Chapter 11 : Chapter Eleven
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I hit the dirt with the heels of my fist, the sand scattering around my hands. The pains shot up through my palms and wrists and I clenched my teeth together till the pain subsided.
“You couldn’t have been gentle if you tried,” I said, staring at Draco and dusting myself off.
Draco just chuckled and shrugged and then laughed some more when he caught sight of Arian who was keeled over with his hands gripping his knees, he looked like he was about to empty the contents of his stomach right there onto the dirt. Arian’s knuckles were so white I feared that his bones would pop out at any second. Marla was trying her best to keep her dignity but her face had turned an odd colour of green and she mumbled something under her breath that did not sound at all happy.
“Right,” Draco clapped his hands together, making us all jump, “let’s go,”
“Can we just – sit down for a –
Draco cut Marla off with a look, “No, we can’t,”
Either Marla had learnt that it was better not to argue or she simply did not have the energy for it; she just huffed and threw her hands by her side in an almost inaudible tantrum.
“Where are we?” I asked, taking in our surroundings. We had landed on a hill amongst many other hills. Below us was a valley dotted with small houses, their rooftops vaguely visible in the light of early dawn. The sky was still a hazy blue colour apart from a single line of gold far out on the vanishing point. As if the sun had tilt and spilt and rained down onto earth, too lazy to clean itself up. It was a beautiful morning but I knew that it would be a horrible day.
“Just on the border of Transylvania,” Said Draco, looking at Marla, “You had a painting of this valley in the kitchen, plus, I know this place, the dragon sanctuary is not far from here”
“Wait – wait, did you say dragons?” Arian had managed to stand up though he still looked nauseous.
“Yes I did,” Draco answered, “Come on; it’s a steep walk down and judging by your face you wouldn’t like to disapparate again,”
“What’s wrong with him?” Arian groaned after Draco was out of earshot.
I just sighed and patted his shoulder, “So many things – come on, stop being like a little bear with a sorehead”
“Hey!” Arian looked shocked, “You’ve been around Draco for far too long,”
I smiled, “Difference is when I say it, I say it with love”
Arian huffed, “What’s his problem anyway, a few victories and a bit of charm and he thinks he can take first prize in everything life throws at him,”
I sighed in understanding, “That’s the thing with these pure blood wizards, they don’t really learn much from hearing themselves speak,”
Arian snorted and shook his head, “His ego is a fascinating monster”
We walked in silence for quite some time. Naturally, Draco took the lead, walking double the speed from the rest of us. Occasionally, Marla would trip on a loose rock or lean forward too much as we descended down the steep hill and knock herself out of balance. A few times, she managed to compose herself but once or twice she ended up wending her way straight into Draco’s back or trod on the back of his feet.
Something told me that they would not make easy acquaintances.
It only took a few more minutes for the walking to get strenuous and I wondered how long it would take before we actually reached the bottom of this wretched hill. Part of me wanted to mouth off to Marla and Arian and tell them to just get over it and agree to disaparate but then I realised that I’m a big a hypocrite as any and I would suppress my words.
“So,” I slapped my hands together and then immediately regretted it as the sudden movement caused me to slip on sediments of rock, “Let’s play a game,”
Draco snorted and Marla gave me an odd look over a shoulder. Arian however, seemed to like the idea.
“What sort of game?”
“You know – A word game,” I tried my best not to sound insane, “Someone thinks of a word and we all make a sentence out of it,”
Draco grunted, “Sounds like the type of game hags play in the leaky cauldron after they get to tired of gambling with their bloodstained pack of cards,”
“Oh shut up,” I snapped, “stop polluting everybody with your pessimism,”
Draco was about to retaliate before Arian interrupted, “Acrimonious,”
“What?” I gave Arian a look as I dodged another loose boulder on my way down.
“It means angry “
Marla frowned, then said, “Ma was acrimonious when she hurled the kettle at me because this one time, I burnt Christmas dinner”
“She hurled a kettle at you?” Arian asked, “Why would she ever do that?”
Marla shrugged, jumping down over a slight ledge in the hill, “Because she was out of frying pans”
Arian’s face looked slightly horrified and I gave it my all to muffle my laughter with the back of my hand.
“Do you live by yourself then?” I wondered if I was walking on egg shells by asking Marla anything at all.
“I live with Nikolas,” She answered over her shoulder, “Ma died just over a year ago, Nikolas never knew his, neither of us like to live alone,”
I nodded and then realised that she had her back to me, “Do you miss her, your mother?”
Marla was quite for a while, the only sound was the rocks crunching under our feet. I felt bad as soon as the words had left my mouth.
It might have taken her a while to answer but she was nonchalant with her reply, “She’s the past and that’s a time I don’t miss,”
“But why not?” I winced; I really needed to learn when to stop talking.
Marla stopped walking and I was sure that she was going to tell me shut up and learn to mind my own business but she said no such thing, “Ma’ used to hide under her bed and cry and sing while my brother and I would try and barter for bread in back alley’s of bakeries. She would walk out of the house in the middle of the night and sometimes not return till a day or two later, still dressed in the bed clothes she was wearing when she left. All whilst her kids stayed at home trying to make soup from potato peels and one time we made some too. We dug our spoons into the bowls so hard we took the paint off the sides of it,”
I was at a loss of words as we walked, now lagging behind Arian and Draco, “I’m sorry – I shouldn’t have asked,”
“It’s not like it’s your fault,” She answered, “I left home the day she died, came across this village and stayed at The Remi Inn for a few weeks, that’s when Maeve told me of what I was,”
“It’s a coincidence,” I almost whispered, “And what about your brother?”
“My brother died when I was fourteen, it was winter and he got ill,” She mumbled, “He was ten”
I didn’t know what to say. I was at loss for knowledge when it came to being indifferent with your parents. I had only known to love mine. A part of me didn’t even believe that some people did not possess the love for their children, “i’m sorry-
“Don’t be,” Marla smiled, picking up her pace slightly when she spotted Draco and Arian had already reached the bottom of the hill, “I’m not,”
My mother ran away from home when she was sixteen years old. She had just moved to England and feel madly in love with a boy that used to live down the road. My grandmother didn’t approve; he had a reputation and my mother was untainted. One day, Maeve caught them kissing in a boat in the middle of the lake behind my mother’s house. She had made the boy jump out and swim back to shore and told him that he’d be damned if she ever saw him near my mother again.
And so my mother ran away. They came to an abandoned house not far from her home though at her age, it felt a world away. When my mother would tell me this story she would tell me all about this house that she and my father ran away to. She would tell me that she was sure of how they would live in that house forever. She would talk of the thatched roof and the Canterbury bells that would grow in the front garden. Her eyes would twinkle when she would tell me the story of how my father had collected wood and they had slept in front of the fireplace in the middle of December.
It took only a day for Maeve to find them but my twelve year old self fell in love with the idea of escape. Being far away with the one you love. Except there wasn’t anyone in this world that I truly loved and the realization was painstakingly despondent.
And as I stood in front of this little cottage on the outskirt of the valley, I realised that it was exactly like the one I had imagined my mother and father had ran away too. Of course it might have been nothing alike but it felt good to think that it was.
“Here we are,” Marla said, climbing up a few steps towards the front door.
“I have an odd feeling about this,” I stood in between Arian and Draco and whispered to no one in particular.
Draco and Arian both looked at me from the corner of their eyes before Draco spoke, “Why’s that?”
“Come on, “I hissed, “Romania of all places, you’d be mad not to be suspicious, haven’t any of you asked yourselves “Hey, why am I in Romania”?”
Arian shook his head before whispering back, “Not really, the main question I’ve been asking is “What the hell is actually going on?” but I’m not getting any answers I’m afraid,”
“Who do you suppose these people are?” I said.
“Off the wall,” Draco grunted, “As far as I know, this Kaya girl like to dabble with fire, I’d be careful of her if I were you,”
I snorted, “I’m not stupid,”
“Your reputation precedes you,”
“Oh shut up,”
“Both of you shut up,” Both Draco and I turned towards Arian who was looking rather exasperated, “Let’s go,”
I turned to find that a small brown haired girl was standing at the door, her and Marla lost in a deep conversation of hushed tones and odd glances around their surroundings.
“It’s now or never,” I mumbled as I walked up to the two girls who immediately stopped speaking when they say me.
“Kaya, this Imogen,” Marla passed her hand through the space between Kaya and I, “Imogen, Kaya”
I nodded at the girl who smiled back. She seemed friendly enough. Friendlier than Marla had been anyway.
“Come in,” She ushered Draco and Arian forward with her hands and I didn’t miss the slight tinge to her accent, “We should talk inside”
I really did not have a choice of saying no so I followed Marla into the house, looking behind me to see if Draco and Arian were following. Draco seemed to be right on my heels whilst Arian grumbled and sauntered behind him.
I felt a lot more at ease once I had stepped inside. Maybe because being outside meant being more venerable. Inside, we could talk freely without the fear of being over heard, or at least I hoped.
The house was much bigger than what it looked like on the outside and I marvelled at how beautiful it really was with its high beams and dark wood flooring with no dust or cobwebs in sight. Theoretically, it was like a breath of fresh air.
“This is Nikolas,” Kaya’s voice really was like pumpkin juice with too much sugar and it made the bitter side of me feel slightly sick. I followed her through to the kitchen where I spotted him. A boy, no older than twenty sitting at the kitchen table looking at us like we were bait.
I was about to introduce myself before I heard Marla squeal from next to me. I felt a small surge of wind as she ran past me and threw herself on Nikolas as if she hadn’t seen him for months.
“It’s kind of cute don’t you think? In a unprecedented kind of way,” I mumbled to Draco as he appeared beside me.
He shook his head, “I can think of a lot of words but cute doesn’t really come close,”
Even Arian, who normally didn’t mind this sort of thing, looked slightly awkward.
Kaya seemed to feel slightly cumbersome too because she cleared her throat and Marla and Nikolas parted almost instantly.
“Please, sit down,” Kaya nodded towards the kitchen table and all of us took a seat, “So, as Maya said, I was clearing out the basement, there was boxes full of my mother’s things and in them, I came across a map”
“Of five things” Draco intruded.
Kaya nodded, “Of five things, think of them as sort of donative objects,”
“Donative to whom?” I asked, confused.
“These five things, when combined together by magic will form a map to realm where the stones are hidden, we know where the stones are – but we don’t really know how to get there, so, we must find these objects”
“Wait – You know where the stones are? How?”
Kaya smiled, “The kingdom of Erubus of course, it says so on the map,”
Kaya pulled out a browning piece of parchment from her pocket. It looked like a tiny square but as soon as she laid it on the table, it began to unfold by itself till it had transformed into a detailed diagram of what looked like the literal four corner of the earth and just under that, a fiery pit of - well, I didn’t know what it was.
“What is it? The kingdom of Erebus?”
“Oh you’ll love it,” Nikolas spoke for the first time and all of us turned to look at him, “Erubus, otherwise known as Hades, the underworld – erm what else? Oh yeah, the dodgy,misty gloomy abode of the dead” He shrugged, “It’s not really a big deal,”
I didn’t really know what to say to that and I wasn’t sure if it was the temporary effect of shock or strong emotion. Even Draco looked bereft of speech.
“I wasn’t aware such a place existed,” He said, “We’ve all read Greek mythology but it’s always been stories,”
“What you didn’t think there was a place bad people went after they died?” Nikolas snorted, “Did you think they just floated around in mid air and said “boo” when they got bored?”
Draco looked irritated, “That’s not what I said,”
“Well it exists,” Marla said, “And we need to find it before Yaxley does,”
“Don’t antagonize me,” Draco snapped, “I know what has to be done, firstly, why would the stones be hid there? It seems slightly self-contradictory to put a eternal life giving object in a place built on death?”
“The mark of a brilliant prankster,” Nikolas turned towards me, “who would look in such a place?”
“The person who got their hands on that map,” Draco retorted, “Now, what do we do first?”
“Well,” Kaya giggled slightly, “What do you know of Dragons?”
“Enough not to have anything to with one,” I replied, shuddering when I thought back to the dragon that nearly shredded Harry Potter to bits in the Twi-wizard tournament.
Nikolas coughed, “Well you’re going to love this, The first object we need is a wand,”
Draco frowned, “So?”
“Let me finish, the first object we need – is a wand forged out of a Dragon’s breath”
Arian let out a breath, “Where do they sell one of those?”
Marla, Nikolas and Kaya seemed to fall into a very secluded laughter whilst Arian sat there looking confused.
“What did I say?”
The realisation had hit Draco and I a while ago but Arian seemed a little slower to catch on.
“If they sold wands forged from dragon breath like toffee apples on the road side then this whole thing would be sweet and dandy,” Nikolas replied, “Unfortunately for us, they don’t,”
Arian’s eyes widened as the ramifications settled in, “You mean – you mean we’ll have to get them? Ourselves?”
Kaya grinned, “That’s exactly what we mean”
Arian looked shocked and I wondered how long it would take for him not to be surprised by anything at all.
“Maeve never said anything about dragons,” He mumbled, almost to himself.
“Probably because she knew what your reaction would be,” Nikolas said, “Plus, don’t be worried; our Kaya’s more fiery than any dragon you’ll ever meet”
Kaya grinned at Arian who just shuffled in his seat looking miserably awkward. I began to ask my self if Nikolas was simply being hypothetical or if this sweet, innocent looking Kaya really did have the ability to fry a person from the inside out.
“So,” Nikolas said, “Do we leave now, or never?”
All of a sudden Kaya gave a little squeal, “We can’t go now! It’s hunting hours! The creature would rip us apart like peanut shells!”
Arian frowned at her analogy, “Then maybe we should wait-
Everyone turned to look at me and I felt my cheeks burn furiously.
“No?” Kaya pressed, her eyes darting between Marla and I, “But why not?”
I sighed, “The longer we wait the shorter the gap between us and Yaxley becomes,” I turned to Draco, “You said yourself that this wasn’t a holiday, we’ve wasted enough time”
Everyone was silent for a while before Kaya spoke, “You’re right I guess, the sooner this is done then the sooner it’ll be over”
Marla snorted, “It’ll be over pretty quickly if you get shredded to pieces and then fried and digested by a dragon”
Nikolas gave her a look, “That’s not helping,”
“Sorry,” She mumbled.
“Right then,” Draco said, “We leave in an hour,”
Marla snarled at him from across the table, “Who said you could make the decisions?”
Draco pretended to ponder over her words for a second, “Hmm, oh yeah, I did”
“You can’t just-
“Actually,” Kaya interrupted, “One hour sounds perfect; it gives us enough time to look over the map and have a look through the boxes in the cellar for things thing that might help, you know, tame a dragon”
“An hour it is,” Nikolas clapped his hands together, interrupting Marla, “Kaya, go downstairs and show everyone the boxes and the wand – oh and try not to singe their eyebrows off”
I raised my eyebrows at Nikolas and realised that I would very much like to keep mine. Nikolas just shrugged, “It happens when she gets excited – actually, I should probably come with”
“Ah,” I said, standing up, “Let’s see what we can do in an hour then”
Kaya’s face lit up at my words she poked her tongue out at Marla who in turn looked like she wanted to slap her. Luckily, the table was in between them.
I groaned inwardly as I followed Nikolas and Draco out of the kitchen and down a flight of rather dusty looking stairs. The bad feeling in my gut was now more alive than ever.
“So,” I said to Nikolas as I walked on behind him, “Do you domesticate Dragons often?”
He chuckled, then said, “Well actually, yes; it’s a hobby of mine”
I genuinely thought that he was joking and if hadn’t been for the seriousness in his voice I would have never caught on, “Are you serious?”
He nodded, “I’m from here, this house used to be mine before my father died. I only left to live with Marla after he left it to Kaya in his will. My life used to revolve around that dragon sanctuary,”
“But you’re a muggle,” The words tumbled out my mouth before I could control them.
“Sorry,” I bit my tongue, “I mean you’re not a wizard, how were you allowed in the sanctuary at all?”
Nikolas laughed, “You don’t have to be a wizard Imogen, just passionate”
“Don’t you miss it?” I said as I ducked under the door frame just in time and almost stumbled into the dusty cellar.
He smiled and shook his head, “Let’s just say that being able to be in two places at the same time can have its benefits”
I stopped by the door and watched him as he walked off to the other side of the room and as I observed him, I realised that being in his presence was a strange thing indeed; the idea that a person could be in two places at the same time made my brain feel like it was slamming against my cranium.
The other’s entered the room just as Nikolas walked back to where I was stood. He carried a wooden box in his hands as if it were made of gold. It might as well have been; it looked like it weighed as much.
“What’s that?” Arian said as he watched Nikolas place it carefully on the table.
“This,” Nikolas said as he opened the small latches on either side of the box, “Contains a few things that may help you know, seduce Mrs Dragon”
“And a wand,” Kaya added, almost skipping over to her brother, “Well a stick, not yet a wand”
“What? Like a branch?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” Said Marla as she reached in and grabbed the stick out of the box. As soon as she pulled it out, my words got lost somewhere on their way out. The piece of wood looked like anything but. It was pure silver with two gold snakes entwined at the base with such majesticness that they almost had a presence of their own. Their emerald eyes glittering knowingly through the dry dusty powder floating around the room.
“Where did you get that?” I asked, almost breathless.
“We found it,” Nikolas said, taking it back from Marla’s hand and putting it back inside the box, “Along with these”
He placed three objects on the table, “The first, is a horn. Enough to make the dragon deaf for quite some time. It may not sound like much but believe you me, Dragon’s are already blind so take another sense away and the chance of not getting eaten may just become that much more higher”
“And the others?” Draco nodded at the other two objects on the table.
“This,” Nikolas picked up a little green pendant hanging on a gold chain, “Is an amulet. You see we can’t just drop the wand into the dragon’s mouth – well you can, but I certainly don’t want to be the one to retrieve it. So, we just hang this little bad boy on some part of the dragon to enchant it’s breath and then we get it to breathe some fire”
I raised my eyebrows, “Breathe fire?”
Nikolas nodded, “That’s the fun part”
Arian snorted, “You people have a strange idea of what’s fun”
Nikolas shrugged, “Well then you’ll love this next one,” He picked the third object up, “This my friends, is a dagger. Pretty self explanatory for the most part – who would like the honour of personally stabbing the dragon if things get, shall we say, messy”
It was as if everybody in the room all of a sudden came to a silent agreement; everyone’s eyes came to rest on me.
“I-I,” I stammered, “Absolutely not”
“Don’t be such a spoil sport Blanc,” Nikolas pouted, “Not everyone gets the opportunity to chop up dragon’s you know, plus, it’s perfectly safe”
Safe? Was he mad? I closed my eyes and brought my hands up to my face, digging the heels of my palms into my eye sockets. I must have sighed or groaned or something because suddenly Kaya said, “Come on Imogen, you’ll be OK”
I opened my eyes to see that everyone was still looking at me. Even Draco. Sometimes I wished that my life was all just a bad dream so that way I could stab myself with this damned dagger instead and wake myself up. It was so easy for everyone to thrust on me such a dangerous job because maybe for them, they didn’t feel like time was constantly running out. They had a thousand tomorrows or ten thousand. So much time that they could let it slip through their fingers like coins.
I didn’t get nearly enough credit in life for the times I managed not to die.
I sighed, “Fine”
We arrived at the opening of the cave exactly an hour later. The sun was now nearly at its mid point in the sky and it cast all sorts of odd shadows across the mammoth mountain above us.
“This is miserably ironic” Marla muttered as she kicked a loose rock into the opening of the cave, “who ever guessed that our dragon would live in a cave - not me”
Draco walked up behind her, his wand half mast, “Ladies first”
Marla shot him a look and muttered something under her breathe before she sauntered carefully into the cave, her eyes darting around like they were loose in their sockets.
Arian followed after Draco and I could tell by the way he rubbed his fingers into his palms that we was terrified. Nikolas and I walked in last. I held my wand tightly in my hand and Nikolas held the horn in his.
The darkness seemed to envelope me in a never ending feeling of disorientation. My breathing slowed as I tried to take in more of the stale, humid air. There was the smell of something else too, pungent like rotting meat. I used the rough cave wall to guide me and I could hear a soft dripping noise along with the distant footsteps of Marla, Draco and Arian who were well ahead of us.. Spires of rock hung from the ceiling and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if they were to fall.
It was just as I was getting to relax to my surroundings and my eyes adjusted to the dark that I felt my foot pass over something sharp and sticky. I let out a subconscious scream before they were muffled my Nikolas’ hand on my mouth.
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing” He kept his hand over my mouth till my heart had stopped rattling around my ribcage.
I looked down to see what I had stepped in and immediately wished that I hadn’t. If it wasn’t for the little composure that I had left I would have surely emptied the contents of my stomach right there right then. My foot was jammed perfectly in the mesial of a rotting wolf carcass.
I turned to Nikolas who didn’t look near enough horrified as I was, “It’s way too close to the mouth of the cave for the dragon to have hunted here”
“Then what was it?” I could still feel the slippery remnants on my shoe and I tried desperately to not think of it.
“Probably had a clash with another predator – a bear maybe, so it came here to die”
I nodded, trying to look like I was actually registering what he was saying.
“You’re not going to like what I’m going to say next”
I narrowed my eyes, “What?”
“We need something to lure the dragon,” Nikolas said, “Like a wolf maybe”
“No, no not going to happen”
“Come on Imogen, look –“ He pulled the jacket he was wearing off his shoulders and bent down, slowly wrapping it around the wolf’s head, “Here”
I took the bundle from his hands and winced when I realised that it was wet, “great, not I have blood on my hands, the dragon will definitely eat me now”
Nikolas chuckled, “You’re rather dramatic”
I was about to think of a smart retort before I caught sight of the drawing of a wolf on Nikolas’ now bare shoulder blade.
“I like your wolf,” I said as we started to walk again.
“Thanks,” He chuckled, looking at the wolf carcass in my hands, “I like yours”
I ignored him, “What does it mean? Your tattoo?”
“The wolf? My father was killed by one, my mother ran off with one, think of it as a two in one memorial I guess”
My eyes widened, “Your mother ran away with a werewolf?”
Nikolas nodded and then chuckled, “Rather that than a dragon eh”
It was then, as if on cue, that a thundering roar seemed to rip through the walls of the cave and I almost ducked, expecting the loose rocks to shatter all over me. The sound seemed to resonate through me. I could feel it vibrate through my very core. The sound of raw power.
I slowly turned towards Nikolas, “What was that?”
It was a stupid question because I knew exactly what it was.
Nikolas grinned at me, “I think we just found scaly”
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