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Rosalie Skinner

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The Dragon's Lair Part II (an extract)
By Rosalie Skinner
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

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· The Dragon's Lair Part I (an extract)
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Caleath is trapped in the lair with the dragon.

Clawing his way up the steep slope of hoarded gold, Caleath dug his bare fingers into the mound of coins. He caught his index finger through a golden link, cursing as heavy metal jarred his movement.
He extracted his hand and in jaded light saw how he snagged his finger through a weighty gold ring. A simple band lodged awkwardly around his knuckle. He didn’t have time to examine its rustic design or the intricate pattern running around its circumference. Blood from his wrist marred the ring’s surface. Rather than try and remove the artefact, before he reached for his sword, he shoved it the rest of the way onto his finger. He counted the piece as the one item he needed to retrieve for Orwin Tallowbrand.
In that instant Caleath found he could lie on gold rather than continue to fall into its depths. His boots found purchase and with a prayer of thanks Caleath staggered to his feet. He scrambled higher toward the back of the chamber, where several stalagmites offered cover.
Vision also improved. No longer impaired by the faint green glow, he could see clearly, as if daylight broke through the earthly vault.
He grasped his sword and watched the Dragon as it searched blindly for his scent.
“Do not shed the dragons blood.”
The words echoed in his head in a language he knew he should not understand. He worried over their content as he faced the dragon, aware of the enormity of the task before him. He saw no method of killing the creature let alone face the behemoth with a restriction of not drawing blood. The task was impossible.
“Do not shed the dragons blood.”
“Easier said than done,” he muttered brandishing his sword, wondering who spoke into his mind without claustrophobic effects of sorcery.
As the dragon located his voice, it lunged forward with an earth trembling bellow. The reverberations from the roar set gold cascading under his feet. The movement upset his balance and gave him further cause to curse.
Caleath sprang into a run dodging like a rabbit set upon by a fox. He found sanctuary for a moment, behind a broken stalagmite. Hot breath of the dragon singed his hair as the creature exhaled in frustration.
Before the reptile recovered enough breath to scorch his flesh Caleath sprinted down the hill of gold debris and crossed the chamber floor at a tangent. Visualising the niche he sought as he ran, Caleath struck the beast with the flat of his blade as he passed.
The beast wore scales so substantial Caleath was taken aback. He doubted he could damage the creature with his puny blade despite his best efforts.
He needed to rethink his stratagem. Assuming he had a scheme to start with. The dragon lumbered around. The effort to manoeuvre its incredible bulk within the confines of the cavern gave Caleath a chance to reassess his position.
The creature established his location. As he dodged and wove around the chamber keeping out of reach of gnashing teeth and scorching breath, he bombarded the reptile with anything he could throw. His actions did nothing to damage his opponent but the creature grew agitated, frustrated by Caleath’s evasive behaviour.
As he moved out of the beast’s line of sight Caleath stumbled. His boot caught in the handle of an exquisitely wrought vessel. He fell, twisting his ankle beneath him as the dragon closed in on the sound of his struggle to free his booted foot.
Forced to defend himself, the gaping mouth of the reptile yawned above him. He slashed with his sword, making little impression on armoured scales. In desperation he jammed his blade between the top and bottom teeth.
He rolled out of the way as the dragon prised the annoying blade out of its maul with a precise flick of a lethal talon. He managed to reach relative safety behind his familiar mound of limestone when the dragon belched.
The cavern filled with incandescent flame. Caleath recoiled. He dragged his cloak around his face as flames licked the walls behind him. He felt oxygen drain from the air as he glanced out of his sanctuary. The dragon took a few seconds to focus its source of fire, giving Caleath a chance to move to a new location before the next assault. He searched the ground for any weapon with which to combat the flame-throwing monster.
He survived another blast losing his beard and most of his hair. The flames charred his cloak and blistered the skin on his hands as he covered his face. The smell of charred air filled the chamber. As soon as the flames died, he leapt forward. He spotted a heavy chain lying tangled in the gold at his feet. The clutter of gilded debris surrounding his hiding place had melted in the blast from the angry dragon.
Caleath shuddered, sensing how close he had been to becoming a charred corpse. As the dragon turned to follow his movements he grabbed the chain with both hands, pulling it nearly free before the creature drew back for another fireball. Caleath leapt out of the way. Fearing the force of the blast, he dived behind a thin veil of delicate limestone created over thousands of years by the inexorable drip of ground water.
It was enough to divert the heat of the fiery eruption, but it crumbled like sand when he tried to use it for support as he raced against time to finish retrieving the chain.
On the second attempt he freed the three lengths of chain once used to carry a huge pot. Each length stretched twice as long as his spread arms and ended with a hook. He found a refuge before the dragon blew it’s increasingly heated offering. The conflagration charred the remains of his cloak and left his leather jacket smoking ominously.
With the chain looped in his hands he moved into clear space, yelling at the dragon with what he hoped was defiance. It sounded like the bleating of a lost sheep in the eerie resonance of the chamber, but it caused the dragon to glance in his direction, snaking its reptilian head blindly towards him.
Praying silently Caleath swung the chain. It struck the long narrow snout and looped around the scale-encrusted skin with the alacrity of a whip. Caleath followed his throw, leaping to reach the flailing ends and shove a golden poker through the convoluted links.
His weight on the ends of the slender bar bent it enough to prevent the chain from falling loose. He fell to the ground, beneath the dragon, crabbing his way out from under the enraged creature as it realised its snout was effectively bound shut.
Rage vented with a violent burst of white-hot flame whipping uncontrolled around the chamber, destroying delicate limestone formations wherever it touched the rock. Caleath scrambled high among the largest fissures merging with the walls of the cavern. He remained silent and hardly dared to breathe as the reptile lost all reason, continuing to exude a conflagration of pure burning hatred which exceeded the melting point of gold.
The flames touched the hills of gold and the metal began to melt.
Caleath moved out of his deep niche, out of reach of the deadly flames. He avoided the softening gold but began to find untouched items and hurl them at the dragon, inciting the reptile further.
As thrown objects passed through the white-hot jet the gold softened. When they struck the enraged creature viscous metal melded with draconian scales, corroding through protective armour like acid.
Caleath watched horrified and mesmerised as mountains of gold slowly became liquid. The dragon continued to rage indiscriminately, firing quicksilver animosity to where Caleath rested momentarily. He kept moving, tossing coins, plates anything he could find not already charred. He tore a strip from his cloak and wrapped the rag around his hand to prevent blistering his flesh as more and more of the gold became fluid. He kept on moving as his boots charred and began to disintegrate.
The lashing tail scattered droplets of molten gold into the air as the dragon bellowed through muzzled jaws.
The creature realised too late the gold was becoming a molten pool and wherever flesh touched the metal it acted like a glutinous sponge.
In desperation the creature struggled to escape the approaching tide, but metal cooled, snaring the creature’s bulk. As surely as if bound by iron chains the helpless creature was imprisoned as waves of unforgiving gold lapped at its extremities.
The heat in the cavern became oppressive as the dragon’s limbs burned. The stench of scorching scales and flesh filled the grotto with noxious fumes. Oxygen depleted as the dragon’s smouldering bulk blocked most of the entrance where it tried to escape.
Caleath retreated to the relative safety of the deepest fissure, protecting his face from the radiant heat with the shredded remains of his cloak. He listened to the hideous lament of the dying dragon as the oppressive heat and fumes overpowered him.

Caleath dragged scorched air into his lungs and rolled onto his back gagging for breath as discordant cries of the dragon jarred his senses. He knew if he remained where he was he would find no escape from the agony of slow suffocation, nor would the dragon find release from an excruciating death.
Fighting for every breath he struggled back onto his feet. He pulled himself upright, cursing burned and blistered flesh that sent livid messages of pain to outraged nerves. As anger pulsated throughout his consciousness he moved back toward the open where fetid air enabled the dragon’s flames to ignite.
The dragon grew weak. Desperate movements were pitiful to watch as the creature threw weight from one foot to the other in a futile attempt to free trapped limbs from viscous semi-molten gold.
Caleath wiped watering eyes as he recognised the creature’s vain efforts would prolong its suffering. The pointless exercise of unnecessary death enraged him. Being forced to watch added to his wrath while his pain seemed inconsequential. He searched the grotto for some sign the Dragon Lord Sharyac observed the drama.
“Foolish creature.” He coughed as he trembled with exhaustion, desperate to end the horror. “Adder’s spit, this is not what I envisaged.” He yelled breathlessly as the dragon blasted a sheet of flame through its snared muzzle.
He made a decision the moment he became aware the corporeal dragon shared an aversion to the fight. The notion came to him in an explosion of empathic despondency that washed through every fibre of his being and reverberated through his mind with despair.
As the smell of scorched flesh overcame the stench of burning detritus and the suffocating odour of hot metal, Caleath gathered his remaining resolve.
When the dragon heaved its enormous weight off its nearside leg, he ran toward the creature, leaping up to catch the flailing length of chain. The dragon brought its snout around sensing movement despite sightless eyes. Caleath used the extra momentum to launch himself up at the apex of the swing catching with his legs the knobbly lumps behind the dragon’s eye sockets.
Releasing the chain he hauled himself up before the dragon managed to shake him loose. Clambering upright he locked his feet beneath the edge of the dragon’s upper jaw. His grip proved solid enough to prevent being thrown as the dragon tossed its reptilian head from side to side and bellowed with outrage and frustration.
“Foolish creature.” Caleath muttered again and again, reaching forward as inertia threatened to tear him from his position. “Listen to me, we need to work together, you and I.” He grabbed the nearest irregularity in the dragon’s scales and held on, not realising he touched an empty eye socket with the strange gold band he wore.
“Let me help you.” He crooned as he leaned forward. With care he worked his way to where chain chaffed against scales of the dragon’s skin as it fought binding fetters with angst Caleath found too familiar. “If you would trust me for a single minute…” he continued as he managed to reach the first loop of chain. He tried to loosen links but the poker held the chain tight.
With a curse he edged forward trusting the grip of his burned and disintegrating boots to keep him from falling. The dragon paused to try and tear the human off its snout with razor keen talons, to remember too late, each foot remained trapped in a pool of cooling metal.
Caleath took the opportunity of relative calm to swing free, upside down and catch the end of the poker. His first effort failed. With his second attempt he managed to get burned fingers around the poker’s shaft.
Taking a few desperate moments to reach up and grab the nearest portion of the dragon’s anatomy to anchor his weight, he manoeuvred the poker free through the links of tangled chain. Once achieved Caleath dragged himself back onto the dragon’s snout where he could carefully unwind loops of chain.
As Caleath worked he became aware of an unusual quiet and how the dragon no longer breathed fire or writhed beneath him.
“What trickery is this?” A pitiful voice reverberated though his head.
“Trickery? Foolish creature. Why would I bother to trick you? I could have waited for you to expire. Who put you here without recourse?”
“Recourse? I am not a coward human.”
“No. That is not what I meant, creature. I would not see you suffer though, dragon, why must you? Surely a Dragon lord could resolve this contest without your death as an outcome?”
“Why do you care?”
“I am here too, I would rather be anywhere else. Can you release me? I would be happy to leave you to your misery if at all possible? Must I wait until you expire before I am freed?”
“My death and yours are now linked human. So the Lords have ordained.”
“What? Why? How can I get us out of here?”
“Freedom is not an option for either of us, human.”
“Look. You are trapped in a mire of your own creation. If you trust me I think we can get you free. What you do afterwards is your problem. I can feel the pain you are suffering it’s leaching through your skin. Let me help you even if your Lords have abandoned us.”
“Even now they debate your future. Your actions perplex them human.”
“Really?” Caleath replied with a derisive snort. “As if I care. I only want them to release me… and you from this torment.”
“DEATHBRINGER.” The chamber vibrated with the power of a Dragon Lord’s word. Caleath felt the creature below him flinch.
“Ahh, you are there?” he challenged with petulance he didn’t feel confident of sustaining. “Are you satisfied?” he said coughing, trying to cover his anger. “At least help your champion.”
“You said ‘mercy’ is not a draconian character trait and now you suggest we should be magnanimous? How confusing. Should we reward our champion when she failed to kill you?”
Caleath touched the skin of the dragon on which he balanced. He felt burning heat course through flesh, burning but not incinerating the draconian creature, able to breath fire of her own.
“It is for you to decide, I am not about to pass judgement. I would not have another suffer unnecessarily on my account,” Caleath called hearing his voice echo eerily around the smoke filled cavern. He ran his hands over the rough skin of the dragon as he considered his words.
“I have fought your avatar. If by not wanting to watch her death I have not completed my side of our contract, so be it. I stand by my actions.” He felt the dragon beneath him shudder and release an enormous sigh.
As he waited for the Lords to reply he glanced down. The heavy gold ring he wore seemed to glow in the darkness of the dragon’s lair. Where it touched the reptilian skin the faintest light played havoc on his enhanced sight. Like strobing light the effect of contact with the ring of gold gave the dragon an ethereal illumination. The creature sighed again and began to tremble with a pulsating rhythm rather like a huge cat purring. Caleath lifted his hand and the movement stopped. The creature turned her head curiously. Caleath returned the ring to touch skin and the creature shook herself slightly and began rumbling again.
“He carries the band of Lathraine’s Pledge,” the creature said, speaking directly into his mind, while addressing the Dragon Lords.
Caleath felt the fabric of his world tear apart and he fell into a dark spinning vortex. Gravity and light no longer existed in the maelstrom of nothingness opening around him. More terrifying than his previous encounter with the Dragon Lord’s might he found himself helpless again and prey to a Dragon’s whim.
An argument raged around him. No voices echoed through the emptiness in which he existed but thoughts from the female dragon with which he battled permeated his being. He accessed a source of knowledge and enmity she carried within her, while she argued strangely on his behalf. She reasoned against a power able to cause the fabric of time itself to tremble and quiver as outrage and disbelief battered a single instance of hope and the possibility of reprieve.
From his position of abject dread Caleath began to fathom the extent of his involvement with the dragon’s diatribe. Gleaning fragments of history and knowledge from her thoughts he tried to focus on the ensuing debate before the sensation of falling became nauseating and overwhelmed him.
Merkaat, the draconian hatchling against which he had been pitted pleaded for clemency on his behalf. The unlikely reason for this act of compassion appeared to be his accidental wearing of the ring combined with his taking action to facilitate her freedom from molten gold.
The Dragon Lords questioned the validity of a human finding Lathraine’s pledge after so long.
The pledge it appeared had been given by a Firedrake ‘Amberwing’ to a human at the time of Peace. Lathraine, a Ferran Clan master, the chosen spokesman for Humans and the Dragon Lord shared the task of formulating a treaty on behalf of their respective species.
The continual battle between humanity and dragons ceased for the length of six human generations. The symbol of the treaty, Lathraine’s pledge, consisted of a golden band wrought by the fire of dragon’s breath and from gold taken from Lathraine’s mines. Those who bore the band found the ability to walk, talk, and see with a dragon’s senses. In return one chosen Dragon would have the power to share the wearer’s knowledge, knowing the truth of their thoughts. They would be able to travel by existing in the recesses of their linked minds. The inevitable bonding between dragon and ruling human ensured no conscious betrayal of the treaty could be possible while the pledge held value between both races.
All went well until demon spawn killed Melagra the Wearer. Melagra drowned in the Gruenwald Lake and the pledge became lost. The ring vanished then for a thousand years until it became part of Sharyac’s hoard unrecognised for its significance. By this time the dragon wars caused both races to decline and the struggle for supremacy led to the misuse of sorcery and Orwin Tallowbrand’s ultimate betrayal and defeat of the last dragon lord to walk this continent, Sharyac.
Merkaat’s thoughts raged and reverberated with outrage and angst overpowering Caleath’s own sensations of distress and disorientation. The dragon had been involved with the betrayal of Orwin Tallowbrand. The acolyte witch Azriel tortured and blinded the dragon to get information with which she could bring down the Archimage. The very thought of the witch sent shudders of fear and loathing through the dragon and Caleath could do little to prevent his emotions escalating empathetically. His fear of sorcerers only added to the chaos becoming their combined wellspring of emotion.
The Dragon Lord Sharyac made a sudden decision. It lay beyond Caleath’s ability to interpret what prompted the Dragon’s actions, but being dumped without ceremony onto solid ground pleased him.
As gravity, time and reality coalesced around him, Caleath found himself in a small chamber, devoid of light. Inhaled air smelt fresh, the temperature felt tolerable.
Trying to ignore the pain of burnt skin, he clutched knees to his chest and rested his head. Caleath took a couple of exhausted moments to recover his senses before he reviewed his newest prison.
Time extended without incident. Caleath lost track of the moments, hours and days as he found himself trapped in an oubliette from which he could not escape.
Patience wore thin until Merkaat’s voice disturbed his peace. The dragon spoke inside his head.
“Do not be afraid. Lord Sharyac said I should keep you alive. I will fix the creatures in your blood and then I will let you go. I will be the first to be free of this place. Wherever you go, I can go too. What you see I will see,” Merkaat said with the excitement of a child being released from adult supervision. “I have a gift for you. You will like it. Are you pleased?”
“I am glad to be alive.” Caleath answered. “I would like to be free of this place. If you can get me out of here I will be pleased.”
“As soon as I am ready. You have the strangest way of healing I have ever seen. It is not good. I will make it better. Caleath D’Tiva.”
“My name is Caleath. My name has been Sarran, but you know as much already, don’t you?”
“You wear Lathraine’s pledge. The Lords have renamed you. You should be grateful, they wanted to destroy you,” Merkaat informed him.
“I am grateful. Believe me. I will be more grateful when I am free.”
“How did you find Lathraine’s pledge?” Merkaat asked.
“Find this ring?” Caleath asked turning the strange band around his finger. “I didn’t. It found me,” he said with a wry grin. “It’ll confuse the Dragon Lords won’t it? I am not a sorcerer. It must be disappointing for them to have the pledge in mundane hands.”
“If you were a trained sorcerer you would have been dead the moment you entered the lair. You are not like other humans, Caleath D’Tiva. No other sorcerer has your peculiar talent. You have been designed rather than created. Why? Some creatures are playing God in your world, human. The Dragon Lords said your mother must have been one of the Tathgar. Do you have nine lives? Sharyac said you would need all of them, before Azriel is finished with you. You are the result of someone ‘meddling’. You can’t possibly know the potential you possess. I will teach you how to use the powers you refuse to acknowledge. When you are ready to accept them. Of course you will have the Archimage to help you, now he is no longer trapped within the lair.”
“The Dread lord is free now?” Caleath asked, struggling to absorb everything the dragon had said. “I am not sure this is a good thing.” He could not understand the Dragon’s rambling. He would need time to digest the meaning of her assumption. Could he be endowed with mage power? If the Dragons recognised his genetic enhancement, they showed a remarkable understanding of science. The thought made him homesick. He made a deliberate effort to abandon the self-absorbing emotion and focused on the Dragon’s words.
“The Lords don’t trust Tallowbrand, but the Mage has suffered for too long. I have changed. Perhaps he has too?.”
“You don’t have yourself to blame if he does anything evil. I may have released back into the world a sorcerer without a soul. Does the safety of a few justify the release of limitless evil?”
“Limitless evil betrayed Orwin, I know what he went through. You trusted him enough to attempt the Lair. He will serve you. Azriel is gaining power. Why do you not trust your instinct Caleath D’Tiva?”
“Why? Because everything I do is flawed. Were you absent when the Lords invaded my mind? They tore through every scrap of my memories. Nothing but winning the title of Gamemaster remains without flaw and look where achieving my goal landed me?”
“Orwin Tallowbrand removed dark sorceries from your mind, he has freed you from the fear of losing control to another. Perhaps this is proof he is to be trusted?”
“Good point,” Caleath conceded. “I guess I will know soon enough. It’s not the most pressing concern I have at present.”
“What have we to do?”
“We?” Caleath almost choked on his discomfit. “You can’t come with me.”
“Can and will. You can’t stop me.” Merkaat sulked with childlike petulance.
“Spit!” Caleath exploded with an ungrateful splutter. He regretted his outburst instantly as the floor disappeared from beneath him …again.



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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 3/29/2006
Excellent story, Rosalie; very well done! BRAVA! :)

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