A musical novel in two acts! Theatrical version.
Word Count: 4.995. Prompt: All four. Item type: Static
In the Lair of the Virgin Eater
~~ * * * ~~
It was all going so well until the dragon came. Naturally, dragons have a penchant for mucking things up once they get involved. Though to be fair, not everything was going “so well”-- at least in young Laden’s case. In fact, having the girl of his dreams stolen by a dragon might just be the best thing that ever happened to him. At this point a little back-story is warranted.
On a bright Monday morning in the village of Treewood, a rooster crowed, and Laden the elf was out of bed and into his clothes in less than a heartbeat. His home was nestled in the trees just beyond the village clearing. With schoolbooks in hand, Laden skipped down the steps of his door and trotted along the path into town.
A chipper morning bird song whistled its way through the canopy into Laden’s ears and a gentle breeze set the leaves rustling, as if the trees whispered to him. Laden happily looked this way and that, smiling as he greeted the beady eyes of voles poking out of the shrubs, and he waved at the woodpeckers perched on the branches, heads bobbing from side to side as they watched him. He shut his eyes and drank in the pine-scented air. Spreading his arms to the majesty of nature, Laden began to sing.
Little town, it’s a quiet village!
Every day, like the one before
Little town, full of little people
Waking up to say…!
“Get a move on lad!”
Laden had emerged from the forest and into Treewood. He gathered himself together in embarrassment, and hurried along to school.
Arriving at the schoolyard gate, he was stopped by a usual sight. A group of five boys waited just outside the fence, snickering through ugly grins. Their ringleader, a beefy boy who would be unmistakable for a bull with a set of horns sticking out of his cropped black hair and a ring through his nostrils, ground his knuckles into the palm of his hand and chuckled.
“Why, hello 'Lady'.”
His cronies snorted. “Huh-huh, 'Lady', hunhck!”
“Good morning Caston,” Laden replied politely, though his body tensed and he narrowed his eyebrows.
As soon as the greeting left Laden’s lips, Caston stepped forward and tore one of Laden’s Magic Theory books from his arms and held it aloft, out of Laden’s significantly shorter reach. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures!” Caston remarked disdainfully as he thumbed through the book, and Laden winced as he heard a page tear.
“Caston, give me my book please.” He had learned from similar occasions better than to try to wrest the book from the bully’s possession— instead he stood his ground, trying not to let his anger show through his clenched grip on the rest of his school things.
But Laden couldn’t suppress a gasp as Caston carelessly tossed the leather-bound Magic Theory into a mud puddle. “Lady, I think it’s time you got your head out of those books and started paying attention to more important things…” He sneered and winked cruelly. “…like getting laid.” Caston’s buddies erupted in fits of snorting laughter and high-fived their leader, who grinned triumphantly.
Laden just about had it.
“Caston, you are positively evil!” he cried and lunged for the book, hoping to retrieve it and run to the safety of indoors before anything worse happened— but Caston wasn’t done. He planted a heavy boot on Laden’s book and pulled his clenched fist back like a battering ram made for blackening eyes when suddenly a voice stopped him.
“Leave him alone Caston!”
A breath of relief escaped Laden as he cracked open an eyelid— and his heart performed a loop-de-loop. Caston’s arm froze in mid-swing, and he turned around, annoyed, to see who stopped him. Then he chuckled, and his voice mockingly softened.
“Aw, look who’s sticking up for the little Lady, boys. Come on baby, we’re just having a little fun. But if he really means so much to you….” He kicked away the book and leaned down to look Laden in the eye, speaking venomously under his breath. “Don’t think for a second that just because she’s sticking her neck out for you that means anything. Because….” He cleared his throat.
Right from the moment that I met her, saw her
I said she’s gorgeous and I fell!
Here in Treewood only she
Is as beautiful as me…
He ceased singing and continued in a whisper. “…and she’s going to be my girlfriend. You’ve got a little crush, don’t you Lady? Well that's gonna make this hard to hear-- because you want her. And I get... what you want." With that, Caston and his gang shoved their way into Treewood School.
Laden scrambled to collect his filthy book out of the dirt, but it was touched first by the hand of an angel. A set of pale fingers wrapped around the binding, and Laden’s gaze followed the book as it was drawn upward. His legs felt like jelly. The book was held out to him, and he found himself looking into a pair of dancing blue eyes.
“Hi Laden. I’m sorry about Caston. He's such a jerk sometimes. I hope your book is okay.” Those simple words flowed like musical notes from her rosy lips.
“Huhh… hahh... h-hi… ah… thanks, Caravine,” Laden mumbled like a speechless idiot.
Caravine smiled. “You’re welcome. Well, watch yourself Laden. I’ll see you inside.”
And Laden’s eyes followed her slim stature and flowing burgundy hair into the school. He stood there so long he ended up late to class.
“Master Lenin,” Laden piped up as he sat at his apprentice’s desk in the Master Wizard’s house after school that day, “Would you like to hear a poem I wrote? For Caravine?”
Head bent over his desk, the grizzled old elf let out an inaudible sigh. No… “Why yes, my boy. Let’s hear it.”
Laden’s eyes brightened. “Okay! Ahem:
Oh sweet Caravine
You are so fine
Would you be mine?
I wish to dine…
(...It was by the thirteenth stanza that Master Lenin accidentally uttered his first snore, and Laden’s disheartened voice roused him.)
“Did you fall asleep sir?”
Master Lenin hastily shook himself from his doze. “Eh? Of course not… it was a lovely poem.” Being a Master Wizard, an uncomfortable grinding occurred in his stomach every time he lied, but it was a sensation he had long grown accustomed to and could ignore.
Laden groaned and sprawled over the desktop. “You’re right Master Lenin. It’s terrible. I can’t do anything right! She’ll never notice me!”
Acceptance is the first step toward progress... “Nonsense, boy. She stopped that brute Caston from turning you into cream-of-elf this morning didn’t she?”
“How’d you know about that?” Laden asked suspiciously.
I watch you at the school gate every morning from my window; it’s always quite entertaining… “A wizard has his ways, boy. Now look here; ever since that girl arrived in town when you were in your Sixth Standing it’s been ‘Caravine this’, ‘Caravine that’ with you. It’s fortunate I’m a Master Wizard, else the whole town would know of your infatuation.” His stomach growled again, because it was actually one of his favorite subjects to bring up on bingo night. “I’ve put up with your obsessive behavior for years now, Laden. Have you ever tried simply talking to her?”
Laden sighed hopelessly. “Tried— yes. Gotten marginally close? No….”
“Well, what’s stopping you?” Master Lenin prodded, somewhat sympathetic toward the young boy’s troubles.
Laden sat up in his chair, his eyes suddenly set fiercely. “Have you ever stood before the tallest mountain in all of creation and tried to find the proper way of asking how its day was going? Have you ever stood at the banks of the vastest ocean, drowning in its grandeur--without even dipping your feet in-- and try to find the best way to say, 'You look good today'? Have you knelt at the base of the Mother Tree, overcome with awe beneath her spreading canopy, and attempted to say something as trivial as 'hullo'?” Laden’s voice grew in volume and intensity with every allegory. The cluttered office echoed silence as the boy paused. He sank back in his chair, cast his forlorn eyes to the floor, and whispered, “Have you ever tried telling an angel she's beautiful?”
Master Lenin waited for his bones to thaw and his thinning grey hair to settle back on his head before responding. His office was quiet as the dust settled, spiders cautiously crawled back out of their crevices, and the clocked resumed its ticking.
“My dear boy,” Master Lenin’s voice finally broke the silence. “You might consider a poem more along those lines...” Laden did not reply. Master Lenin took hold of his glasses and wiped them with a corner of his draping sleeve. “You truly feel that way about her then?”
Laden slowly drew up his head, his expression a mixture of sorrow and defeat. “Yes sir.”
“And what is it, really, about this girl that has you so deeply captivated? What do you even know about her?” It almost seemed odd to Master Lenin that now was the first time he’d thought to ask. The pining of a Sixth Standing was an easy thing to shrug aside… but having it carried on and grown through to Ninth at the very least warranted some research.
Laden hurried to explain. “It’s not just that she’s beautiful sir— and she is, more so than anything I’ve ever seen. Its… well it’s hard to explain. It’s like I can just tell she's every bit pure in character as she is in appearance. She’s not like other girls. Sure she hangs around them often enough, but while so many of them are just superficial all the time, the way they talk and the things they do, she’s, well… different. She cares. She’s always herself, even when surrounded by idiots. And this’ll sound cheesy I know, but… ours eyes meet sometimes. I don’t know if she notices, but I look into hers and… and I see my soul. Why would I see my soul in someone else’s eyes? Well sir, it’s because I think she has it. Oh, I know I’m young and foolish and oughtn’t know the first thing about love but Master Lenin… I know she’s the one! I’m sorry, but with every fiber of my being I can honestly tell you that I love her!” Having spilled it all, Laden waited patiently for a reply.
Just then a sound like a bloodcurdling roar shook the house. Laden spasmed out of his desk in a jolt of fright. Master Lenin looked to the door, surprise knit in his eyebrows. “What on earth?”
And then they heard the screaming.
With uncanny speed for his age, Master Lenin was out of his chair and hastening out the door. Laden hurried after him. The boy might’ve fainted. Master Lenin, on the other hand, only frowned. Almost as if the sight was familiar to him….
A shadow like that of a hawk, only twenty times larger, circled over Treewood, blotting out the blue sky. That's where the roar came from-- a massive, dagger-toothed mouth; the screaming came from the villagers. Everyone was terrified, and Laden was no exception.
Amidst the chaos surrounding them, Laden heard his master mutter, “Is it really already time?”
The monster suddenly nose-dived into the village square, landing with a tremendous force that sent a tremor through the ground, knocking Laden off his quivering knees. The black and scaly, hideous, horned snake-like creature with leathery wings paced the ground, snapping at villagers who were too close and snorting out threatening puffs of fire. It did not show signs of hostility, however, and once it became apparent the creature simply wanted an audience, the villagers stopped running and gradually circled around the beast, terror evident in their quaking bodies. Laden wondered why everyone wasn’t simply breaking for the forest… again, it seemed as though they knew what was happening….
“The Weaning....” Master Lenin whispered cryptically as he stared at the monster.
Suddenly a volcanic voice pierced the minds of the townsfolk, and Laden clapped his hands over his ears in a futile attempt to block out the sound.
“I can… ssmmell her…. Bring her to me….”
No one moved.
“Your purest maiden… that is the agreement.”
The crowd began to stir. Then the beast’s gaze halted over where Laden and Master Lenin stood in the crowd. It snarled menacingly. The crowd began to part. Laden looked behind him frantically and who they parted for. His heart might have died inside his soul, and the entire world went numb beyond his ears.
Caravine stood alone in the path dividing the crowd, rose lips parted in astonishment. Her eyes flashed from side to side, and not one of the faces she looked to could find the strength to maintain eye-contact. All cast their gazes guiltily aside— except for Laden. Her eyes touched his, and in that moment all the light within her innocent young body faded. She mouthed something, the boy unsure what, and a single tear descended her cheek. The monster growled approvingly.
In the next moment, Caravine was in the dragon’s claws, and the two were gone from the deathly silence of the clearing.
* * *
“You’re right, my boy.”
Laden looked up, not sure he heard correctly.
“You are right, Laden of Treewood. You must go to the dragon’s lair in the Northern Mountain and rescue Caravine. You are the only one who can.”
Master Lenin had spent the last hour explaining the Weaning to the child who had not said one word apart from “I have to save her”. Where every fifty years, the Dragon of Northern Mountain comes to Treewood to find the purest elf female and take her to his home, where her body is used as the catalyst of the dragon’s offspring. All dragons are male— the only means of reproduction comes from encasing a female elf’s body in a magical cocoon, where she sleeps in hibernation until fully covered. The dragon then spews forth fire upon her, and the chrysalis becomes an egg, and the elf’s soul, a dragon infant. It was now time for the current adult to have offspring of its own, and for a millennia this cycle had gone on uninterrupted.
It had always been the way of things to Master Lenin. The girl was offered, and the dragon would not bother them for the next fifty years. It was an efficient transaction— nothing more. Master Lenin had felt that, though tragic, it was simply what had to be done.
But now he saw his apprentice. He saw what it did to him. Love-- stolen and destroyed. His heart broke for the boy… then for the girl. And for the first time he realized his own heartless folly.
“The magic of the heart and soul is difficult to understand, but… I saw what happened, Laden. When that girl was taken by the dragon, she gave her soul to you. You were the only one who did not look away in shame. And without a soul, I'm afraid she'll be rather useless to the dragon... for better or worse.”
“Her soul is… inside me?”
“Remember what you said yourself: You saw your own soul in her eyes. It is easy for an old lout like me to dismiss such words as the poetic ramblings of children, but now... I fear the truth may be all too literal. Yes, Laden. Part of your soul is indeed, very likely, inside of her. And hers, very likely, is within you.”
“Then I must go. I have to bring her back.”
“Yes. You must. Let us prepare.” Master Lenin provided Laden with food and clothing, as well as a plain-looking short sword. “‘A man with fancy arms attracts death,’” Master Lenin quoted. “This has been in my possession for many years. Its power will be revealed to you, should the time come.” After numerous other accessories and items had been supplied to the boy, and he appeared ready, Master Lenin opened his desk and took out what looked to be a rock. It was, in fact, a gemstone; smooth and violet in hue. Laden recognized it— he’d seen his master slide it into his pocket on many occasions. And now the stone was being pressed into Laden’s open palm.
“This is one of my dearest possessions. I enchanted him as part of my own Magic final when I was an apprentice, and I’ve gone nowhere without him since. His name is Compass.”
Laden looked down at the unassuming stone. Just then a cheery voice seemed to jump out of it. “Hi! I’m Compass! Ready to do some adventuring?”
For all the vivacity of the voice, the stone appeared unchanged, and Laden looked at his master curiously. The old man explained. “Compass will tell you where you are and how far you are from specific destinations.”
Compass chuckled, and replied in his salesman voice. “That’s right, Master Lenin! Why, Laden, you’ll never take another wrong turn again with me! I’ll let you know if you’re warm or cold! As I always like to say: “Carry your destiny in the palm of your hand!”
Master Lenin shrugged. “Do your best to humor him, he enjoys his little slogans.”
“I heard that, Mister Lenin!” Compass protested. Laden laughed at the motionless stone.
“Well then, best be off with you my boy. Long journey ahead of you after all.”
The boy’s arms were suddenly around Master Lenin’s robed waist in the sincerest of hugs, and the wizard patted his apprentice’s shoulders comfortingly. “Thank you sir— Thank you for believing in love! I’ll be back, I promise. And I’ll have Caravine with me.”
“I know you will, child,” said Master Lenin as he gripped Laden’s shoulders. “You’re a wizard. And wizards don’t know how to give up.” This time his gut didn’t grind.
“Compass,” said Laden, “take me to Caravine!”
“Head east and take a right outside the door. Proceed northbound twenty-five miles until the edge of the forest. Begin climbing at the base of the mountain. I’ll keep you posted as we move along, kid.”
“Off with you now!”
Laden did not need telling twice. He was out the door, turned right, and embarked on his first great adventure.
Master Lenin stood contentedly at the door, watching him go with a smile as a small tear emerged at the corner of his eye.
Then some thoughts struck him.
Did I just send him to his death? I’m the Master Wizard, why aren’t I going with him?
Oh well. Plot holes are plot holes. He shrugged and went back inside
* * *
“Who does he think he is? That creep’s tangled with the wrong man. No one goes on a rescue mission before Caston!” fumed Caston as he slouched in his clubhouse throne.
“Darn right!” agreed his right-hand man, Larue.
“Dismissed. Rejected! Publicly humiliated! Why, it’s more than I can bear!”
“More beer?” offered Larue.
“What for? Nothing helps. I’m disgraced.”
“Aw, never! Caston, you’ve got to pull yourself together!” And so, to cheer up his friend, Larue broke into song:
Gosh it disturbs me to see you Caston
Looking so down in the dumps
Larue got too close, so Caston punched him in the face. He landed on some other boys’ card table, and went right along singing anyway.
Every guy here’d love to be you Caston
Even when taking your lumps!
There’s no kid in school as admired as you
You’re everyone’s favorite guy!
Everyone’s awed and inspired by you
And it’s not—
He spun Caston’s chair around to face the rest of the clubhouse.
To see wwwhhhhyyyy!
Caston’s cronies raised their flagons and cheered, and a group of cheerleaders fawned over him. He smiled smugly as Larue continued.
Smooth as Caston
No one’s slick as Caston
No one gets all the girls
Quite so quick as Caston!
For there’s no man in town half as manly
Beastly, a boss, you’re the bomb!
You can ask any Eldias, Anias, or Orinus
And they’ll tell you whose squad
They prefer to be on!
The rest of the club house joined in.
Been like Caston
Been around like Caston
No one’s ears are as
Pointy and stout as Caston’s!
Caston, pleased with the song’s progress, joined in.
As a specimen yes I’m inviiigorating!
My what a guy
“All right, that’s enough.” Caston punched Larue again and got to the point.
Larue, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking
“A dangerous pastime—”
That loser Laden claims he loves her
But his skills are only so-so.
Now the wheels in my head have been turning
Since I looked at that freaky dragon
See I promised myself
Caravine would be MINE!
And right now I’m evolving a plan!
And so Caston told the clubhouse his idea, and immediately thereafter they embarked on a quest to follow Laden, kill the dragon (and probably Laden too), and rescue Caravine. Then she would do anything for him…
‘Cause it’s tiiime
To get some action boys
Kill the beast!
* * ~~Intermission~~ * *
“Now exiting: Northern Forest. Arriving at feet of Northern Mountain. Proceed upward."
Laden had experienced nothing like the hike up the mountain. After five hours of perilous climbing, during which he often felt his fatigued heart would simply shut down in his chest, he found himself on a ledge. He panted, and fighting his exhaustion with all the willpower he possessed. His various magical artifacts helped greatly, but the only thought that fully drove him onward was that of Caravine. How her fair skin must feel in this mountain chill... how her soulless body could very well be empty of hope, and perhaps even already encased in a cocoon.
Looking up, Laden discovered his ledge led into a dark cave.
"Arriving at destination," Compass informed him. "It sure looks dark in there."
"How far in is Caravine?"
"And--" Laden swallowed, "--the dragon?"
"50 yards to her right."
"What's it doing?"
"Kid, I'm a rock, not a scrying orb. So you gonna knock, or barge in there screaming 'I object!'? Not getting cold feet are you?"
Laden set his lips in a stern grimace. "No, Compass. Let's do this." He left the bitter chill of the mountain wind, and entered the damp, sickly chill of the cave.
It would have been totally dark if not for the glowing blue orb at the far end, suspended in mid-air above a stone terrace by a shimmering beam of light. Laden took his first heavy steps on a stone stair leading down from the inner archway of the cave, through which the wind whistled. As he approached the orb, Compass grew warm in his hands. A lump formed in Laden's throat.
Clouds of dust fell from the ceiling as a low rumbling shook the cave.
"So... you have come to deliver her soul?"
Before Laden could think to react, a sleek, black, reptilian body crawled out of a dark corner, sauntering its way between him and the orb. It swung a long neck to look the boy in the eyes. Laden froze.
"Or... you seek the girl for yourself... how bravely you face your own death." The dragon's feet cracked the stone floor as it crept toward Laden. The boy stumbled backward. "I did not expect to find the soul of the purest maiden in the body of a boy child... but it matters not where I find the soul... only that it is returned to its proper place. Surrender it, and I shall let you go free..."
Laden stammered. "I don't know how, uh, sir. I don't even know how I have it. All I know is...." Laden gasped as the dragon began growling in disapproval. Somehow, the boy found his voice. "ALL I KNOW IS THAT YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!" He tore his sword from its scabbard and held it at arm's length before the dragon's encroaching snout, planting his feet firmly on the ground and setting his face in a grimace as tears began to well in his eyes.
The dragon laughed. "Foolish child... I take what I want...." Rearing its viper-like head, a whirlpool of flame formed in the back of its throat. Laden gripped his sword tight and shut his eyes in a last, defiant stand. Tears flowed down his cheeks, and despite the impending heat about to engulf him, his heart grew cold. I'm sorry Caravine, was his last thought. I couldn't save you--! He screamed as the pillar of fire burst from the dragon's jaws. He was prepared for the end...
...that never came. Laden cracked an eyelid, realizing he hadn't been slightly burned and that a brilliant light was flashing outside his closed vision. What he saw astounded him.
Enveloped in a swirling typhoon of fire, the blade glowed white hot. The dragon shut its snout after a moment, puzzled, and the last traces of licking flames seemingly funneled into the sword, which remained glowing. That was it! The sword's power-- it absorbed fire! But before Laden could rejoice, the dragon was ready to handle things the old fashioned way. It lifted a clawed foreleg and leaned its arching neck back in preparation to strike.
Then it suddenly recoiled and let out a roar of pain, looking down to see an arrow protruded from its knee! It, and Laden, flashed their gazes to the tunnel entrance.
One hand holding a bow at arm's length, the other spread in release, Caston grinned with smug triumph. Behind him, Larue and his gang brandished clubs and brawny swords, waving them and howling ape-like chants. Caston threw down his bow and drew a long-sword of his own, and his gang lurched forward as a whole offensive line to join in the charge-- but raising a hand to halt them, he flashed a gallant smile and began to sing.
Stand back everyone
Nothing here to see!
Just imminent danger
In the middle of it, me!
Yes, Caston is here
Cape blowing in the breeze!
This dame needs my saving expertiiiise!
He ran toward the dragon.
A maaaan's gotta' do
What a man's gotta'--!
Striking like a whip, the beast lifted Caston into its jaws and flung him around like a rag-doll, flinging him back to the cave entrance. His gang screamed and scrambled out of the cave.
"And now... for that soul...." the dragon murmured as it looked back to its original opponent-- and couldn't find him.
"I'd be a bit more concerned about your own."
Laden plunged the shining blade up into the dragon's chest. Caston's distraction had provided the boy with the perfect window of opportunity. The fire contained within the blade reemitted into the dragon's body, roasting its insides. The dragon's massive carcass nearly collapsed on top of him.
Drenched in blood, exhausted to the extent of his limits, and desperate now for hope, Laden trudged toward the glowing blue orb, his once again ordinary sword tip scratching along beside his feet. As Laden drew closer to the luminescent crystal, he began to see what was contained inside, and the hollow darkness that swept over his heart can scarcely be imagined, for his worst fear became realized, and he saw he was too late.
Caravine's pale body rested vertically within the orb. Her eyes were shut, with her arms crossed over her chest in a closed-off, lifeless expression. For all Laden knew, she was already gone.
Laden ascended the terrace to where the orb floated in the light-beam, hands quivering as they gripped his sword. Though by all rights his body should have been entirely sapped of its tear-reserve, the corners of his eyes somehow found the capacity for more, and he whispered to the frail body within the crystal. "I'm sorry Caravine. I'm so sorry. I'm no good at anything. That I even thought I could... save...."
With a bitter cry of rage, Laden swung his sword at the orb. A web of cracks sprouted where it struck. He swung again, in a frenzy of desperation, choking in despair. Paper-thin rays of light burst from the expanding seams. With every fiber of his being, the apprentice swung his sword one last time.
The rock shattered, spilling outward, crystalline fragments jingling across the floor. Caravine's limp body dropped to the ground and rolled onto her side. Laden ran and crouched beside her, gently running his fingers over her soft hair and felt her pale cheeks. Turning her onto her back, he pressed an ear to her chest for any sign of life. He waited.
He leaned upright. He had no tears left to cry.
Here lies everything
The world I wanted at my feet...
My victory's complete...
So hail... to...
"Her soul is within you, Laden," said Master Lenin, inside the boy’s head.
Laden delicately scooped Caravine's body into his arms and held her close. He looked down at her lips, red as a rose in full bloom even as she wilted in the deathly clutches of winter. And he lowered his own lips, cracked and bloodied, upon them.
As a butterfly tries her wings for the first time, Caravine's eyelids fluttered open. Laden dared not breath. Her blue eyes registered his face. She raised a finger to touch his bloody cheek. To be sure he was real. She smiled.
And since the invention of the kiss, there have been six kisses rated as the most passionate, the most pure.
Well, this one didn't leave them all behind.
But it certainly came close.