We had no choice but to follow Raziel. We had camped at the foot of Pumn Overhang, and it was to the cave he was headed. Ezekiel had tried repeatedly to stop Raziel, to wake him up, and Raziel had simply ignored his brother, or if Ezekiel had touched him, Raziel would strike at him, but he’d learned and would parry or dodge the blows. I tagged along behind them, keeping my distance, but I did not want to be left alone at the mouth of the cave that held a terrible dragon.
“Roz,” Ezekiel began again, this time he’d pulled the locket out from around his neck. He’d opened it, and held the tiny portraits of their mother and lost sister in front of Raziel’s face. Raziel stopped in his constant trek to the cave, he focused on the locket. Took it from Ezekiel. Rubbed his thumb over the portrait of Gretchen with a fondness I’d never seen before in him. “Yes, that’s it. That’s Gretchen.” The fondness evaporated quickly, Raziel closed his fist over the locket and threw it away, anger settled in its usual spot on Raziel’s countenance. I saw Ezekiel break. He retrieved the locket, gazed at it himself, most likely to make sure it wasn’t broken, returned it to its place around his neck and followed Raziel.
When we entered the cave I did not know what to expect. I’d never met a dragon, though I’d seen one destroy a good portion of Blomuset. I did not know what the inside of a dragon cave looked like. We had not brought torches but we had not needed them. Once we passed through the initial darkness, lamps lining the stone walls of the cavern exploded into light. The floor of the cave was smooth, worn down by scales moving across it. I had heard that dragons coveted gold and virgins, but I saw no sign of wealth in the cave.
Something crunched under my foot, I looked at where I had stepped, expecting to see piles of bones, but instead I had stepped on what looked like an eggshell. As my eyes adjusted, the floor was littered with broken egg shells. In the rear of the cave, still covered in mostly darkness was the dragon. He breathed slowly. I could barely make out his massive form. He was curled, as if sleeping. I was afraid, the dragon would have eaten us before we even made it out of the cave. As Raziel neared the dragon, it raised its head, shaking it on its long neck. The dragon looked down at us, Raziel stopped, and knelt before the dragon as if the dragon was his king.
“I asked for the Witch of Blomuset,” the dragon’s voice was deep and filled the cave.
“She has passed into the afterlife, we have brought her apprentice,” Raziel’s voice, seemed muted before the dragon.
“Where is Hammael?” I asked, finding my own voice. I had agreed to come to the dragon because it would save Raziel’s father. The dragon seemed to notice me for the first time. It brought its face down, sniffed me, and I was gagging in its sulfurous breath. Then it turned its head so that one eye could examine me. The eye was silver, and larger than my head. I felt as if it had looked into my soul.
“Good work, servant, you’ve brought me something much better than the Witch of Blomuset,” the dragon addressed Raziel.
“What have you done with Roz?” Ezekiel demanded. He had readied his bow.
“I am not your enemy,” the dragon began.
“Well you certainly aren’t a friend, the land is infested with monsters and returned dead, you kidnapped our father, forced us to bring you a witch, and you’ve stolen Raziel’s will!”
“Here is Hammael Nightsorrow,” The dragon shifted sideways and in a metal cage stood Hammael. The large man was slumped shouldered, head lolling, eyes completely white, skin as gray as a corpse, and patches of him were bloated, rotting, maggots falling off him with every movement. Hammael Nightsorrow was one of the undead.
“No!” I gasped.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t strike you down now?” Ezekiel shouted up at the dragon. I could feel the Raziel like anger come off him in waves.
“Because you would be fighting the wrong enemy,” the dragon began. “You have been deceived. My presence is just a scapegoat. Like your brother, my will is not my own either. I am enslaved to Gerfast. I need a witch to break the spell.”
“Gerfast?” Ezekiel gave him an incredulous stare, “Now why would Gerfast enslave a dragon?”
“Don’t be so insipid, boy,” I was surprised that the dragon would speak to Ezekiel like this, but I did not interrupt. The dragon had said he had needed a witch to release him, and I was not in a hurry to tell this dragon I could not help him. “Your king had no heir, and who is Steward?” Slowly Ezekiel’s face showed realization. “I was the perfect assassin, and if Gerfast kills me?”
“He becomes king.” Ezekiel stated.
“Will you serve a king who assassinates his predecessor?”
“No.” Ezekiel lowered his bow, “Release my brother.” There was a pause.
“I cannot,” began the dragon and Ezekiel raised his bow again.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“He was bitten by a vile spider, the venom has bound him to me. He can only be freed by someone who is willing to take the yoke of servitude from him,” the dragon explained. I felt like the dragon was looking at me.
“I’ll do it,” I said stepping forward. The dragon moved so he could look at me better once more.
“No Hazel, not you, I’ll do it,” Ezekiel said quickly.
“Can Hammael be saved?” I asked. I shuddered unwilling in fear. My heart was pounding.
“He can, your magic will give him life again,” the dragon stated.
“Can you promise me, Raziel, Ezekiel and Hammael will leave here, in peace, and unharmed,” I asked. The dragon nodded, and I was feeling better about my decision.
“We will fly away from this land,” the dragon answered.
“Can your promise me I won’t feel anything? No grief, no remorse, no pain.”
“I promise you,” he stated.
“Hazel, no, don’t do this,” Ezekiel was at my side, he’d taken my hand. I looked at him from the dragon. His face looked like his heart was breaking.
“I cursed your family, Ezekiel, now I’m lifting that curse.”