where the dragon was and how he was to provoke it.

‘Hello?’ he called out hesitantly. ‘I think I’m supposed to kill you now. I don’t want to,’ he added hopefully, ‘but that man has my friends, so if you’d just let me do it quickly…’ Out of the depths of the cave came a tired groan. A long, thin dragon crawled into sight.

There were chains on all its limbs – surely Certrain’s work, Drake thought — making it a prisoner of the cave. There were several scars across its sides, left by the unfortunate young prisoners who had tried to conquer it in the past. Its scales were pale and faded, but might have once been mottled green and brown. It looked starved and exhausted, as if death might be a release.

We must fight; it mumbled hoarsely, the words arriving directly in Drake’s head rather than through his ears: we must fight, and I must kill you, for that is how it goes. On and on, round and round, that is how it goes. Drake stood stunned for a moment, then charged towards the dragon, sword raised and screaming like the heroes in stories. Something felt decidedly wrong about the whole situation, but Drake pushed the thought out of his mind, and told himself that it was practically his duty to kill the creature; it was in his very name, after all.

The dragon bared its fangs and pounced like a cat; the next moments for Drake were all a blur. He was vaguely aware of stabbing and rolling and yelling and slashing, and he could begin to taste blood, and it was his blood, and for some reason he wasn’t afraid or angry but only sad, sad as though the dragon had meant something to him, but could otherwise remember no detail of the battle itself. When he finally blinked, and found himself in control of his actions again, the dragon was on its back; and he was standing on its chest, his sword pricking its neck. He froze, for a split second. Then the dragon said, strike, Dragon-speaker, and Drake plunged.

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