Part Nine: Plans Unfolding
Jereah led the party back to the cell, where he locked Drake inside. Layle dissipated the illusions with a wave of her hand, and began crafting a new one, in the likeness of Krishten. ‘It is designed to respond to situations in a convincingly realistic way’, she explained. ‘I can direct its actions from afar, and can see and hear through its eyes and ears. It should do the job.’
Drake sat down in front of the cell door, nodded at Jereah, and closed his eyes. The four left Drakendrar and the dark tunnel, turning down a passageway carved out of limestone. They hurried silently through curving hallways, led by Jereah, always on the lookout for Orcs. There were a few close encounters, but the trip to their designated posts was generally uneventful. Jereah led them one by one to the levers, and instructed them to stay there until psychically signalled by Layle. He then took up his post at the fourth lever, and waited.
Drake himself did not have to wait too long until the cell door was opened again. Orcs came in and dragged him to his feet. The fake-Krish was feigning sleep, and was pummelled “awake” by blackened, gloved fists. One of the Orcs leaned into the cell and sniffed the air, then frowned down at Drake. ‘Where’s the girl?’ Drake panicked briefly, and spouted the first thing he came up with: ‘We cannibalised her and sharpened our teeth on her bones.’
The Orc stared at him before shrugging and shoving them out the door. Drake couldn’t read Layleanel’s expression through the carefully neutral face illusory-Krish was wearing; he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to, either.
The boy and the illusion were walked down the palely-lit tunnel, back to the yellow dome. Drake glanced up at the forest of stalactites above his head. They didn’t look particularly strong, or resistant; if anything, their weight made the ceiling even more vulnerable to an assault. Good, thought Drake.
Certrain was, of course, waiting for them. He beamed at Drake, then at fake-Krish, his smile fracturing for a split second before he turned back to Drake. ‘I think you know what happens now’, he mused. ‘I gloat at you for a bit, then send you off to fight a terrible creature while I watch comfortably, pointing and laughing.’ He grinned wider, displaying immaculately white, yet faintly pointed teeth. Drake shifted his weight to one foot.
‘Um, about that…’ he started, spreading a nervous expression across his features, ‘I was wondering…Well, I thought, maybe, I thought we could…Well, fight a dragon together. Both of us. Him and I. You know, just…Just as a precaution. Better chance of survival and all that.’ He adjusted his expression to look hopeful. Certrain smiled uncertainly.
‘Well, I suppose I could make that happen, though you’d have to fight a bigger dragon, of course…’ Drake felt relief flush out the anxiousness inside him, but carefully made sure he looked somewhat more afraid and reasonably disappointed. ‘Yeah… I guess so. But, uh…It makes sense, so…That’s life, I guess?’ Certrain seemed contented by this response, and cheerfully added, ‘And death, too, in certain cases. But not often. So, I will happily indulge in your false sense of security just to see what happens. This is the part where you go off and die, now! Toodle-oo!’
Drake and the illusory Krish were then taken through a tunnel that appeared to be carved entirely out of dried fruit. The plan was playing out surprisingly well – they had managed to convince Certrain to put them up against a more powerful dragon, and the fake-Krish was amazingly and convincingly life-like. Layleanel must have had some practice with controlling her illusions before: its movements were smooth and calculated, and it never walked into walls or spontaneously fell over. Drake was beginning to have some hope.
They emerged onto a wide ledge in the side of a cliff, around five hundred feet above the ground. It led about ten feet across the rock face, then into a cave which Drake guessed was the home of a dragon. The Orcs turned back into the tunnel they had come through, and a violet curtain of energy fell over the tunnel entrance; supposedly a magical ward to prevent escape. Drake drew a deep breath, smiled reassuringly at the illusion beside him – through it, Layle smiled calmly back – and the pair began to move towards the next step of their plan.