Part Six: The Smell Of Moonlight
THE SMELL OF MOONLIGHT
The griffon flew Drake back down the cliff. The Orcs seemed mildly impressed that he had survived, but said nothing as they led him back through the maze of tunnels. Drake wasn’t paying attention. He left his body to do the walking, while he thought. He kept telling himself that he was supposed to be killing dragons; it was in his very name, after all. But deep down, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t his name really, that “Drakendrar slays dragons” was an inherently wrong fact about the universe. And while he argued internally with himself, some small part of his mind wondered if Krish was alive.
Krish was alive. He had been led into the stalactite room through a different tunnel, looking smug. Certrain was there to greet them again. Drake paused in his inner argument to wonder whether the man ever left the room; whether he ever ate or slept.
‘My, oh, my’, Certrain grinned, ‘It seems that you boys have both survived. How wonderful. I suppose you know this means that you are due for another round…?’ The question hung in the air on an invisible hook. After a long moment of silence – an uncomfortably long moment, in Drake’s opinion – Certrain shook his head and giggled. He went on giggling for a very long time: a horrifying bubbly noise, which was so far into insanity that it had fallen through the bottom and out the other side. It ended with a gargling choke, and there was a terrible moment of retching and coughing and spluttering, before Certrain finally straightened up and smiled once again.
‘I’m so terribly sorry. It’s just that no-one has survived the first challenge for such a long time, and it’s quite a delightful surprise. All but one of my other warriors are late, in the entirely figurative sense of the word.’
He wiped a drop of spittle from the corner of his mouth with a worn black sleeve. ‘We’re going to have so much fun. Same monsters next time, I believe? But do get some rest for now, will you? You look absolutely dreadful.’ Drake noticed for the first time that he was up to his elbows in blood, and tried to wipe it off on his trousers. Krish snickered, and began to lick the droplets of blood off his fingers. Drake momentarily worried that his comrade had been bitten, and was now a vampire himself; but then remembered that it was the exact same act he used to terrify the younger children into thinking the same.
Certrain’s features hardened, though his smile remained. ‘Lock them up in one of the cells for the advanced fighters. I like my belongings categorized,’ he added, with a grin that slit his face in half. Drake scowled for dramatic effect, but allowed the Orcs to lead him down a new tunnel. After a few turns, his acute hearing picked up an Orc’s voice, as it spoke to Certrain. A turn later, he heard the man cry out in rage, and shout orders to a few of his foul servants. Drake didn’t hear enough to make any sense of it, but the words he did catch – “undead” and “capture” – sent shivers down his spine.
The new tunnel was of roughly-hewn granite, and carved with odd runes. It grew darker, and soon there was no light, save a faint, pale glow from the occasional tiny window, though these were few and scattered. The light gave a silver outline to the world, but nothing more. Like starlight, mused Drake, and at the back of his mind remembered that it had been mid-day just a few minutes ago.
The cell they were shoved into was far from a window; and when the boys were locked inside, and the orange glow from the Orcs’ torch had retreated far back up the way they had come, they could see no more than the vague outlines of the bars and each-other.
Krish crawled over to where Drake had landed. He felt around until he grasped a shoulder. ‘What now, Drake?’ he hissed. When there came no answer, he repeated himself: ‘Drake? …Drakendrar?’ Drake wasn’t listening. The smell of moonlight was close, and it wasn’t coming from the windows. ‘Drake. What do we do now? Drake?’ Drake opened his mouth, then shut it. The smell was really close. He raised a hand, a white silhouette against the darkness of the cell, and hushed his comrade. ‘We’re not alone.’
Krish sat perfectly still for a few seconds before he began to breathe again. He quietly moved closer to Drake, and stared into the depths of the cell. Neither boy knew how far back it went, nor what they would find should they try to explore.
Suddenly, a tiny white flame spluttered to life a few feet away. It was brighter than a flame should have been, and seemed to be made of pure white light. What surprised the boys even more was that it was lit at the tip of a small finger. The light moved back slightly, revealing the finger’s owner. It was a young girl, around the age of nine. She was pretty, though in an odd way. Her features were sharp and attentive, her complexion pale and fair, her eyes a piercing silver. Her hair drifted down her back and shoulders like a stream of shadow. When she moved, she flickered and shimmered, like she was herself made of light. She seemed distant, like something massive being observed from afar, and she looked to be many ages older than her appearance suggested. There were other details about her that Drake noticed, as he stared at her.
Krish, on the other hand, noticed nothing. He relaxed when he saw that it was what he thought was a child. ‘Huh. You’re a little witch girl, or something, are you?’ The girl tilted her head gently to one side, remaining expressionless. Then she turned to Drake. ‘Is he serious?’ Her voice was melodious and ethereal, like the ghosts of harpstrings. Drake shook his head. ‘No. Just not very bright.’ He bowed his head, and placed his hand where he assumed his heart was. He had heard that it was a gesture of respect to the girl’s people.
Krish seemed to be lost. ‘What? Why’re you bowing to her? She’s just a kid with freaky light talents.’
‘Say that again and you’ll find your arm shoved up a dark place’, hissed Drake between clenched teeth. Krish glared down at him.
‘Are you threatening me?’
‘No. Warning you.’
Krish turned back to the girl, and realized that she had pointy ears. He quickly bowed his head in turn. Drake glanced up. The Elf nodded, satisfied. ‘Layle,’ she said. Drake raised his head. ‘What?’
‘My name. Layleanel. But you will call me Layle.’ She smiled slightly. ‘I am an heir to the Elven kingdom of Nalariel, so your respect was well-placed.’ She glanced down at the light atop her finger, which Krishten was eyeing nervously, and seemed to notice it for the first time. ‘We have a pact with the ethereal realm’, she explained: ‘We can use magic.’ She flicked her finger, and the little white light flew a foot into the air and hovered there.
‘Before you ask, no, I cannot use magic to help you escape’, she continued. ‘I’ve been battling for months now, and every day I am put in this cell: it’s magic-resistant, you see; you can use magic inside and outside the bars, but no magic can pass through them or affect them. And even then, the magic you can use inside it is limited to the weakest of trivialities. To a being who relies on magic as her source of power? The ultimate prison’, she concluded, with an irritated sigh.
Krish scowled. ‘Well this is stupid’, he said; and slammed his fist onto the cold stone floor, to demonstrate his frustration. Then he winced, gently picked his hand off the floor, and cradled it, mumbling ‘ow’. Drake ignored him.
‘So…We have to fight monsters for all eternity? I have to get up early each day, kill a dragon, come back here, rinse and repeat?’
Layleanel nodded. ‘When they lead me out of my cell, they place magical shackles on me, so I can’t use my powers until I reach the battle-ground. I search for an escape route every time, but have found none so far.’
Drake sat still for a while, deep in thought, trying out possibilities and outcomes in his head. After analysing escape plans for a minute, he decided basic conversation might provide some morsel of insight on the situation. He looked up and asked: ‘How old are you, Layle?’
‘I don’t know. I lost count of the millennia.’ Drake nodded. ‘Just wondering.’ Then he said, ‘I’m Drakendrar. Drakendrar Gellcomar. You can just call me Drake,’ he added. Layle tilted her head to one side again. ‘They make you fight dragons as a sort of irony, then?’
Drakendrar looked blank. ‘No,’ he said, ‘Because that’s what I’m meant to do. Drakendrar. Dragon-slayer.’ Layle almost looked shocked. ‘Dragon-slayer? Is that what they told you it means?’ Drake frowned slightly in confusion. Layle put on a serious expression. ‘Few now understand the ancient Belecostarian language, but I lived at the time when it was first spoken. A name is an indicator of power and fate, and must not be misinterpreted. In the ancient tongue, the words drar and draer sounded similar, and eventually both came to mean ‘slayer’; but originally, draer was ‘slayer’. Drar meant ‘speaker’. Your true name is Dragon-speaker. Dragon-tongue. He who speaks with dragons.’