Sorry for this late posting. I took the longest time working out the ending. I'm not entirely happy with how it turned out, but it's a lot better than I had it last night, I feel. :P
3 days ago I had left my family a note, explaining that I had to go on an errand for a friend and would be going away for some time. Then I had packed myself a bag with enough food to last me a few days, and then I set off to find the infamous cavern.
Now that I had finally made it here, I began to have a few second thoughts...
Maybe I should just go back and forget about the whole thing. I should return to my family, never mind about the witch Lamia and her old book. What good was it to learn how to do Majik anyway?
But when I seriously thought about it, I knew that I just couldn't live with myself, knowing that I had let down my good friend and hadn't done my absolute best to put things right.
On the other hand, I knew that my quest was probably not going to be a picnic in the park. I had no idea what dangers awaited me in the dark, black Cave of the Underworld, besides Azura Belua herself. The unknown of it frightened me greatly, and I shook as I stood there at the wide, gaping mouth of the cavern, imagining the terrors that might await me (though it could easily have just been the winter breeze that was making me shiver). The stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave opening made me think of long sharp teeth. I felt like I was literally walking straight into the mouth of a great beast, and once it had swallowed me I would be unable to return.
I began wishing that I had written a better, less vague note to my parents, explaining to them the exact nature of the quest I was going on, and my reasons why I had to go on it. Then at least, if something awful happened to me and I didn't come home, they would have some idea of what had become of me.
Well, it was too late to worry about that and turn back now. I just had to go ahead and do what I had come here to do, before I changed my mind and turned into a coward.
I lit myself a torch so I'd be able to see in the darkness of the cave, then took a few deep breaths, bracing myself. "You can do this, Trixie. You can do this," I told myself, trying to believe in my own words. Finally I pushed myself forward and stepped into the gaping maw of the monster.
Despite holding a branch of fire to light my way, the Cave of the Underworld was still very hard to see in. It hadn't looked very big on the outside, but the inside felt enormous, and the torch didn't reveal very much of my surroundings.
I kept to the edge of the cave, brushing my fingers along the cool, smooth walls as I moved forward. I could feel the wall curve slightly, so it felt like I was going in a circle, and I sensed that the passage dipped, and I was being lead down, down, down. How far down, only time would tell.
After a long time of walking, I grew somewhat accustomed to the dark, and began to calm down. So far this quest wasn't turning out to be so bad. The more time that passed where I didn't encounter anything that would do me harm, the better I felt, and I began to be quite optimistic about the whole thing. Lady Lamia's book had described the Blue Dragon as a "cold intellectual". Perhaps I would be able to reason with the creature, and make her see why I had to have the Majik spell book back. Maybe she would be understanding... Or maybe she'd just freeze me in a block of ice with her breath.
I kept walking and walking, when I suddenly felt my hand brush against something besides the slick, stony wall. It was bumpy and rubbery, and I jumped back from the wall in surprise, shining the firelight in front of me to see what I had just touched.
Thankfully it had only been a mushroom. A little cluster of mushrooms, actually, growing out of the wall, gray and umbrella-like, though I noticed that the mushroom in particular that I had touched was faintly glowing blue.
Examining the walls further on, I realized that the mushrooms were growing practically everywhere, even out of some places in the floor! I would have to watch where I was going now, so I wouldn't trip.
My foot brushed against one of the little stalks, and it began glowing just as my boot came into contact with it. "Oh," I said in surprise. Curious, I tapped another of the caps, and it shone blue as well. I grinned in awe.
I began touching all the mushrooms I could, and the cave glowed around me so prettily that I hardly needed the torch. I touched so many that the mushrooms started lighting by themselves, brightening my way forward. I laughed and tried to catch up to the lit mushrooms, as if I were in a race against fairies.
Just then I saw what seemed to be an underground river ahead, and I stopped right at its edge. I slowly spun around and saw that the entire cavern had been lit up by the gentle blue glows of the fungus. It was like I was surrounded by diamonds, or gazing at stars in the night sky.
I could have stayed there forever, bathed in their comforting light, but I remembered my mission and had to press on. I examined the river, and noticed that the water was actually frozen. Without a doubt, this had to be Azura's doing. I stepped lightly onto the shining, solid surface of the river, praying that I wasn't walking on thin ice.
I continued on, all the time going deeper and deeper into the cavern. At last, I got proof that I wasn't alone in the Cave of Tarturus. I began hearing a low, growling echo bouncing off the cave walls. The further I walked, the louder it got. The mushroom lights kept turning on all around me, and then, up ahead, I saw it.
The tip of a long, scaly blue tail lay twitching every so often on the ground, almost like a sleeping cat's tail. The rest of the body was hidden as the cave turned sharply to the left.
This must be it. The Blue Dragon's lair.
I barely breathed as I crept closer and closer to where Azura was resting. Ever so carefully, I stepped over her tail and slowly tip-toed into her den, staying well away from her sleeping body. Her belly rose and fell in long, deep breaths, and I realized the rumbling sounds were just Azura's peaceful snores.
She was even more beautiful in sleep, her blues scales shining in varying shades and hues like she'd been sculpted out of glass. In this form, she hardly seemed to be a monster. I almost couldn't see why I had been so scared of her...
Until she began shifting her position. She lifted her long, swan-like neck to move her arms into a more comfortable position, and opened her giant mouth in a sleepy, growling yawn that thundered in her throat. I just crouched down and froze in place, praying that she wouldn't wake up and see me. All her rows of big, needle-like teeth alarmed me greatly.
Finally the Wyvern seemed to relax again. Still trying not to breath too loud, I looked around her lair, and saw that it was overflowing with books. Piles and piles of them, some going all the way up to the stalactite covered ceiling. The dragon seemed to have sorted her books by the color of their covers, clearly showing more favor to the blue ones. There was a mess of them on the floor, half open and dogeared all over the place. Many of the others were hardly touched.
I nearly despaired. The cover of Lady Lamia's Majik Book of Spells was midnight blue. It would take forever to go through Azura's favorite books, and if I wasn't careful and made a book fall or something, she would surely awaken and catch me in the act.
I turned around to make sure she was still asleep, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted the book that I was looking for lying right underneath one of her claws. Goodness. So close and yet so far away. How was I possibly going to escape with the spell book now?
Okay, Trixie. You're going to have to be extremely clever about this, I thought to myself. I had an idea that I could perhaps switch Lamia's book for another one to slip under the beast's claws, but that would be much too risky. I could attempt to wake her up and ask her kindly to take the blue book she had fallen asleep trying to read, but who knew what kind of mood she would be in upon a stranger awakening her?
I didn't see that I had much choice in the matter. I wasn't brave enough to go for the book directly, and so I decided that the safest thing for me to do would be to simply sit and wait for her to move her claws off of the book in her own time. Carefully I lowered myself down to sit on the cold, icy ground and gently picked up the sea green book closest to me. I examined the title, but it was written in a messy, chicken scratch alphabet that I didn't understand. I placed it back down and crawled about on the ice, looking for a book I could actually read. I found a large red leather-bound tome that said "Dragon Wars and Other Beastly Battles Through the Centuries."
Lifting the heavy thing onto my lap, I opened it up to a few random pages. I found illustrations of entire armies marching against wyrms and wyverns, battle ships attacking sea serpents, and other such pictures of men fighting monsters. In a different chapter, it had records and stories of different creatures battling each other for the rights to own different territories.
I soon became lost in the book. All I could hear were the clangs of swords on scales, the yelling of battle cries and the roars of giant beasts in my head as I read the different accounts.
This was far from being the most interesting book I'd ever read, but it kept me quite entertained, and it nearly made me forget all about the cold dampness of the cave floor and Azura's snoring.
Turning the page, I found a picture of a whole herd of dragons teasing a slightly smaller blue wyvern, who cowered in deference to their growling and hissing at her. I could tell immediately that it was Azura Belua, getting turned away from her kind, just for being different. I felt somewhat sorry for her.
All of a sudden, I remembered my mission, and my current situation. I realized I had let my guard down for too long, and I quickly looked up from my book.
Oh no. The Blue Dragon was no longer sleeping there! I hadn't heard her get up and walk away, just like when I hadn't heard her approaching when she'd frightened me the first time.
I got the strange sense just then that someone was reading over my shoulder. Turning my head around slowly up, I was faced with a pair of large lapis lazuli eyes.
My heart sank like a stone.
Azura purposely blew light, icy breath in my face, just enough to freeze my nose and make my eyes water. She seemed to be smiling a reptilian smile at me, showing me all of her needle teeth.
I was alarmed for a second, because I heard a voice in my mind that wasn't my own. It was mighty, regal voice, amused, but with a cold edge to the words. The Blue Dragon was speaking to me telepathically.
She stared unblinkingly at me, watching as I slowly stood up and made my most respectful curtsy for her, trying to keep a calm as I possibly could. "H-hello, Azura Belua. I-I hope I haven't d-disturbed you." I couldn't help stuttering. My voice echoed strangely in the cave.
The regal voice chuckled in my head. Well, no one has addressed me by my true name in quite an age. No, thank you for letting me awaken to the gentle sound of turning pages. It is infinitely better than the sound of screams and battle cries. She brought her head closer to my book of monsters and their battles, her long snout just inches next to my face. May I ask, what is it you are reading?
I gulped, feeling too scared to speak. I let her see the page I was on, and I heard her begin to growl.
Oh yes, I remember this volume. The Dragon Wars. That particular war you are reading about was entirely unfair, as you can tell. Dozens of full-grown dragons against one young Wyvern. Oh, how she wished she could belong to the dragon clan, but she was too different. All of them called her weak, just because she didn't breathe fire or see the value of gold.
She turned her head away from me and gave a powerful, mighty roar, the sound of it bouncing every which way so as to make it deafening, breathing blue frost onto a pile of books, freezing it into an icy tower in seconds. Now that I am all grown, my cold can burn just as much as their flames, and I have found a treasure worth protecting, in my books.
Azura lumbered slowly to the tower she'd just created, climbing up to perch on it. I find, as a rule, that when I pillage kingdoms for their books, none of the humans care so much about their leather bound pages of parchment and papyrus to come retrieve them. They are only glad to still be alive, and that I didn't go directly for their stores of gold. Better that books be kept by those who truly value them.
I watched her in silence as she made her whole speech inside my head, the sensation of it feeling very strange. Then, remembering Lamia's book, I saw it still lying on the ground right where the Blue Dragon had been sleeping before. I didn't rush over to get it, not wanting to make any sudden movements, but made my way there slowly and calmly bent to pick it up, still keeping my eyes on Azura.
She rested her head on her arms. You're still here, human child? I am impressed. Most grown men would flee from my very presence. Tell me, who are you, and why have you come all the way down to my cave? It wasn't just to sit and read like you're in a public library, I am certain.
I shook my head at her, hoping I didn't look too scared. "N-no, Azura, of course I didn't. I... My name is Trixie, and I am here because you... Maybe you don't remember, but 3 days ago you stole a book from me. A very important book too." I held up the Majik Book of Spells for her to see.
She lifted her head in interest. Oh really? Tell me, Trixie, what makes your book so important?
Quickly I explained to her about how the book belonged to my friend Lady Lamia, how the witch had spent her whole life compiling the book, and how I had intended to study it to make Majik myself before Azura had taken it from me. I explained that there were no copies of the book anywhere, and Lamia never wanted to see me again unless I retrieved the book for her.
Azura Belua watched me carefully and listened to what I had to say. When I was finished, she had a thoughtful expression on her dragon face. Her lapis lazuli eyes seemed to soften. You really do care about this book, don't you?
Little human, Trixie, I'm not sure what it is about you, but in a way you remind me of myself. On the outside you seem very small and weak, but you also seem to possess a secret strength. You were brave to come down here and face me, and you didn't come in to steal your treasure back by force. You were respectful and polite, you came to understand my view, and now you have made me see yours. She rested her head on her arms from the top of her frozen book tower. I'll tell you what. I will let you take your book back to your friend the witch, if you promise to make a copy of it for me. You make Majik sound like such a fascinating subject, and in writing it over again yourself you will probably learn even faster than simply reading it.
I could barely believe what I was hearing in my mind. "You really mean it? Oh, thank you, Azura. Yes, I promise I'll come back." I bowed to her and started to leave, but felt like saying something more. "You know, when I first saw you, I thought you were only a monster. But I don't think that anymore. You're beautiful, kind and fair. I wish more people could know that."
The Blue Dragon smiled at me lazily. Yes, and you aren't what I expected either, little one. I guess it just goes to show, she said in my head as she curled up to resume her nap, that you can't judge a book by its cover.