The signpost was etched in ancient text neither of them could read.
Thomas stared down the overgrown laneway. It was covered in a strange black rock and marked with faded white lines that Mason said guided travellers of the Old World.
Grass and a few stubborn, sickly saplings pushed through the cracks in the strange road. Wind swept through the sparse, grey trees beyond the laneway, whispering as they swayed against each other. Warning them away. Mason snorted, a faint huff of smoke trailing out of his snout and began trotting defiantly down the laneway, his tail swishing back and forth in the dusty, overgrown path.
Thomas sighed and trudged on after the dragon. It was his duty, after all, to follow where Mason lead.
As they headed further in Thomas stuck close to Mason’s side, trying to hide his fear, but unable to stop the faint shiver’s from rattling up his spine. He kept thinking about the rumours and the stories the other Hatchlings liked to tell about the old laneway.
‘Is it true? What Ember said about the Ghosts?’ he asked, twisting the hem of his jacket between his hands.
This far away from the keep, the snow eased into rock and the cold gave way to a faint warmth, emanating from the Blacklands on the other side of the mountain. Thomas gulped, remembering what Ember had said about people who ventured too close to the Blacklands.
Mason, who was spending more and more time in his dragon form now that he was learning to fly, shrugged his big scaly shoulders. He stood head and shoulders above Thomas, who was short for a twelve year old.
Thomas wanted to ask another question, but the further they crept down the lane, the more eerie and hushed the world became. Somehow Thomas knew that breaking the silence would be a great sin.
It was as if the world were speaking to them. The wind rustled through the trees, almost carrying a faint voice. Thomas paused. It was a voice. Young and soft and sweet, it called to him from within the ancient, rotten trees.
“She walks along the Black Root Lane, though her heart does surely burn.”
Heat blasted him from the left, making him jump, and in an explosive shift Mason became human again.
‘Did you hear that?’ Mason whispered, green eyes wild with fright.
“She cries along the Black Root Lane, and knows she shan’t return.”
A small squeak of terror escaped Thomas, he grabbed Mason’s arm. Mason yelped.
‘I change my mind, we don’t need any sacred treasures!’ Mason said, grabbing hold of Thomas’s wrist as he turned and bolted out of the laneway, dragging Thomas along with him.
When they were finally far enough away from the mountain that their feet crunched through familiar snow, they stopped, doubled over and panting.
Thomas glanced sideways at his Master and supposed that even dragon hatchlings were not entirely fearless.