Chapter 18: Roaring Cave

Sigrid stood patiently outside of Sargund's chamber as he followed up on a report from another officer. Before long, the other officer left and Sigrid waited until she was summoned.

"How is she progressing, Sigrid?" Sargund asked casually as he stirred his stew.

"She's beginning to lose that forced accent, at least," Sigrid replied. "I think she is ready to pay her debt."

"Good, good," Sargund nodded and took a sip from his spoon. "How is she in ascension?"

"Difficult. She is full of rage, even for a beginner, but she won't explain why. She remains guarded," Sigrid said.

The old, shaggy Kurach took a few more quiet spoonfuls of his stew. "She carries much hurt towards her clan. She will need to overcome this to properly ascend."

Sigrid nodded and waited in silence as Sargund thoughtfully chewed on his stew.

"Send her to Doane," Sargund said at length. "The labor is hard and will help mend her spirit," Surgund decided and dismissed Sigrid. She descended the tower and stepped out into the cold morning light. The sun was just beginning to rise but still had not made it past the mountains. She spread her long, broad wings and leapt off the ledge. Down she glided to the great opening of the clan's quarters and partway inside. Cupping her wings around her, she landed on the balcony outside where Shanku was being held.

Quietly, she crept around to the barred window. Shanku was still fast asleep and had descended back to her natural form once again. Sigrid shook her head and drew a deep breath.

"Wake up!"

Shanku yipped and leapt up to her hands and knees, unknowingly shifting to her feral form. She glared out through the bars at a laughing Sigrid.

"What was that for?" Shanku asked grumpily.

"You descended," Sigrid said simply.

"What do you want?" Shanku asked even more grumpily.

"Today you begin to work off your debt," Sigrid said cheefully.

Shanku groaned loudly and placed a hand over her face. "I'm coming."

Sigrid unlocked the door and Shanku stepped out.

"How?" Shanku asked bluntly.

"You will be an assistant to a local merchant," Sigrid said. "Follow me."

Sigrid lead Shanku out of the Quarters and into the air. Shanku breathed a sigh of relief.

It's good to be aloft again. And not from laps! Shanku looked around at the rugged mountains around her and out at the wide plains in the distance. With a pang in her heart, she looked away.

"What craft?" She called out to Sigrid, trying to get her mind off of the Birchfields and the families she had left behind.

"Glass," Sigrid called back and began to descend toward a large cave opening.

A loud groan came from within and Shanku visibly started.

"What in da five seas?" She yipped and landed quickly.

Unphased, Sigrid landed behind her much more gracefully and lead her within. Shanku jumped at each roar and growl coming from the cave, and for once she didn't mind keeping close company to one of the Highland.

There was a long tunnel inside with many torches bracketed to the wall. The warm light didn't do much to alieve Shanku's fears that she was about to be fed to some monstrous creature.

Sigrid rounded a bend and stepped into a chamber from the tunnel. Shanku cautiously peaked her head around the doorway. Intrigued by what she found, she took a cautious step intside.

The chamber was very large and pale with many torches bracketed high up on the walls. A large, pot-bellied dragon with antlers on his head was holding a fistful of sand. He took a large breath and blew fire onto it. The sand turned to a molten goo and the dragon threw back his head and sang. If it could be called singing. It was more of a warbly roar than anything and his tongue wriggled from his gaping mouth.

"Gralaaa-la-la-la auuu-uu!" he wailed in cheerful notes as he rolled the melted sand between his claws.

"G'day, Doane," Sigrid greeted him when his chorus was finished.

"What's up, Sigrid, me pup?" the dragon turned to her cheerfully. He dropped the molten lump to the ground.

"I have a helper for you today," she replied.

"Do ye now?" Doane asked. His speaking voice was lyrical and much more pleasant than his singing.

"She's working off her sentence," Sigrid gestured to a skittish cub behind her.

Doane stepped forward and leaned his massive head down to look Shanku in the eye.

"What be her crrrime?" Doane narrowed his eyes and rolled his speech threateningly.

"Stole a goat. Took Rin two days to catch her," Sigrid stated.

"In me defense," Shanku squeaked, positively frozen in fear at the hulking reptile before her, "I was goin' hungry."

"Why waren't ye wi' ye clan?" Doane asked as he raised up.

"Seems her clan gave her the boot," Sigrid crossed her arms over her chest. "She's been on her own for a long time."

"Wha' a shame," Doane shook his head and walked to the other side of the room.

"I'll return later for her," Sigrid nodded to Doane and left.

"Ever wark wi' glass befar?" Doane tilted his head sidewise as he looked at his new charge.

"Never," Shanku shook her head.

"Quite simple, really," Doane said and nodded for her to come to him. He scooped up a handful of sand from a giant basin built into the floor before him.

"Wee bit o' sand. Wee bit o' fyre," he blew a concentrated stream of fire into his hand and began to roll it between his hands.

"Bit o' wark," he said and began to hum. He scooped up his forgotten lump nearby and rolled the two together. When he finished, he held out a shining glass ball to Shanku. "Pretty as ye please!"

Shanku was fascinated and picked it up gently.

"So what do I do? I can't breathe fire," She asked absently as she examined the ball.

"Ya help me ge' da mixture. Sand, potash, and lime grinds," Doane said cheerfully. "Don't warry! Dere's a barrow for ye ta make it easy!"

Shanku looked behind her at a wooden wheelbarrow and clinched her fists. She drew her wings up around her and sullenly dropped her head. "...Where's de bloody supplies at?"

"Fallow me!" Doane pranced off happily, ignoring her sulking. "I need da make mahr anyway."

Shanku caught up with him and they walked out of another doorway of the chamber. As they walked down another tunnel, they passed by many side chambers full of different materials, most of which were piles of powders and sands.

"Da dwarves keep me stocked," he said.

"Where do dey get it?" Shanku asked.

"Sand is an irritan' an' byproduct of deir minin'. Sometimes dey find large deposits of it," the dragon explained. He lead her out of the cave to a ledge overlooking a nearby grove of trees. "Da Highlands provide a grove far me potash and da dwarves also find da limestone."

"Your other chamber showed all powders," Shanku said curiously. "Where do you get those?"

"I burn da wood for da potash and da limestone is milled," Doane explained.

"How?" Shanku asked curiously.

"Ye see dat system?" Doane nodded to a nearby chamber. There was a large gear on the end of a shaft with teeth on the bottom, slowly turning and making an awful crunching noise as it ground against rocks between it and a large stone. The top of the grindstone had many grooves cut into it where a smaller gear's teeth fit into. The shaft that ran through the smaller gear was turned by the waterwheel that the shaft was connected to.

"De dwarves harnessed a river to a millstone. Dey grind it and dump it into one of my other rooms," Doane nodded. "And ye barrow it from dere."

Shanku hunched over again sulkily. She did not want to be a beast of burden. Then she had another thought.

"Aren't we a bit high for a river to be powerin' a water wheel?" She scratched her head.

"Aye," Doane nodded. "But dose dwarves like ta tinker. Dey made a tall system. Dey haul da water up fram the river all the way to here, and after it paars through each wheel, it flows over a piece, down a hole, and onto anather water wheel far deir wark."

"That's quite something," Shanku nodded, impressed.

"So ye have the easy task! Ye create da mixture as I tell ye to," Doane smiled.

"Dat's a relief. Smaller margin for error," Shanku laughed nervously. "I tink."

"Let's start!" Doane said excitedly and headed back to his main chamber.

Under his direction, Shanku spent most of the day going between rooms with her wheelbarrow as directed, filled it with the spade waiting in each room ("So we don' mix too aarly!"), and returned to Doane. He would pick up her wheelbarrow, examine it carefully, and then pour its contents into the basin in his main chamber. He had a narrow tree trunk that he like to stir the whole thing with. When Shanku had finally brought him enough, Doane bade her rest, and he began to work.

"Gralala-lauuu," he sang as he grabbed a few handfuls of sand and began to melt it together.

"Og ren gra lash," Doane sang softly as he kneaded and stretched the molten sand. "Gya la loosh sh ka."

The sand left his hands and began to form into inidividual balls of glowing globes connected to each other by a ribbon of light.

"A gwu pa yu-o," Doane continued. He would wave his hand slowly around each globe and wiggle his fingers just so to make the ribbon of light swirl around the molten globes. To Shanku's surprise, the globes began to reshape themselves. With a final hum, Doane lowered his arms. As he did, the glowing globes settled gently on the side of his basin. Doane lowered his head level with them to inspect his newly crafted drinking goblets. Satisfied, he threw back his head.

"Shaka gralalala!" He wailed his pitiful wail, his gaping jaw revealing every needle-like tooth in his head.

Shanku twisted a finger in her ear and grimaced. She wasn't sure if he was purposly off-key, or simply that terrible.

"Ye disprove o' me music?" Doane teased her, his terrifying jaws a few feet from her shoulder.

"Er... um..." Shanku scrambled quickly. "Singin' makes de work go faster?" she ventured.

"In a sense," Doane nodded, much to Shanku's surprise and relief that he wasn't angry. "Ancient glasscraft dragons would sing spells to create items too small for aar claws ta make. Sometimes dey'd make an event o' it. Dragons would come fram miles around, each bringin' supplies wi' dem. It's said it was quite somethin' ta see," he paused, and chuckled. "Legend has it we've ne'er been gaad singers."

"Your people must have been doin' dis a long time den," Shanku said. She sat down beside him as he stretched out on the cool floor. "Could I learn ta do this?" she asked excitedly.

"Nay," Doane said seriously.

"Why?" Shanku asked.

"Kurach were not made ta wield such pa'er. Ye shaldn't even 'ave what ye do," Doane looked at her sternly.

"What makes ya say dat?" Shanku raised an eyebrow and lowered an ear.

"Originally, ye were just shapeshifters. Nary much better than werewolves. Or goblins," Doane looked wistfully to the ceiling, and teased her, "Lit'le simple fuzzy, feathered goblins..."

"I get de idea!" Shanku huffed.

Doane laughed, and continued. "Den one o ye' kind gat da Fae ta enchant yer breed forever. Whether or not tha's wha' he wanted, it's wha' he gat."

"No consequences?" Shanku asked reluctantly.

"Dere's always consequences when dealin' wi' da Fae," Doane shook his head. "Dey altered yer natural form. Made ye stuck as half-naked bipedal varmints. Da Kurach are now unbalanced. Some too passive. Some too passionate. Some too cold. Some too brave. Some too scared."

"Oh," Shanku said quietly. She hunched over and propped her elbows on her knees, lost in thought.

"Too many unnecessary deaths have fallow'd," Doane said as he stood. "And too many forgivin's. Greed is one ting. Makin' deals wi' da Fae is anather."

"Maybe dat's why de Elders back home hate dem so much," Shanku thought aloud.

"Migh' be," Doane nodded. "Many o' da Kurach back den waren't too thrilled abou' it. Anywho, back ta wark."

Doane took a great handful of sand and threw it into the air with wild abandon.

"San ke gra, orna, ne mae keruuu," the dragon sang. Shanku shook her head with a chuckle as he went through his dance with the molten sand.

"What's de meanin' of de songs?" She asked when he finished his current verses.

"Eh?" he asked, startled. He looked at her curiously.

"What ya sing. What's it mean?" Shanku asked again.

"Oh," Doane laughed. "I have no idear. The craft is befar spoken language. We jus' make stuff up."

Shanku sighed.

"Evening, Doane," Sigrid greeted him as she stepped into the large room and cast a suspicoius eye at Shanku. "Has she been good?"

"Nary a bit o' trouble!" Doane said happily with a clawed hand raised beside him.

"I've been good! I swear!" Shanku said quickly. She wasn't sure if Sigrid really believed either of them.

"Come along, supper time," Sigrid ushered her out the door and looked slyly at Doane over her shoulder. "Dragons are messy eaters. You wouldn't want to watch."

"I be nought a bit messy, tank ye!" Doane huffed indignantly as the Kurach giggled themselves out the door.

And so Shanku begin to repay her debt under the supervision of a glasscraft dragon. In the early mornings she would have breakfast with Sigrid and be put through a bit of training training. Mid-morning and the rest of her day would be spent fetching supplies for Doane. Once he even gave her a small, clear glass marble as a keepsake.

"Remembar dis da nex' time ye want ta take wha's not yaars," he told her with a wink.

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