Book I: The Alliance
Chapter 4 Part 3- Into the Lion's Den
Chapter 4 Part 3 of Dragon's Lament
Morning came quickly even as the duo slept. They slept through the morning and well into the afternoon. It wasn’t until early evening when they heard a knock on the door. Vaughn dimmed his light and hid underneath the bed. Drake stretched and put on his leather boots. Then he walked over and opened the door.
A young lad about Kaius’ age was standing shakily with a few bags. The lad wore rags and had the same long black hair as Drake. “Um sir? I have what you requested- if you just follow me.”
“A moment.” Drake opened the window and grabbed his cape from the floor.
“There’s no need to open the window sir. The maid will-”
Drake held up his hand. “Leave it open until I leave. I have my reasons.”
“O-of course.” The lad stumbled along down the hall. Drake followed.
The lad wasn’t very quiet, but he knew which direction to take to get out of town without a single person seeing them- it was impressive. They went quite a bit south of town and into the forest before they stopped. A horse was tied to a tree lightly grazing on the grass. The lad filled the supply sacks on the horses’ saddle with lots of food and a few tools as well. Drake tipped him a single pence and the lad went on his way.
Drake trotted on the horse into the night. The blue moon Isirus was still lighting his way into the night. It took some time for Vaughn to catch up to him. Vaughn huffed and puffed as he reached Drake’s shoulder.
“I can’t fly as fast as your horse for very long!”
Drake shrugged. “An oversight. Were you able to get any information?” Vaughn stayed in town that morning to gain information on Marcus’ whereabouts.
Vaughn took a deep irritated breath and let it out. “I did. Marcus left early this morning. We’ll have to avoid the direct route.”
“Indeed.” Drake huffed. “We’ll probably have to trek through the desert.”
Vaughn sighed. “No doubt. However, if we go further south, we can ride through the Marsh.”
There was proof that the Marsh once included the desert, but the land lay barren due to the intense battles of the last Great War and was never able to recover.
Drake scratched his chin. “That is a possibility. If we do go that way, we’ll have to be more careful. Bandits live out there.”
Vaughn threw up his arms and glared at Drake. “And they don’t here?”
Drake thought for a moment and looked around at the hills that were steadily turning into mountains- this was bandit country. If they took the desert path, there would be no water or cover. However, if they took the path through the Marsh they would be less exposed, but more likely to run into trouble. There would be better resources and plenty of water in the Marsh, but it was far out of their way- at least three more days in addition to the two on the normal route. If they went by desert, it would take them only a day and a half more than the normal route.
Vaughn glanced sheepishly at Drake. “Well if you’re scared of a few bandits- that’s alright. We can take the desert.”
“I am not scared.” Drake glared at Vaughn.
Vaughn shrugged his shoulders. “Then why would you torture yourself going through that hell of a desert? The land is riddled with poison.”
Drake forgot about the poison near the abandoned castle. They would have to avoid it as well- adding on a half day.
Vaughn looked into the distance. “Not to mention the rumors of a dragon near the castle.”
“Just rumors- They’re all gone.” The poison was the problem- it wasn’t a rumor. The Marsh was looking like the better option.
Vaughn looked at Drake quite confused. “Really? All of the dragons?”
Drake looked on ahead into the distance. “Leon said the Royal Guard took care of them all. There hasn’t been a dragon sighted for at least 50 years.”
Vaughn looked to the blue moon Isirius- still at a monstrous size. “There’s always some truth to rumors.”
“Some,” said Drake. “Not this one. Leon showed me a dragon’s skull- the last of the dragon race.”
Vaughn looked toward Drake surprised. “Raycredier?”
“That’s the one.”
Vaughn sighed. “Ah. The rumors said he was alive and living at the abandoned castle in the desert. Oh well.”
Drake glanced at the three moons. “It would be interesting to see. I’d love to take one down.” His eyes glinted with fire.
Vaughn chuckled. “Of course, you would. Now which direction are we headed?”
Drake breathed out. “Through the Marsh.”
“Aye. Aye captain.”
Their journey through the Marsh to Vladimir’s stronghold was long and cumbersome even by horse. They made great strides with the horse, but even a horse could only be ridden for so long and needed rest as well. They met with a few lowly bandits, but Drake was able to dispatch them quickly. Not one bandit knew a lick of magik after all.
Drake would miss these days alongside Vaughn when he was happiest even though he was sad. He regrets even now not going to Yore when Vaughn mentioned it. A lot of things would’ve been different- for the better. But you can’t change the past.
As they trekked past the Marsh and into the far reaches of the outlands- the land became flat. Only the corn stalks kept them hidden. They didn’t dare light a fire so close to Vladimir’s stronghold, so they slept amongst the stars.
The farmlands were neatly grown and covered the flat lands as far as the eye could see, except for a few trees here and there. As they got closer- they could only travel at night to keep hidden. Not that anyone was out and about besides the occasional farmer. There wasn’t a soldier in sight.
It wasn’t long before they neared Vladimir’s stronghold. It took them at least five days to get there- much longer than Drake wanted, but they did arrive in the estimated timeframe. The three moons alit the sky as they slowly trekked to Vladimir’s stronghold through the shallow forest. Isirius was still bright, but not as much as the previous week. Fog was creeping however, and visibility dropped. Vaughn sat atop of the horse’s head. “So, what’s the plan? How are we going to sneak into Vladimir’s Stronghold?”
Drake looked around for anything unusual. “The bartender said the Lion sees all but beneath him. I’m guessing-”
“The sewers- Yes. That is a good idea.” Vaughn nodded. “Let me look up ahead.”
Vaughn dimmed his light and flew ahead. He disappeared into the trees.
Drake shook his head and continued onward.
It wasn’t long before Drake reached town. He hopped down from the horse and grabbed the reins. He scanned around the outskirts of the towering wall barely visible through the dense fog. Many beggars lay the streets. Even in the dark foggy night, Drake could see that the outskirts was not somewhere he wanted to be for long. In a worn cape and torn clothes, he was dressed like royalty to these people. It was worse than Glyn. Drake had never seen such poverty.
Drake needed to either stash his horse or to sell it. If he even wanted to stay alive, he would need his horse even if the horse needed rest. It was still a better option than escaping on foot. Drake didn’t know what would await him beyond the doors or even knew what he would do if his plan succeeded or failed. He didn’t know if his mother was still alive either, but he knew there was no turning back now. It was time to end this.
Drake found the main road and walked along it toward the entrance to Vladimir’s massive stronghold looking for an idea to his small predicament. The walls towered toward the heavens. On the side of the road Drake noticed a merchant heading toward the gates with one horse- at least trying to. It looked like he was having problems. The horse’s head was drooping and refusing to move.
Drake walked toward the merchant and hailed him near. The merchant did not think Drake threatening and called him over.
Drake approached the merchant with his horse in tow. He noticed the merchants’ skin was dark and was not very visible in the night. Drake thought he was likely from Caldor in the far west where many different races lived or from Yore- the central capital of the world and the home of the Royals.
The merchant held out his hand. A bracelet slipped to his wrist. Drake saw the crest of Yore brimming in the Isirius’ blue light which meant that was where his loyalties stood.
“Entering the Lion’s Den? Will birds fly?” Drake asked. He’d carefully picked his words.
The merchant’s eyes grew wide. The merchant was in enemy territory, but he felt that this boy looked familiar to the former King of Glyn. The young man before him stood tall and his eyes were sharp. The merchant took a glance to the sword on Drake’s belt- confirming his suspicions. This was the boy.
The merchant smirked. “Birds will fly, but Gryffon’s will fly higher.”
Drake’s eyes widened. He had also been found out. He took the merchants hand and gave it a firm shake.
“Indeed, but my wings are still growing.”
The merchant leaned against his cart. All was safe. “What can I do for the son of the Gryffon? Into the Lion’s Den, I would think it? For a Gryffon whose wings are still growing and under the tutelage of Leon- I would think otherwise.”
Drake frowned. This merchant knew far too much.
“Fear not young fledgling. Your secret is kept. Leon sends his regards.” The merchant laughed.
Drake was stunned. This merchant was in cahoots with his teacher.
“You are quite predictable young fledgling. You are quite like Leon, in many ways, but to have chosen this path-” The merchant sighed and shook his head. “You are in for a painful journey.”
“Why do you say that?” Drake asked taken aback.
The merchant looked to the sky. “Those who play with fire are liable to get burned, but those fledglings who play with the lion… will take a long path to darkness.”
Drake shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“I would imagine.” The merchant sighed. “Your ideas beget stubbornness and an unwillingness to seek help begets you a long path to despair. All paths will land you at the same destination, but some paths have higher consequences in the short and long term. You still get to choose the path though and Leon knew this was one of the paths you might choose. He was hoping for another, however.” The merchant shrugged his shoulders.
“Which path did he want me to take?” Drake asked.
“For you to return to Glyn and continue your training,” said the merchant.
Drake shook his head. “This is the only path I see.”
The merchant clenched in his fists, but not in anger- in frustration. “Very well then. Your eyes are not open- I see. Then this will all be inevitable- everything that follows.”
Drake shook his head and began to walk away pulling the reins of his horse.
“Wait.” The merchant called.
Drake turned to him. “What?”
“I can watch your horse.” He handed Drake a small red bag tied with a red rope.
Drake found many gold pieces inside. “Why so much?” Drake asked.
The merchant shrugged. “For many things in the future and just in case you don’t return for the stallion. Spend it wisely, Leon said.”
Drake nodded and handed him the reins to the horse.
The merchant took them willingly. “For what it’s worth,” the merchant began as he hooked the horse to his cart. “The moons and the stars wish for your success, but the light of the goddess will be with you for evermore.” The merchant gave Drake the farewell greeting of Yore, but Drake felt less sure of himself than when he had first entered Vladimir’s Stronghold. There wasn’t time to think about such things and Drake walked away without a second glance.
Drake cut away from the main road and hid in the thicket near the castle. Before long, Drake grew more and more impatient with Vaughn. Why wasn’t he back yet?
Drake grew so impatient he thought about storming through the front gates of Vladimir’s stronghold. Before he had time to act upon that ridiculous notion, Vaughn came zooming towards him.
Drake crossed his arms in an irritated posture. “What took you so long?”
Vaughn shrugged. “Give a Fae some credit. I found the sewers.” Vaughn shook his head. “It’s like a maze down there. It took me some time.”
“Well?” Drake said impatiently.
Vaughn frowned and sighed. “Well- I found it.”
“Found what?” Drake asked tapping his foot.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Vaughn asked slowly.
Drake stilled and took a moment to think. The merchant’s words echoed in his head. This was the only way to save his mother. If he’d come here with an army at Vladimir’s gates, his mother would die. Vladimir would’ve bend Drake to his will easily. A surprise attack was the only way to insure his mother’s survival.
“Yes.” Drake nodded.
Vaughn took a deep breath. “There is a tunnel that leads directly to Vladimir’s throne room.”
“Really?” Drake’s eyes widened.
Vaugh shrugged. “Yes- it’s outside of the throne room technically, but hey- it works-”
Drake grabbed Vaughn from his sitting place and hugged him tightly. “Thank you.”
“You’re squishing me!” Vaughn squealed.
Drake let him go. Vaughn fluttered in the air and coughed.
Drake rubbed his head. “Sorry.”
Vaughn raised an eyebrow. Drake had never been sorry for anything or even really affectionate. Drake only ever looked for approval or acknowledgment from his parents. “Is there something the matter with you?”
Drake glared at him. “No.”
Vaughn shrugged. “Well then-It’s this way.” The Fae sprinted off into the bushes and Drake hastened after him.
The gate to the sewers was by a steady grotesque river. This was where the fog originated. The river ran all the way south to the Vicerious Ocean. The fog was very dense, and Drake could only see to the end of his outstretched arm. Vaughn made his faery light brighter and Drake was able to see him through the blue lit fog. Drake carefully slid down the hill to the opening of the sewers. He walked into the dark and humid sewer tunnel. Rats scurried away in all directions with each step he took inside. Drake shivered, but he wasn’t so creeped out that he would turn tail. He had already made his decision.
The sewer tunnels were pitch back and gross. Drake made the mistake of touching the slimy sewer wall and instructed Vaughn to keep his light bright, so it would not happen again. It was a long and tedious walk through the tunnels. Drake was thankful that Vaughn knew each twist and turn from his earlier exploration. Only once did Drake have to wade through the sewer water, but luckily for the duo- Drake had learned a trick from Leon.
Drake tapped his scimitar onto the ground and spoke, “Oferhlýp.” Drake’s scimitar catapulted him over the sewer river and onto the other side of the tunnel gracefully. Drake remember the first time he attempted this trick. He leapt over a river back in Glyn only to slip and fall onto the sharp rocks because he lost his footing. It was not something he would ever dare to repeat especially since he’d trained until he was able to cross the river without incident. Once he’d even fallen into the river. He shivered at the memory. The water was very cold.
It wasn’t too long after that they’d reached their destination.
“Here?” Drake whispered looking at the drain above them. It was barely large enough to fit him through. He was grateful that he was not Kaldron’s size at the moment. If he was, Drake would never fit through the drain.
Vaughn nodded and dimmed his light.
Drake heard footsteps echoing above. He also heard a clanking metal sound ever so often like a servant was carrying a metal tray.
Drake waited until he felt that the coast was clear and motioned Vaughn to go ahead. Vaughn flew up through the drain and disappeared. Moments ticked on by and turned into minutes and into more minutes. Drake couldn’t be patient any longer and leapt to the world above.
The drain lid rattled loudly to the ground. Drake saw the golden hall with a red rug and landed on his feet. His instincts told him he was in danger. He turned just in time to see a fire ball head straight towards him.
“Togan” Drake called and sliced his scimitar through the fireball. It dispersed into the air like it was never there.
Behind the fireball was Marcus in his long black cape with his hand clenched around Vaughn. Marcus chuckled. “Good one.”
Vaughn was struggling in Marcus’ hand. It was hard for the Fae to breathe.
“Let him go,” Drake demanded.
Marcus laughed. “Now you wouldn’t want to hurt your precious mother, would you? After all, you don’t even know where she is.”
Drake clenched the handle of his scimitar. “What mother? Drop the faery Marcus!”
Marcus sneered. “Tsk. Tsk. Don’t be coy. I saw you take out that spider when the battle started at Celestin. I know you are that boy Leon protected- all those years ago.”
Drake glared at Marcus. “So what if I am?” Vaughn was in trouble. He was turning blue. “How are you even here anyway?” Drake swore he did not sense this fire rat.
Marcus chuckled. He flicked a piece of red sparking magik to the ground- it formed into a large rat which scurried into the drain below. “You see- I have my own tricks up my sleeve.”
Drake stood there dumbfounded in amazement.
Marcus outstretched his arm toward Drake choking Vaughn. Drake put up his sword- ready to fight. Marcus released the faery. Vaughn recovered quickly and sped to Drake's shoulder.
“Come boy. Do not make me set this hallway on fire. Mommy dearest is waiting, and Vladimir already knows you are here.”
“Don’t follow him Drake!” Vaugh said in Drake’s ear.
Drake clenched his sword. “I don’t have a choice now. She could die if I leave now.” Drake followed after Marcus into an open door.
Drake entered the throne room through the side door. Everything was gold save for the red carpet, cushions, and chandelier that hung above the center of the room from a vaulted ceiling.
“Just like I predicted,” Vladimir said snidely from his throne. His long black hair hung lazily over the back of his throne, but his green eyes were piercing. “Leon has given us a new recruit- it seems.”
“I will never follow you,” Drake seethed.
“Hn,” Vladimir smiled. It was sinister. “A deal then. You obey my every whim and I won’t kill your mother.”
Drake began to form the words to refuse his offer, but then Vladimir continued. “Or your brother or your father or even your entire little town.”
Losing his mother was one thing. He couldn’t live if his brother died because of him- even if he was a brat. “I. I ac-ccept.”
“Good. Good.” Vladimir smiled and clapped his hands together. “Then as your reward I will let you see your mother.” He turned to Marcus. “Be a good boy and show Drake his mother.”
Marcus gave Vladimir a sideways glance and nodded. “Very well then.”
“Come boy.” Marcus called. “Before my patience wears thin.”
Marcus unlocked a metal door with an iron key. “See for yourself,” Marcus sneered.
Drake walked into the darkness down the long winding staircase. Vaughn lit the way down deep underground. Drake passed several doors on his way to the end of the hall. Some of the doors rattled as they passed while others screamed or cried. Drake could feel his heartbeat in his ears when he reached the cell at the end of the hall. He took a deep breath and walked forward.
“Mother?” Drake called into the darkness. A trickle of water splashed on his arm.
“Drake?” A dry crackled voice echoed back. “Is that you?”
“Yes. Is that you mother?”
Drake heard movement and felt a shiver go up his back. Rats scurried out from the cage in front of him. Vaughn shined his light on the cage. His mother walked closer and chains followed her every movement.
Drake could not see her until she held onto the bars. Her skin was pale as white as paper and her hair was greying. Her body was beyond thin and her skin was taut over her bones. She was wasting away into nothing.
“Listen to me Drake,” the frail Charlotte began. “You have to get out of here now. Whatever you have to do- just do it.” She coughed. “Get your little brother and run far away from here. Neither of you are safe from him.” She went into a fit of cackling coughs.
Marcus called from above the echoes sounded menacing. “I think that’s enough- unless you want to sleep here forever.”
“But I-” Drake began.
“Don’t. Just go,” Charlotte said.
“Go!” She yelled. “Go!”
Drake walked up the stairs and knew he’d never see her again.