Inside the Earth Dragon
Ébano blinked once, twice. The darkness around him was so complete that he couldn't be sure of whether he was actually blinking at all. So he blinked a third time, but it made no difference.
The wolf-elf did not know where he was. He did not know how long he had been there or how he had gotten there, or where he'd been before he got there. Yet as more of his consciousness returned to him so did a pressing panic; a feeling of desperate urgency and the awareness that something dear to him was hopelessly lost.
His hand, in which he held something furry and limp, tightened into a fist, and a small whimper broke the dead silence. Ébano relaxed his hold immediately, but his hand did not let it go. More carefully, he cradled it now, with both hands.
“Amadeus,” he called to it, in a low voice. “Amadeus.”
The winged rat moaned and stirred in his hands. Ébano placed it gently on his lap.
“What place is this?” asked the rat in a tremulous voice.
“I don’t know. Your eyes are better than mine. Can’t you see anything?”
They sat in silence for a while. They were afraid, both of them.
“I don’t remember much,” Ébano said finally. “I do remember something as being terrible wrong, but… Somehow, I just can’t…” his voice trailed off.
“Shh! Listen!” the rat hissed. Ébano perked up his ears. He heard it, too.
Something was stirring, something big, and wet. It was walking in their direction with heavy, squelching steps. It was soon close enough that they could hear it heave and snort.
“Charko!” Amadeus squalled joyfully. Ébano heard him taking flight and then fluttering by the great tar-horse’s side. It had been his tar body that dripped along as he walked.
“I wonder,” Amadeus began, “I wonder if anyone else…” then he stopped and said nothing more. Neither did Ébano. He, too, had remembered. Yianna was dead. The Earth Dragon had killed her with a flick of her earthen tail. It had destroyed the entire land, the entire planet, with that single flick of her enormous tail.
“If we made it,” Amadeus began tentatively, “then perhaps Yianna, too—”
“No,” Ébano cut him off. There was a dangerous edge to his voice. He didn’t make any noise and Amadeus could not see his face in the dark, but because he was perched on Ébano’s knee, he could feel his body shaking convulsively. It was a miserable moment, and it seemed to last forever. Unable to bear it any longer, the rat finally spoke again.
“Why...? Why did She do it? She looked over us all this time. Why?”
“When has your beloved Master of All Creation needed a reason for her whimsy?” retorted Ébano bitterly.
“There must have been a good reason,” Amadeus sputtered. “She must have had one! She must!”
Ébano spat on the ground and was silent.
“I-I mean, look at us. We aren’t dead!” the rat insisted desperately, “If we were spared, She must have a reason for that, too!”
“So? She forgot,” said Ébano getting on his feet. “Just a sloppy job —and we ourselves might die yet if we don’t find a way out soon.”
Amadeus perched on his shoulder and Ébano began to walk, the tar-horse following close behind. It was no use to ride him —Ébano’s eyes had adjusted to the dark, but barely. He could not guide the horse if he was riding it. So he felt the rocky wall with his hand as he went and let the beast follow him.
It was wretchedly slow going. Every few steps they tripped over rocks they could not see, and ran into more dead ends than they could count. Ravines abounded, and Ébano fell into more than one.
Time lost meaning quickly inside the Earth Dragon’s cavernous body. It was a small mercy, at least, that they never felt a physical need to eat or drink, so they did not starve.
They spoke but little. Eventually Ébano lost himself in his own dark, despairing thoughts and stopped answering Amadeus altogether. Years would go by without him saying a word, so Amadeus would perch by the tar-horse’s ear and talk to it instead, or pray quietly to himself. It was all the rat could do to keep from giving in to utter hopelessness.
It would take them over two hundred and fifty years to find the way out of the caverns that twisted and turned deep within the Earth Dragon’s innards, and they would emerge looking no older than the day fate trapped them there. But Ébano would not surface unchanged.
For you see, in the face of great adversity, when one’s heartaches become too much to bear, those who believe in a higher power generally react in one of two ways: they may find solace in their faith, becoming stronger in it, or they may lose it altogether.
The rat did not understand the Earth Dragon’s motives, but by convincing himself that She must have a plan for them and it would all make sense in the end, he was able to withstand the ordeal, to a point.
Ébano, having once opened his heart to Her, felt the betrayal was too great to do the same. The Dragon was a cruel, capricious beast, and he had been a fool to love Her.
For over two hundred and fifty years he brooded and seethed, grieving for his lost bride and unborn child. Having no faith to hold on to, nothing to shield him from the pain that continually ate at his heart and the disturbing scenes of carnage which he could not forget, Ébano’s mind became clouded with dangerous, irrational thoughts.
In time, he found his way out of the Earth Dragon, but his sound mind, and any peace his soul had ever known, any gentleness his heart had once harbored, would be left behind.