Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Six

Once it was known as the City of Wonder, the Jewel of the Desert, the Land of Riches and Adventure. Now, muses the Dwarf, it’s just another Kingdom of the Dead.

Standing amidst the ruins, for once the Dwarf is pleased. Hands on his hips, he surveys the wreckage with a satisfied nod.

The City of Wonder has been thoroughly destroyed. Every building has crumbled upon itself, trapping hundreds of peasants and merchants and other ordinary people, all withered and hungry for flesh.

He thinks briefly of what Cinderella might think of all this, and the smile melts from his face. She’d pity even the dead, kind-hearted as she was.

“Well,” he says to the Wolf, “at least we won’t have any trouble findin’ the prince.”

Only one building still stands in the Jewel of the Desert: the Sultan’s palace. All white alabaster and marble, inlaid with gold and precious blue jewels, it stands fat and round and ready to withstand a thousand armies.

The Dwarf nods again. It’s a good, faultless construction. A bit too fancy, and more garish than anything he’s ever seen, but it certainly took survival into consideration. And survive it has.

“Be careful,” he warns, as they walk closer to the mighty palace. “There might be a dragon about.”

“Dragon?” says the Wolf, and he stops short. He looks around wildly and sniffs at the searing air. “You never said nothin’ about a dragon!”

“What do you think burned everything down?” says the Dwarf. He tries to chuckle at the animal’s ignorance. “I told you, this warn’t caused by no ordinary fire.”

He continues slowly across the sand, being careful to keep some distance between himself and any wreckage. You never know when some clenching claw might snake through.

Finally, they stand before the platinum doors. Though they’re gilded and carved with all sorts of ridiculous designs, the Dwarf determines they’re still as solid as a mountain.

He knocks heavily with the butt of his spear-axe. The thud echoes dully, causing the Wolf to cringe.

“What are you, crazy? You wanna wake up the dragon?”

The Dwarf snorts. “Yar, as a matter of fact, I do. There’s gotta be a reason why it didn’t burn down the palace, ya fool. This place,” he knocks again, louder, “is probably the first safe building we’ve seen since, well, forever.”

The Wolf’s ears are still pricked up. “I ain’t convinced,” he growls. “I don’t like dragons.” He smells the air again, but tastes nothing but the hot, unforgiving desert.

They stand there for a moment, then the Wolf says, “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Open the door.”

“I can’t open this door! It’s built to keep out invaders.”

“But you got the key,” says the Wolf.

“Bah.” From around his neck the Dwarf produces the slender golden key - the red parrot’s dying gift. “Ain’t no way this key,” he says, “could open a door that size. Especially since it doesn’t have no keyhole.”

“Then what do we do?”

The Dwarf sighs loudly and wipes the sweat from his brow. “Ain’t ya supposed to be the Big Bad Wolf? Huff and puff and blow the doors down!”

The Wolf steps back and eyes the massive doors, but quickly sneers. “I’m still wounded, remember?” He scratches at the scars criss-crossing his body, remnants of Cinderella’s surgery. “You want me to pop my stitches?”

The Dwarf’s muttered answer is inaudible. With an annoyed grunt, he presses his callused fingers against the metal, feeling with expert hands for a secret catch or lever.

However, the door swings easily inward.

“It wasn’t locked,” says the Wolf.

“Yar,” grumbles the Dwarf.

And though neither says it, they both find it quite disturbing that such a secure palace has been left unsecured.