He didn’t speak to them. As the great dragon stormed back to his lair Verick and Phoebus cowered into the side of the mountain, Verick closed his eyes and turned his face to the rock. He was scared to the very end of his tail. They were in trouble, big trouble.
For long moments after he had swept past, they didn’t speak, didn’t move.
Eventually Phoebus gulped and his feet kicked at the dry earth till they were covered in dust, the glowing scales dulled and dirty his gold claws nicked and scratched. Verick nudged him, nodded towards the entrance to the cave. He lifted his chin and gestured, “Go on, have a look.” Phoebus shook his head just once. His stomach roiled. They should go, they could fly down now to the Silver River and boil some fish. They could just go back to their own place and curl in the corner and snooze. They could do anything. Anything would be better than being here, on this mountain with the anger of Alpheus thickening the very air that they breathed.
They didn’t hear him speak, but they felt his instruction deep down, tickling in the bottom of their ears.
With the barest glance between them the two whelps turned and sidled towards the darkness, Verick hung back, Phoebus pretended a stone between his toes, Verick had to cough, Phoebus had a sudden interest in the Bledger Birds who were wheeling off to the south towards the safety of the Emerald Forest. No matter how they dawdled and procrastinated their hesitant footsteps led them onwards and into the wonder of Alpheus’ cave.
The floor was polished amber, a glowing golden pathway. The walls were black onyx veined with silver and studded with great diamonds that reflected the shimmer of a thousand candles ranged in iron sconces drilled into the rock. Along the edges of the footway a river of silver water tinkled and chattered as it cooled and freshened the air. Deep inside, venous red glowed and drew them on.
The only sound was the chuckle of the water and the shush of four scaly feet as they made their way, ever more nervous, slower and slower towards the retreat of the Greatest of the Great, the mightiest of the Dragons of Orlos.
He was waiting for them.
He stood in the centre of the massive chamber where enchanted torches threw flickers of light into the dragon oil glowing in crystal tubs.
He turned to them his eyes burning in the red gold glow.
He didn’t want this, he wanted peace in his old age and quiet but he couldn’t be content, not when these youngsters were untutored, spoiled and wild. He had hoped that others would do this, the wise women, the medicine men, some of the other dragons but no-one had taken on the task and now, before it was too late he must teach them, and tame them and make them what they should be. Guardians of Orlos, Members of the Great Order of Dragon Knights and at the very least decent thoughtful beings.
Verick gave a nervous flick of his tail and upended a vat of oil. Phoebus snickered as they stepped back from the slow river it made.
Alpheus breathed a gentle wind on the glutinous flow and the scent of warm oil filled the air as the mess dried and dispersed. He moved away further into the cave willing the two spoiled brats to go with him.
He had his work cut out and he knew that at the bottom of it all was boredom which had ignited their desire to learn about The Other Place. The place in the woods, gateway to Elsewhere and the darkness that dwelt there and the danger that lurked beyond. Could he hold them back, should he? Ignorance of Evil or knowledge of it, which would make them stronger, which would teach them best.
He didn’t know but he would need to find out. Together they made their way along the smooth stones, the Greatest of the Great and those who must after all be made into the saviours of the kingdom. It was a Herculean task but Alpheus knew that now it was his he must not be found wanting.