When Sho Thym awoke, the complete silence and darkness made him wonder if he had died. Fortunately, his other senses quickly compensated and left him feeling certain that he was still alive. He was quite sure that the dead didn’t experience headaches like this.
There was a pressure behind his eyes that felt like someone had hit him in the face with a bag of rocks. His mouth was dry and tasted bitter. His tongue felt fuzzy and all he could smell was dust. Worst of all was the cold draft blowing on his head and down his neck.
Sho Thym reached to pull his hood over his head, but as his hand touched the collar of his shirt, he realized that it wasn’t there. The horror of losing his father’s cloak hit him in several successive waves of panic and nausea. His father’s cloak was missing. The familiar egg from his mother was inside it. It was all he had of them. He was cold and exposed. How would he shield his mind from the thoughts of others? How would he block out the monster in his nightmares?
The worry began to swirl faster and faster around Sho Thym’s head, until his breath became short and the panic began to grip his heart. He sat up and grabbed blindly around him, frantic to find anything, but all he felt was cold, stone floor. Sho Thym was about to scream, but a moment before he did, a green glow emerged from the other side of the room.
“Is someone there?” Sho Thym called. Though the green glow was not bright, he found himself squinting and avoiding looking directly at it. It seemed to move and hang in the air like smoke, but it had a sickly sheen to it. Like rotten meat left out in the sun. While the glow was clearly visible, it’s strange light did not illuminate Sho Thym or the surrounding area, making it the only thing he could see.
As the green glow swirled silently nearby, Sho Thym tried to think how he could have ended up in his current surroundings. His memory was such a blur of images and events that he had difficulty discerning what was real and what was nightmare. He recalled their run through the woods to escape danger, the town full of zombies, the large building with the creepy old man, and a musty brown couch where he was going to rest.
After that, the memories became much more surreal. A feeling of intense dizziness and nausea. Cold, dry hands grabbing his arms and legs. The terrible face of a marble statue wearing half a mask of flesh. Intense pain in his neck. A howling rushing wind. Two laughing voices, one high pitched and close, the other low and far off.
Recalling the laughter sent a fresh shiver through Sho Thym, and the movement brought him back into the moment. He realized that while he had been lost in thought, the green glow had been growing in size and intensity. Not only that, it seemed to be slowly snaking towards him.
Sho Thym hurried to his feet and shouted at the spectral light. “Stay back! I’m warning you!” He tried to take a defensive stance, but without his cloak he felt exposed. In his fright, his hands awkwardly flailed around him, trying to remember what they were useful for.
Stick. He normally used his hands to hold Stick. And it was only when his hands grasped aimlessly that he realized that he had lost his uncle’s powerful wooden staff as well. He was completely defenseless. His heart started pounding and his mouth was sputtering as panic began to take over.
“I’m a dragon hunter!”
Sho Thym didn’t know why he had blurted that out. Even though he had traveled with Krall, Piggy, and Solimar, he had never considered himself one of them. They had been so foreign and different from him, and he had only joined them to go along with his friend. He had always felt out of place and uncomfortable around them, and when Dawnold told him they had died, Sho Thym had only felt a strange emptiness.
But none of that really seemed true anymore. He was standing cold, alone, exposed, and afraid in the darkness, but as soon as he had shouted the words “I’m a dragon hunter,” he felt something surge through him. There was a distant roar somewhere in the back of his mind.
“I’m a dragon hunter!” he shouted again. The distant roar grew louder in his mind, and a sharp pain pressed against the back of his eyes, but Sho Thym used that pain to press forward. “I learned to track from the great Solimar Silverbow. Krall the Relentless taught me to fight, and Piggy the Boarhearted taught me to scrap and snort. So this is your last warning to stay away from me!”
He may have been stretching the truth a bit, but Sho Thym didn’t care. With every word he spoke, he trembled a little bit less, he felt a little less scared and exposed. He didn’t feel so alone. Yes, the dragon hunters had been strange and wild and scary, but Sho Thym had been one of them. He was a dragon hunter, which meant he could be scary too.
And it was working. The green glow had stopped moving towards him, and it was no longer growing larger. It hung still in the air, as if waiting for Sho Thym to finish.
“That’s better,” said Sho Thym. Instead of flailing about, his hands were now firmly on his hips, looking like his Uncle Grodin used to when Sho Thym had been naughty. He took a step forward and pointed a finger sternly at the glow. “You’ve stolen what’s rightfully mine,” he scolded, “and I demand that you return my property and take me to my friends, now.”
Sho Thym almost added, “or else,” but stopped himself before he said it. He decided that dragon hunters don’t need to threaten to have their demands taken seriously. And besides, he didn’t know what to say if he was asked, “Or else what?”
Then there was silence. The silence felt odd to Sho Thym, and the longer it lasted, the more it nibbled and bit at the edges of his newfound bravado. He found himself wondering what Krall or Solimar would do after making such demands. It felt wrong to sit down or turn his back on his enemy, but how long should he just stand there? If he kept talking, would it appear that he was just nervously rambling on? Could the thing even hear him? Was it even alive at all, or was he simply rebuking a strange wisp of smoke?
Sho Thym was about to repeat his demands, but just as he took a breath to do so, the floating green glow dropped down to the floor, spreading out and making a quiet hissing sound as if it was deflating. The glow became less harsh to look at, and appeared transparent now as well. Sho Thym could see the stones of the floor beneath, and he realized that the glow was now faintly illuminating the room around him. He didn’t like what he saw.
Chains and shackles hung on the walls. Metal bars surrounded him to the front, left, and right, and a wall of solid rock was behind him. With growing dread, he realized he was being held in a dungeon, and by the look of the roughly hewn rock wall, he was likely underground. And he was certainly in no position to be making demands.
Then the green glow spoke to Sho Thym. The sound was quiet and distorted as it seemed to echo and bounce off of every wall in all directions at once. But there was no mistaking its source, because the green glow brightened and dimmed with every syllable.
“Mighty dragon hunter,” the voice said, “you misunderstand our predicament. I did not steal your property or take you from your friends. I approached you to seek your assistance.”
Sho Thym looked again at the vaporous green glow near his feet. The way it floated just above the ground gave him the strange impression that it was almost bowing to him. Or groveling. Rather than menacing like before, it now seemed rather sad and pathetic to him.
“Who are you?” Sho Thym asked.
“A prisoner, like yourself,” said the voice. “Though I have been imprisoned far longer than you, and my cage is much smaller.” As soon as the voice had said this, the green glow swirled backwards across the room, though the bars of Sho Thym’s cell, and moving to a separate cell on the far side of the dungeon. As it moved, Sho Thym saw an elegant metal staff, leaning against the wall in a corner. Atop the staff was a large green crystal, which the green glow retreated into, making the crystal shine like a beacon in the dark dungeon.
“I was once a powerful mage,” said the voice, “but I was betrayed by those I trusted, and I am now a prisoner of the necromancer Vdekshi. He uses the enchanted silver staff you see to keep me trapped within this cursed crystal. It limits my power and prevents me from defeating the monster that has us both trapped.”
“I’ve heard plenty of Vdekshi,” said Sho Thym. “He’s the one responsible for the crazed dragons that terrorized a village, poisoned my friend Dawnold, and killed the other dragon hunters.”
“I am sorry for the loss of your friend,” said the voice.
“Oh, Dawnold didn’t die,” said Sho Thym. “He’s incredibly strong and resilient, and I think he wasn’t poisoned as badly as the others. Still, he’s been different ever since then. More angry all the time.”
“Your friend survived the madness poison?” said the voice. “Incredible. I thought was impossible. But I’m afraid it means that he’s now in greater danger than ever.”
“Why?” Sho Thym asked.
“Vdekshi is absolutely obsessed with that poison,” said the voice. “If he’s learned that someone exists who can survive even the smallest trace of the poison, he will stop at nothing to destroy them. I believe it also explains why he has captured you. Obviously he intends to torture you until you reveal everything you know about your friend.”
“Torture?” screamed Sho Thym, now gripped with panic. “What kind of torture?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said the voice, “because it will never come to that. Vdekshi has made a grave mistake today, imprisoning us together. You’re a tremendously powerful wizard, I can sense it even from my crystal prison. I can unlock even greater power within you, which we’ll use to defeat Vdekshi and save your friend.”
“How?” Sho Thym asked.
“Just leave that to me,” said the voice.
“I don’t even know who you are,” said Sho Thym. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Seftis,” said the voice. “And if you and I work together Sho Thym, there is nothing in this world that can stop us.”