On the journey, I had asked Captain Pickford where I would find Drake’s Lair. Luckily, the Captain had many maps. Most charted the endless sea or the stars. I thought it was weird that he had maps of the stars. You couldn’t walk on the sky, but Captain Pickford assured me that they were essential to sail a ship and stay on course. He had land maps as well, one of which he pulled out to help me find my way to the drake’s lair.
The city of Dragil was where Synthia had planned for me to go. It was where Mark and Malik needed to drop off their goods. From there, I was supposed to find my own way to the drake’s lair which was somewhere in the mountains nearby.
I didn’t need to go to the city. I had no goods to trade, no gold to call my own. It was a detour that would only waste more time that I didn’t have. Fortunately, there was another path less traveled that was a more direct route. If I was lucky, I’d be able to make it back to Captain Pickford by the end of the second week.
I trudged away from the little town with its small village folk and a busy port.
The landscape was much different on this side of the endless lake. It was much colder with few trees in the rocky desolate landscape. Only the many mountain ridges that jutted out of the Earth limited how far I could see. I wouldn’t have to worry about unwanted surprises.
Captain Pickford said it would be obvious where the small trail forked from the main trade road. I wasn’t so sure about that. My master had always gotten frustrated with my lack of awareness, causing him to get rightfully mad at my incompetence. My heart sank as I remembered the day the thief snuck in and stole one of my Master’s most valuable potions.
The rage I caused that day I wouldn’t forget. His destruction rivaled that of even the most aggressive golem. Vials and paper and even little books were hurled at the hard ground, causing them to warp or break. His knee went into his desk, cracking it into two. His veins bulged like they were about to burst, arms spasming under his depleting self-control. After his fit of rage, I made amends for my incompetence.
Engraved in my palm was a reminder of my wandering mind. I looked at the vial etched into my skin. I remember the pain I felt when the bright magical blue knife sliced through my flesh. I remember the horrid smell of cooked golem that came from the cauterized skin. I wouldn’t let it happen again. I had people I needed to protect. It was my purpose.
As I honed my vision, I noticed something not bland in the rocky barren wasteland I found myself in. It was cute and brought a smile to my face. It was a small bug with pincers and a pointy tail. I watched as it scuttled around on its six tiny legs. I watched it disappear under the mismatched rocks. I took a second to calm myself. There was more to life than stress, things I enjoyed like tiny creatures, tiny books, and even friends. Maybe Darrel would be my friend.
As I calmed down, I started down the road again. It wasn’t long before I found a fork in the main road. This was what Captain Pickford had been talking about. I was sure of it. It was much smaller than the main road and lacked the nicely maintained flatness that made it easy for merchants to carry their goods by oxen.
It was a slow process climbing up elevation. I could see as far as the next hill, only the rare and brief downhill sections giving me a much needed break. I had no one with me to restrict my pace so I made good time. I fell into a trance only focusing on the ground beneath my feet and the trail I ran on.
I lost track of time as day and night took turns as I ran. All I knew was that I was making good progress. I felt my energy waning. I wanted to continue but it wouldn’t do me any good if I injured myself. I regretfully slowed down. I made good progress.
Not much covered the path so I felt a little exposed. I decided it would be best if I ventured away from the road for a bit, to find a nice spot to rest. I didn’t need to take breaks often but when I did I was definitely vulnerable. I wasn’t a fan of surprises especially when danger was involved.
I climbed over the jagged rocks that jutted out of the ground, looking for an alcove that was protected from the elements and protected me from peering eyes. I worried the farther I moved from the path that when I was done resting, I’d forget the way back to the road.
Looking down, I spotted a small cave. It was a little more cramped than I would have liked but it would certainly work for a quick rest. Drowsiness began to overtake my body, so I slumped just inside the cave's entrance. It was time for me to rest, hopefully it wouldn’t last too long.
My mind was foggy and my vision blurry when I lifted my eyelids after the long nap. Something was different, I felt warmer. As I gained awareness of my surroundings, I noticed a small fire illuminating the inside of the small cavern. A hunched over boy or maybe just a small man sat on the other side of the dancing fire. He was small like a witch but uglier. A lot uglier. His beard was matted and his clothes were one bad day from disintegrating.
“Ah you’re awake. Now you can tell me why you’re hogging up my cave. There ain’t enough room for the two of us in here. Gotta ask you to scramble. People in these areas aren’t fond of cave snatching or, even worse, cave poachers.”