The Curse of the Orthana by Nick Tamboia

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Cahpter 4: The Dragon

Six months to the date that The Endermen had departed, Iron Boot alone returned to Jadis. The small Black Bearded Dwarf was near starvation, his clothing in tattered rags that hung from his almost skeletal form. Most of his hair on top of his head, as well as his horse hair beard was gone. The left side of his face looked withered, the way a dried prune looks, and the eye there was an unusual, ugly bruised, sightless orb. His left hand was withered as well, as if it had both been frozen and dried out, boney, and the skin an unnatural black coloring from which an odor of decay came.

Jadis smiled at the Dwarf’s condition, which she took to mean that he had, at least in some part, fulfilled the quest she had sent him on.

When she pushed the Dwarf to talk, he was taken with a shaking spasm for a long moment, as if shivering from the cold only he could feel. When that passed he then recounted how The Endermen had traveled the Northern Sea to the very boundary where endless night and endless day met. This was a gray world of everlasting twilight, where the ice that drifted on the dark water did seem to be gray in color, with light coming from the south, and the near perfect darkness of endless night to the north. There they had seen the lonely star as the old hag had said they would, just as the time had reached twelve, but if it was twelve in the morning or the afternoon, Iron Boot could not say as they had lost track of night and day long before that moment, as sailing through an ocean of twilight made it difficult to know what time of day or night it was.

They had sailed in the direction the star had pointed for a while until they had reached the ice and could sail no further. Piter, Iron Boot and several others then disembarked The Endermen and proceeded to travel on foot across the ice sheet in the direction the star had indicated the island was.

Their walk across the ice pack was a long one where they made their way through snowdrifts, blasted by freezing winds, and occasionally saw shadowy figures walking to the sides of them. At one point they came upon the remains of a ship locked in the ice, leaning on its side, half buried beneath the snowdrifts.

At first Piter had thought it was the Rising Moon, but as they had explored it, they realized this was not the case. This ship appeared older, and had no name to it that they could find. There were no log books, very few artifices and no remains of the crew. It just appeared to be an empty ship. Iron Boot and two other men found a few rowboats some distance away from the ship, buried in the snow, and had assumed that some of the crew had been trying to use them, attempting to drag them across the ice pack to the water so they could try and escape, but what became of them was unknown, and how long that ship and those rowboats had been locked in the ice and snow, no one could say.

The group continued on across the ice pack, heading in the direction of the island as the wind battered them.

It was at that point in his retelling that Iron Boot fell silent for a long moment, shivering as he turned his head left and right, looking with his one good eye for something that only his mind could see or recall.

“What?” Jadis pushed on as she slowly walked in a circle around the shivering, kneeling, Dwarf. “What is it?”

“Gray ice,” the Dwarf whispered. “Faces in the gray ice. Frozen but alive. Watching us. Silently screaming up at us. Silently screaming forever.”

Jadis paused in her pacing and put an impressive look on her face upon hearing this. “Now why hadn’t I thought of that?” She wondered aloud before turning to the Dwarf. “Go on, Iron Boot. Did you reach the island?”

“Yes,” Iron Boot replied, and after shivering violently for a short moment, went on to explain they had reached the island but not long after arriving there, they were attacked. When Jadis asked attacked by what or whom, Iron Boot fell into another shivering episode as he glanced nervously around, whispering over and over again. “Shadows. Spiders. Frozen dead.”

“Iron Boot,” Jadis shouted, both in frustration and wanting to know more.

“They live in the endless cold dark,” Iron Boot whispered as he looked up at her with his one good eye. “The frozen dead and . . . spiders.”

Jadis pushed him further and he went on to say that all of their company had been killed by these creatures shortly after arriving at the island, all but Piter, another crewmen named Jasbin, and Iron Boot himself. Piter told Iron Boot and Jasbin to hide in a cave they had found, while he himself went up the mountain to try and see if this Dragon of Darkness and if maybe his brother was there. Iron Boot could not say how long Piter was gone, it might have been a handful of hours or it might have been a day before he returned; only he wasn’t Piter anymore when he returned. He had been changed, turned into something by the dragon, something “Other,” as the Dwarf said. Piter still looked a little like himself, only he seemed taller, his skin had taken on a blue tint, and his eyes were solid black, with two small chips of blue floating around in them like two small sparks of blue light floating around in liquid pools of ink.

This “Other Piter,” attacked them. Iron Boot had been knocked aside in the fight, and Piter took the crewmen Jasbin, but had not killed the man, rather Piter had turned him into something like himself.