The Dragon’s Graveyard
Gerri was leading Lily and Brigit through the vast bone yard. It made them think of the legendary elephant’s graveyard; only this one was full of dragon bones. The enormous ribcages looked like the frames of ghostly ships. Most of the skeletons were bleached white, like they had lain there for ever, but a few still had some flesh and hide clinging to them. Large vultures were busy picking them clean.
It seemed as though they would never reach the edge of the grisly place and despite Gerri’s disapproval, they had to rest. They found a copse of holly trees among the bones and settled into the small clearing at its centre.
Brigit complained about the cold, making Lily curse for forgetting to bring matches. Lily tried making a fire, collecting dead leaves and thin twigs. Striking stones together to produce a spark proved a waste of time, so they huddled together with Gerri and shared out some chocolate biscuits from a backpack.
Brigit soon drifted off to sleep and Lily tried to do the same.
An arm and hand appeared from the tree they were sheltering beneath and slowly made its way towards the flute around Brigit’s neck. Lily seized the wrist and pulled. A figure fell beside them - it looked something like a chimpanzee, only much more human, like a missing link in evolution.
Gerri charged the creature but as she was about to grab it, there was a puff of smoke. The creature turned into a fox and ran between the hound's legs. Gerri turned and bounded after it but was once again foiled by a cloud of smoke. A pine marten appeared from the smoke, scrambled up a tree and left Gerri stood with her front paws leaning against the trunk, barking furiously.
Then a youthful male voice issued from the tree. “Call off your beast, I meant no harm.”
“Who are you?” Lily asked the tree.
The face of a boy in his early teens emerged from the leaves, the most mischievous looking face they had ever seen.
“I have many names in many different lands, but you may call me Loki, if you wish. I wasn’t trying to hurt you; I just wanted to steal the flute.”
Loki leapt from the tree and hovered above them, just out of Gerri’s range.
“You can fly!” said the rudely awakened Brigit.
“Not exactly, I can levitate but it’s very tiring. Can I come down now, please?”
Lily grabbed Gerri’s collar, telling her to lie down and be quiet. The hound reluctantly obeyed but continued growling.
“What are you?” Lily asked, as the youth landed in front of them.
“I’m a bogan, a sprite of mischief. You must be outlanders. What race of people are you?”
“A bit of everything really," said Lily. "Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, French...”
“Can you light a fire?” Brigit asked.
“Of course I can.” The sprite knelt before the pile of kindling, cupped his hands round his mouth and blew. The leaves ignited into blue flames.
They collected some larger branches and settled around the fire. Gerri kept on growling at the sprite, which made Lily suspicious of him.
Loki wore nothing except a deerskin garment like a short sleeveless dress, and moccasins made from the same pelt. His ears were slightly pointed and his canine teeth unusually pronounced, like a vampire’s. His long, unkempt brown hair hung wildly about his head and he had to keep brushing it back from his face. His skin had a reddish tan, like an American.
“Why doesn’t our dog like you?” Brigit wanted to know.
“Because I’m a bogan. She doesn’t know whether to trust me or not,” he answered with a cheeky smile.
“Are bogan’s good or bad spirits?” Lily asked.
“We’re a bit of both, to tell the truth, but we’re very good to have as friends.”
“What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“I could ask the same thing of you, but the truth is I’ve been banished by the queen and given a final warning about my mischief. I’m what you would call in your world…” He paused to think about it. “I think the correct term is a juvenile delinquent… yes?”
“Oh, you mean you’ve been given an ASBO,” said Lily.
“What’s one of them?”
“An Anti Social Behaviour Order,” Brigit answered.
“That’s right,” he beamed proudly. “They’re always complaining about my anti social behaviour, but life will be very boring without me around. Anyway, what are you doing out here in the dragons' resting site of all places?”
“We’re lost,” Lily admitted. “We need to find our brother and sister, but we’re not actually sure if they followed us here. It’s all very confusing and we don’t know anyone in Astyxia.”
“You know me now, and Loki is the most important personage in the whole of the Realm of Shadows.”
“You’re very modest,” said Brigit.
“Thank you.” Loki didn’t seem to understand the sarcasm.
“These dragon skeletons,” Lily pointed around them, “how did they get here, and are there any living dragons round here?”
“Most of these skeletons are ancient from the time when dragons lived above; this is where they came to die. The few dragons remaining alive are in the royal stables of the queen. Anyway, you don’t have to be afraid of the great dragons, it’s the smaller scavengers that feed on these bones you have to worry about.”
Lily couldn’t help showing her concern.
“Don’t be afraid,” he assured them. “Loki will look after you.”
“Is this queen a good queen?” asked Lily.
“No, that’s why there’s no fun in playing pranks on her, she deserves it. You’d better not let her catch you as she’s banned mortals from entering the realm. Basically you need to beware of just about everything that flies, mostly they’re working for the queen.”
“She doesn’t live in that spooky castle… thing, with the woman’s head and dragon carved on the front, does she?”
“That’s right,” Loki twitched his nose. “Silveramon, the Capital of Astyxia. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Silveramon,” said Brigit. “I wouldn’t describe it as beautiful myself. Anyway, how come you can speak our language?”
Loki put some more wood on the fire and blew to fan the flames. “Here we speak every language ever spoken.”
Now they had someone to ask, Lily and Brigit couldn’t help wanting to voice all the questions the strange place raised.
“Is that sky real?” Lily asked.
“It depends on what you’re definition of real is, here in Astyxia nothing is what it seems.”
“How do the trees and plants grow without sunlight?” Brigit asked.
Loki was shaking his head and grinning, which meant he had to brush back his hair again.
“There’s no point in trying to rationalize or compare this world with yours. Your world is the product of nature and science, whereas this place was created by a different form of magic.”
“So… is there no night and day here?” Brigit asked
“Kind of, in a few hours it will be a bit lighter. But how light it gets depends on the queen’s mood. It was much brighter when Sirona still sat on the throne.”
“But how do we get home?” Lily pleaded.
Loki shook his head. “Before you can leave you must first find yourselves.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will find the answers you need at Torba’al, that’s where your beast is taking you.” Loki’s answers seemed just as enigmatic as his smile.
They all sat in silence, gazing into the flames. Brigit yawned and stretched her arms.
“You can sleep if you wish, I’ll watch over you,” Loki offered.
Lily and Brigit's eyelids began to flutter and close. Even Gerri drifted off to sleep with them.