“There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.” Old Master Rashan’s chair creaked as he leaned forward. He spoke near a whisper, like he was revealing a secret. As if he hadn’t told the story a thousand times to his captive audience of grandchildren.
Sakari, the master’s wife, was watching from the other side of the cavern with a wide grin. It never ceased to amaze her, the amount of love and pride she felt every day for her family. It had not been easy to keep her children safe from the outside world, but she managed. All her sacrifices paid off with the adoring faces of a dozen offspring.
“Tell us what it was like before, apah.” Little Misha piped up with her cute pixie-like voice.
“Again?” Young Denshaw groaned.
All at once the children burst into furious chatter amongst themselves. The older ones were tired of hearing the same old stories, but the younger ones hadn’t had enough.
“Now, now, children,” Rashan only had to raise his voice a notch to reign them in. He had such a way about him. When he spoke, people listened. Years of his sage advice was probably the only reason human kind survived the invasion so many years ago.
“There is wisdom in the intimate knowledge of where we came from.” The old man continued once the room quieted again. “As long as these stories stay alive, you and generations to come will always remember what we strive for.”
“What’s the use?” Young Enida griped. “It’s not like we can get it back. We will stay trapped here underground, corralled like animals forever.”
Denshaw scoffed derisively, “I, for one, will not just lay down and give myself over. If you want to simply give up, that’s on you. I plan to join the Dracovene.”
Shakari gasped softly, but the echoing chamber magnified her expression with echoes. Rashan glanced at her quickly with an edge of worry as the rest of the children fell deathly silent. They all understood what it meant to become one of those glory seekers.
Roshan knew it would only be a matter of time before the people would tire of being food and fodder for the giant monsters above ground. The Dracovene was just another iteration of the same thing man tries over and over again against overwhelming oppression. Driven by tall tales of the underdog beating all odds and coming out on top, brave brothers and sisters put their lives on the line for the small sliver of hope that they can make life better.
It was fruitless. He tried to council people like them in the past but there came a certain point to where his word was no longer the gospel they lived on. To the younger ones he was too cautious. He was an old man with an aging mind and they would not listen, not anymore.
All he could do now was hope. Hope that his words reached just one man, woman, or child. Someone that would take his legacy and build on it so humanity continued on long after he passed from this life. His son, Hanthor, appeared to be the best prospect so far and just so happened to be Denshaw’s father.
“Does your father know of this plan of yours?”
“Not yet.” The boy tried to remain proud, but his voice shook with uncertainty. He knew his father would not approve.
Grandfather sighed but kept speaking with infinite calm and sympathy, “I know it feels impossible, but all we have to do is be patient. In time they will outgrow our little valley and move on when there is nothing left to eat.”
“Well, they won’t run out of food as long as we’re stuck here.” Pessimist Enida retorted.
“We wouldn’t be a food source for them if we were just more cautious.” Rashan pleaded with the children, although he knew they would push against him. It was not in the nature of humans to be treated this way indefinitely, but he knew their only way out was to adapt.
Rashan could see all their counter arguments before they could voice them. He heard them all before from his sons and daughters when they were young. This conversation was about to turn into a debate and he dreaded it.
It was then that shouts echoed down the stone tunnels to their cavern. It was the only thing that could have stopped the argument before it began. Roshan closed his eyes tightly, trying to mask the pain he felt. Commotion like that only meant one thing. Another one of his people were lost.
The collective hive of children got up and rushed off to quell the adolescent’s morbid curiosity and Sakari moved to stand in front of her husband. She cleared her throat to get his attention and held out a helping hand.
He forced a smile but she would not miss his saddened demeanor. They had known each other too long and recognized each other’s moods, hidden or not. Over fifty years they were together and they loved each other now more than ever. He took her hand and she helped him to his feet.
They walked hand in hand down the corridor to face the bad news together. Before too long however, they realized the shouts sounded more like cheers. Young Denshaw came running around the corner and almost caused everyone to tumble over each other.
Still quite spry for an old man, Rashan caught the boy and asked, “What is it, boy?”
He replied, panting breathlessly, “The Dracovene, they just killed their first dragon!”