Madame Kadra burst into the wooden hot room, a small army of first-aid elves at her heels. Her eyes were wide with shock. Steam thick with the smell of lavender fleeted past her, escaping the warm humid place. A few remaining light-blue sparks danced around Madame’s pointy ears before fizzling.
“What in the name of the All-Father is going on here?” Madame Kadra barked with fury. “Miss Poll, please see to our guests, make sure everybody is well. Master Tack, kindly direct our beasts back to their homes.” Several elves nodded and hurried to follow up on the orders.
Madame turned her gaze to me. “And you. Steve is it? You better explain yourself this instant!”
“Well…” I stammered, my cheeks glowing red as I tried to pick out a particularly interesting detail in the tile floor. It was definitely a very boring floor.
“Madame Kadra! What a most welcome, if not highly unusual, program have you arranged for us today!” A very large and very naked fey lady with three chins interjected. ”I must say, I shall recommend you to the ladies at the Lodge. You will make this part of your regular offerings, will you not?”
“Lady Thornbramble, eh, of course. The Silver Tree is most pleased with your approval of our, eh, pilot arrangements.” Madame Kadra replied in confusion.
Thornbramble nodded briefly. “Outstanding. Now, if you don’t mind.” The lady walked outside, followed by the other guests.
Madame turned back to me and sighed. She turned and gestured for me to follow. Once in the cool outdoor air, she began “Looks like our customers want more of… whatever it is that you did. What did you do Steve?”
I considered this for a while. It was a difficult question to answer. Well, probably not that difficult if you knew what you did. I, on the other hand, often had no clue what I did. Even more so earlier that morning…
A large fluffy white and orange cat head loomed over me. I stared back at her big green eyes, waiting for her move. A shrill, high-pitched meow followed as if she tried to say Wake up Steve!
I chuckled and patted her on the head. “Good morning to you too Lizzy.” Mornings definitely were more bearable since I got Lizzy.
Mustering all my motivation, I turned to get out of bed. Lizzy jumped off energetically and followed me closely around the apartment. I quickly grabbed something to eat and packed my bag. As soon as I came near the cat’s food bin, she meowed again a few times for good measure. Such a simple life.
The hourglass on the kitchen shelf started to glow an orange-red. I cursed, grabbed my bag, and rushed to the front door. Lizzy, of course, beat me to it and was already standing outside. With a nod and a few clicks, I guided her indoors again and finally went on my way.
By the time I arrived, a watery orange glow just emerged above the faded letters spelling Silver Tree. Dew still sparkled on the well-maintained green lawns surrounding the spa complex. A path led towards an entrance building. I took a deep breath. Alright, time to not screw this up… again.
I started walking down the path. Someone clearly wanted to impress people with the two-story tall entrance building. Large, stained glass windows ran from floor to ceiling, depicting some fancy elven mythology. A big arch in the center welcomed the visitors of Silver Tree. Golden lamps illuminated windows and the inside of the arch. I shook my head at the nonsense of it all. Why do fancy folk always have to light huge places with no people?
I turned left just before the arch, towards a small service entrance beyond the stained glass windows. I knocked on the door. A second later a middle-aged elf opened the door. He was a bit shorter than me and looked me up and down with a scrutinizing gaze.
The man cleared his throat. “Can I help you, young man?” There was something odd about him, I was not sure. It might have been the protective leather padding over his clothes or the large iron spear he was carrying.
“I’m here for the apprenticeship,” I stammered, “Junior caretaker? I’m looking for one Master Tack?”
“I see.” The elf said, a frown on his face. He shook his head and turned around, the iron spear resting against his shoulder. “Follow me.”
Inside were several large corridors lined with alternating doors and iron oil lamps. The man seemed to know where he was going, taking a left here, turning right there. All the while he didn’t say a word to me.
In the distance, I could hear some odd, rumbling noises. It was coming from the end of the corridor. “As a caretaker, it is our duty to tend to what I like to call Silver Tree’s most precious asset. This is not a task for the faint of heart. Courage and instinct are key. Listen closely if you want to avoid any injuries today.” The rumbling grew louder and deeper. “They are hungry,” Master Tack added.
I entered a large, cavernous room. With dragons! Red firespitters, white icebreaths, blue sparkshooters, and also a few green dragons. No clue what the green ones do. The beasts were housed in alcoves lining the walls, forming enclosures. Also, they all were about the size of Lizzy, with only the red dragons being slightly larger.
“Grab one of the spears near the cupboard,” Master Tack directed me. “You can find the chicken over here in this locker.”
Hesitantly, I skewered bits of chicken and approached one of the red dragon enclosures. I reached out over the fence, keeping my distance. The beast intensely tracked the chicken, circling below it. Once I held the spear close enough, a breath of fire reached up to roast the chicken. Quickly afterward, the dragon jumped up, grabbed the charred chicken with its front paws, and retreated into the alcove for its feast. Huh, they’re not that scary.
“Looks like you have some affinity with the creatures,” Master Tack commented with a hint of surprise. “Now listen closely. The Silver Tree will open in an hour. We have until then to make our preparations. First off, heating the hot rooms. That is where our firespitters come in. Grab one of those shields and follow me.”
Master Tack opened the fence, his shield at the ready. Three small firespitters burst forth into the room, each dashing in a different direction. I jumped back in surprise and bravely dropped my shield. The dragons completely ignored us and started inspecting the other fences and brass pipeworks running along the walls.
“Now what do we do?” I whispered urgently as I picked up my shield again.
“Now you keep your shield up and open that door over there, it leads to the hot rooms.”
Cautiously, I walked towards the indicated door, keeping my shield between me and the red dragons. I made sure to keep a safe distance from the little dragon in the middle of the room, trying to set fire to an innocent rock. The hard wooden door had a label on it with the depiction of sizzling stones. It was locked with a simple iron latch and bolt. The well-maintained door opened with barely a creak and the firespitters immediately reacted to it. All three dashed past me down the corridor behind the door.
“Well, that wasn’t too bad,” I commented with relief.
“Master Tack, could I borrow you for a minute?” A woman’s voice interjected from the other side of the room. She had an air of authority around her, emphasized by her graying hair and the stiff dark green suit with embroidery of a silver tree and scrollwork.
“Madame Kadra,” the master replied in surprise, “Certainly. If you would give me just a moment, I was just instructing our new candidate caretaker.”
“Make it quick,” the woman replied with a nod.
“All right,” Master Tack wrung his hands a bit uneasily, “Listen, eh… What’s your name?”
“Steve,” I replied, “Steve Brooch.”
“All right, listen Steve. It looks like you have a bit of affinity with the creatures, so I’m going to take a leap of fate. Now, listen closely, the spa will open in less than an hour. Make sure the firespitters are at the end of that corridor and start heating the stones beneath the hot rooms. Now, the icebreaths should be guided down that door, they need to cool down the pools next to the hot rooms. As for the sparkshooters…” He does seem a bit uneasy around misses Kadra, I wonder what’s going on. Also, how can he drone off all those instructions from the top of his head? Surely it can’t be that difficult to guide a couple of small dragons down a corridor? “… and make sure you don’t mix those up, we don’t want our dragons ending up in the wrong spot. You got all that?”
“No worries, Master Tack.” I replied with what I hoped was a confident nod.
I watched with mixed feelings as Master Tack walked away, the rumbling and small roars of playful dragons echoing through the cavern. I gently padded the head of a small firespitter as he brushed his scaly head against my thigh. Huh, weren’t you on your way to those hot rooms, little fellow?
I guided the dragon past the door with the depiction of sizzling stones and turned my attention back to the room. Okay, next up, the icebreaths.
The white dragons were easy to spot with all the frosting on their fence. Slowly, I opened the fence, my shield at the ready again. Nothing happened. I peeked into the dragon pen and found… no dragons, just a large pile of snow. Heroically, I stepped into the pen, hiding behind my shield, to check out the snow. I heard a soft snoring sound coming from the pile.
With the bud of my feeding spear, I gently poked into the snow. The snoring stopped, and a small snowball jetted out of the pile, landing with a soft thud on my shield. Huh.
I poked the pile of snow again. A small white dragon leaped out of the pile towards me, the force of impact threw me off balance. We rolled together across the pen and I ended up on my back, the little rascal on top of me at eye level. I blinked in surprise, the dragon sneezed a cold wet shower of snowflakes in my face. That tickles! Shouldn’t you be called a snowsneezer instead of an icebreath? Now which door was yours again?
I got back to my feet and gently carried the little sneezer. There were several more doors leading out of this room. The door with a depiction of sizzling stones I could ignore, that one was the firespitter door. Which meant I was left with a door with flowers, one with three waving lines, another door with a thunderbolt, and a fifth door with what looked like a snowflake on it. Let’s pick door number five.
I opened the door. The little sneezer in my arms was not impressed and instead started snoring again. With a sigh, I put the dragon back on the floor and gently pushed it toward the open door. Clearly annoyed, the dragon huffed and spat a tiny icicle, then turned around and walked back to his pen.
Suddenly, there came a loud rumbling from one of the other pens, followed by several flashes of light-blue light. A fence burst open and three blue dragons emerged. Lighting danced around them as they wildly ran around the room. One dragon dashed through the snowflake door, and the others started jumping against the other dragon pen fences. Stray lightning bolts nudged latches and opened the last pen, releasing the odd little green dragons. Oh dear All-Father!
I did the only thing I could think of and ran toward the locker with the chicken. I skewered a few pieces on my spear and stuffed some extra chicken in my pocket. Circling the room and making some extra clicking noises, I tried to lure the blue dragons. Usually, this works for Lizzy back home. These dragons don’t seem that different, I hope.
Two blue sparkshooters took the bait and followed me. One even tried jumping toward the chicken, scarring it with a stray lightning bolt. The green dragons, however, completely ignored me. They were only interested in the ball of snow they found. One was trying to nudge the snowball with its paws, while the other repeatedly huffed it away by shooting jets of air. Do I smell… Lavender? Huh, odd.
A burst of fire flew past me, turning the scarred chicken extra crispy. A small red firespitter followed in a leap and caught the chicken from the tip of my spear. The blue dragons let out a high-pitched roar and chased the scarlet thief.
I gathered all the authority I could muster, straightened my back, and shouted with what I hoped was a deep voice “Stop that!”
With a force, several small paws connected with my back. I stumbled forward, tripped over the red dragon shooting past, and hit a pile of snow on the ground. A bolt of lighting screeched just an inch above my head. From the corner of my eyes, I saw a white icebreath darting away with its prized piece of chicken from my pocket.
That does it, time for Plan B! I stood up and walked towards the chicken locker again. I put my spear aside, grabbed an empty bucket, and filled it with chicken. Several dragons immediately perked up and stared in my direction. I slammed the locker shut and ran towards one of the doors. As I backed down the corridor behind the door, I started creating a trail of chicken pieces. The dragons showed interest and followed the trail as they tried to outwit each other for the next piece. Hmm, weren’t there supposed to be three blue sparkshooters?
Sweat trickled down my back as I continued down the corridor, luring the dragons. It was getting warmer the further I went. An increasingly louder hissing and blazing sound filled the corridor. I almost dropped the bucket as I hit a staircase behind me. To my left, I found the other two red dragons, dutifully trying to set alight an iron basket filled with rocks.
Where am I? I looked around and found myself in a small closet of sorts. The iron basked seemed to extend up into the ceiling, past the staircase I stumbled upon. On the wall was a small dark green banner with a Silver Tree. At the end of the staircase was a wooden door with a small window. I climbed up the stairs and peeked through the window.
Behind the window, there was a large wooden room with big windows and a very unremarkable tile floor. Around the corner, I could make out the top of the basket with rocks, bordered by decorative tiles. Swirls of hot air rose from the rocks, bending the morning light back and forth. Guess that makes this the hot room.
At the far end of the room, there were several tiers of wooden benches, like an oversized staircase. Atop the benches lay two ladies on top of towels. The one was a skinny sun-tanned gnome, the other a very large fey woman. Oh, there was no mistaking these were ladies, as both were distinctively naked. The fey waved friendly to the other side of the room as a few more naked people walked in through another windowed door. I shook my head. How odd, must be a fancy folk thing.
I felt a forgotten piece of chicken being yanked from one of my pockets. I turned in surprise and faced an energetic pack of small dragons, all staring intently at the bucket with chicken I was still carrying. Uh oh.
One of the blue dragons jumped towards me, shooting forth a jolt of lightning. My muscles briefly spasmed and I fell backward through the wooden door into the hot room. I desperately tried to grab hold of something, found the green silver tree banner, and ripped it from the wall as I fell. The bucket flew backward, spraying chicken over the sizzling rocks inside the hot room. I watched in shock as dragons of every color jumped over me into the room. I could hear a surprised collective gasp coming from the benches.
As each dragon tried to outwit the other for a piece of chicken, sparks of lightning, balls of snow, and bursts of fire danced over the hot rocks. Steam rose from the melting snow and mixed with the distinctive smell of lavender. I waved the thorn banner at the dragons in an attempt to shoo them away. The gusts of wind waved the steam and scents across the rest of the hot room. Sparks continued to dance across the warm and now very humid place. That’s when Madame Kadra burst through the door, a small army of first-aid elves at her heels. Her eyes were wide with shock.
Madame Kadra listened in disbelief to my accounts of that morning, and even Master Tack turned around to eavesdrop. An achingly long silence followed once I was finished.
“You were able to herd dragons around, carry an icebreath in your arms like a kitten, and not get scorched or frostburned?” Master Tack replied in surprise.
I nodded timidly. Master Tack and Madame Kadra shared a glance. Finally, the madame sighed and gave the master a small nod.
“Steve Brooch, I welcome you as junior caretaker of the Silver Tree,” Master Tack declared. I looked up shocked and blinked my eyes. A feeling of relief washed over me.
From the corner of my eyes, I could see Lady Thornbramble walking outside towards a pond of cooling water. Suddenly, she yelped in surprise and her frizzly hair stood up pointing in all directions. Ah, so that is where that last blue sparkshooter went.
Behind the Story
Word count: 3050
The other day I was at a spa during an infusion ("Aufguss") session, and wondered: what would this look like in a fantasy session? I ended up combining this with another random idea: adorable cat dragons. What remained was coming up with a lead character and decided: who better to introduce the idea of an infusion/aufguss session to this fantasy world than a slightly clumsy intern? I tried to practice some outlining and plotting techniques I learned about. However, that didn't work for me with this story. Instead, I started with writing a little interview with Steve to brainstorm the characters, setting, and plot. Then I put that aside and started writing the actual story in a more discovery writing style.