“No, I’m here to kill a firedrake.”
“Looks like someone’s willing to put that menace of a lizard in its place, with it causing all sorts of trouble up in these mountains.” mumbled the unfriendly man to himself.
The unfriendly man paused for a second and swiveled his head to look me in the eyes.
“If you’re going to kill that annoying lizard then why are you in my cave? Ah I bet that dragon part was a lie. I bet you’re here to take my cave.” shouted the disheveled man while shaking and pointing his weirdly shaped metal at me. I’m not even sure if it would cut me, but I wasn’t eager to find out.
“No, I was certain this was the cave with the firedrake. I was told it lived in the smaller peak beside the largest peak. This cave was certainly next to the largest peak.”
I watched as the cave dweller frowned.
“Ah you got misguided on the way. The peak next to this cave is the second largest peak in the area. The largest peak is two and a half peaks east from here and a quarter peak south.”
“How do you get half and quarter peaks? Wouldn't they just be called peaks.” I asked confused. I was positive this conversation wouldn’t help me find the cave, but every bit of knowledge helped.
“I don’t have time to get into mountain peak theory. You just gotta trust me on this. Well that won’t matter, you might not realize it yet but you won’t be seeing the sunlight anytime soon. You might be able to find the fire drake through the labyrinth though. Although no one finds their way through the labyrinth, so probably not.”
“Why can’t I just leave the way I came in?” I said, more confused than I had been before.
The scruffy-looking man pointed up.
Thiry feet above me sat a crystal roof. It was clear, so I was able to see the ripples in the water that sat on top of it.
“Every month a hole appears in the middle of the crystal ceiling, creating a vortex above. It only ever lasts for a few hours, until enough the crystal particles in the water fill it back up. Doesn’t hurt me though. When it’s closed I don't have to worry about any land dwellers, I only have to worry about the things that come from the labyrinth and they don’t find my entrance often. As lovely as you are with your noble quest and all, you’ll have to leave through my labyrinth entrance. If you stay, that'll make you a cave poacher and I can’t say I’m too fond of those.”
“Is there really no way back out?” I asked.
“Well, maybe. It’s not like knowing how to get through that convoluted maze. Sure as hell not letting you stick around for the crystal to open up again.”
The cave-dweller led me to a covered up hole. I watched as the man moved the rocky debris from the hole, creating an entrance for me to get out of his life. He had done a good job hiding the entrance. If he wasn’t moving the debris in front of me, I wouldn’t have known it existed. It looked like a boulder had broken off of the above.
It was a tight fit, but I managed to squeeze through it.
“Before you go. If you take a right and two tunnels left you’ll make it to a small outpost. There you can find work and maybe survive. While I think your quest is noble, I also think you’ll be dead before you reach that demon. Don’t come back.” stated the cave dweller.
I just nodded and watched the pile of rocks fills up the whole that the cave dweller had opened. It seemed like people in these caves weren’t terribly friendly and more hermit-like than I cared for. I wondered how awful these poachers must be if everyone I met was so afraid of them.
I looked around the so-called labyrinth. It didn’t look that much different than the cave I was just kicked out of. The walls stilled glowed a faint blue and I was still surrounded by jagged rocks. The tunnel I found myself in was tight and made me feel a little claustrophobic. I wasn’t going to complain. At least I was able to see.
I followed the directions the cave-dweller had given me. I had no idea where I was or how to navigate this maze of tunnels. I wouldn’t lose anything by looking for this outpost. Maybe someone in town would have an idea on how to get to the firedrake and more importantly get out of this cave system.
It didn’t take long before I was greeted by a large opening. It was large enough to fit a small village. The openness of the large opening made me feel like I wasn’t even in a cave. It was like I was out in the open. Only the lack of sun and the glowing veins in the walls reminded me I was below the ground.
Small ramshackle buildings laid inside the much larger cave. It didn’t make much sense to me why you would build buildings inside the cave? You were already inside, blocking the harsh rays of the sun or the wet rain that pelted the surface. I came to the conclusion that these buildings were for privacy more than anything else.
Few people were out in the open and these few people didn’t look very friendly. They scowled as I walked past them, showcasing their wrinkled faces and mouths with missing teeth. One building was larger than the rest, the pub.
I pushed my way through the swinging doors, I saw many types of people and creatures. The most common were humans, with some sort of mole creature almost as common. The mole creatures looked strange with tentacles sprouting from their face. At least these creatures were clean. I couldn’t say the same for these humans.
I sat down on a three-legged stool. It wasn’t particularly straight or comfortable since one of the legs was shorter than the other two. It took more effort than I liked to stay seated but somehow I managed. I worried that the weak wood would crumble under my weight. Its joints squeaked as if in agreement.