She did not know what she was doing. Every step she took was on autopilot, driven by mindless courage rather than any intelligent planning. In the back of her mind, Samantha recognize this was a foolish move. She should have slowed down, formed a plan, and then acted strategically. Her strength might not stand a chance against a dragon, but her wit might.
Instead, Samantha was stumbling up the second floor staircase and slowing only at its landing. She no longer heard the screams of the stranger. Only the sounds of her own boots on tiled floors. As she rounded a corner and prepared to climb the last flight of stairs, Samantha paused. Her legs were shaking. Without thoughtless courage pushing her forward, she felt near to collapse. She had to press a hand to the nearest wall and lean into its support.
As she paused to recover her breath, Samantha focused her eyes ahead. She could see the two hit point bars, one of which told her where the dragon was. It looked like it was in one of the classrooms. Opposite it, in a separate room, was the stranger’s bar.
[It didn’t react to my footsteps. Is it hard of hearing?] Samantha wondered. Even with that as a possibility, she was slow and careful with her ascent to the second floor. Samantha crouched down and peered around a corner, hiding in the stairwell while she looked down the hallway. She could not hear much more than the casual scrapping of chairs and desks as the dragon scoured the room.
Her eyes narrowed.
If she judged things based on the claw marks on the floor, then the dragon was moving away from her. The hallway would have three classrooms on either side in that direction, then three in the other. When she glanced down the opposite end of the hall, Samantha saw a pop of sunlight. Her eyes widened with the realization, [It got in through the roof exit. But why did it go through there and not a window?]
For the moment, she tried to ignore that train of that. While it was a curious choice, what had been done was done. The more important matter was helping the scared stranger who hid in one of the classrooms. Samantha stayed in a crouched position as she slowly moved out of the stairwell and into the hallway.
[I can’t predict its movements like some video game AI with a route,] She reminded herself, [I need to be the first one in that room! Then I can drag that person out or something…]
She would be the first to admit that the plan was not well thought out. If she wanted, she could have poked holes at it right then and there. What if the stranger was unconscious? Could she carry them? Was the person too injured to move? What if the dragon’s sense of smell made up for its hearing? What if it wasn’t hard of hearing after all?
These thoughts, too, she had to banish for her sanity. It was already a struggle to move quietly on shaking legs. She didn’t need for her mind to be quivering in fear as well.
When she made it into the classroom, Samantha found that few of her worries had even been necessary. She saw the classroom was neat and pristine, as if a janitor had come through it. Five lines of five desks stood neatly in place, with a teacher’s large wooden desk and spinning chair in the back of the classroom. The whiteboard was clean and the classroom equipment stored neatly. It was like an oasis of normalcy, the last remaining piece of Samantha’s shattered world.
She crawled inside and instinctively shut the door behind her. The controlled ‘click’ of the door closing seemed to go unnoticed by the dragon. But for a scared soul hiding in that classroom, the click must have been enormously loud. Samantha heard the feminine voice gasp and the soft rustle of fabric as someone moved. Behind the teacher’s desk, she saw a piece of white fabric. Fearing that person might try to flee, Samantha hissed softly, “It’s okay. Don’t move.”
There wasn’t much time. Still crawling, Samantha hurried to the desk and squeezed under it to hide as well. The person she saw under the desk left her speechless.
It was a very familiar girl, close in age to herself. She had familiar facial features and familiar blond hair, though it was tied into a messy and unfamiliar side ponytail. Her bright gold eyes looked very much like those of Shugo, enough so that it hurt to see them wide with fright. In so many ways, the person under the desk looked like Shugo’s sister, Usagi.
And yet, as Samantha looked towards the girl’s hit points bar, she saw a striking difference: Long, pointed ears. Anyone in Samantha’s generation would know what those ears indicated. They were elf ears, just like the prosthetics that actors adorned in fantasy movies. Likewise, the girl wore an elaborate white outfit that reminded Sam of a fantasy movie wardrobe. She had a tan corset and bustled skirt, with a pair of shorts and knee high boots. She was curled under the desk, knees folded under her and hands on the floor. They were covering an elaborate metal bow.
In retrospect, she was very clearly not Usagi. The ears, the outfit, the sudden archery; It was all not Usagi. And yet, Samantha held a stray hope for Shugo’s sake. For her own, too, as she briefly dared to worry about her missing friend.
“Usagi..?” Samantha breathed out hopefully.
The apparent elf gave her a most confused look, before shaking her head and whispering back, “It’s Uzaki. But how did you know that..?”
[It’s not a matter of how I know, but why your face and names are so similar.] Samantha thought. Rather than start such a conversation in such dire circumstances, she instead answered, “It’s not important. We need to move before that dragon gets in here.”
Uzaki closed her lips together, humming in agreement when she nodded. “Yes. A corrupted dragon can’t be reasoned with.”
[Corrupted?] Again, Samantha had to banish her curiosity and focus on the matter at hand. “I don’t think it can hear very well. If we move quietly, we can escape.”
“You don’t think?” Uzaki’s voice took an almost irritated tone, “Everyone knows that dragons can’t hear well.”
“How can everyone know about something that didn’t exist before today?” Samantha hissed back.
“Whatever do you… Oh.” Uzaki’s brow furrowed, “I suppose… No, you’re right. This kind of concrete cage is new to me too, so…”
In that moment, the two girls gave each other matching looks. It was a wide eyed expression, mouth slightly ajar, as they both craved knowledge. It had become clear to them both that their logic existed in different realities. They longed to fill the information gaps in their own minds and to have a long discussion about these strange circumstances.
Uzaki curled her fingers around her bow.
“Trust what I say about the dragon.” She said firmly.
Samantha nodded in understanding.
“Trust what I say about… uh. Concrete.” She agreed, though made clumsy by her awe of Uzaki’s stern stare.
A rough sound broke their matched eye contact. Claws dragged noisily down the door, no doubt carving ugly scars into the cheap wood. Fantasy was threatening the last oasis of reality in Samantha’s world. There was no time for a long and drawn out plan, nor a chance to share helpful information. The girls were going to have to trust each other’s knowledge and ask no questions, or they would be eaten by a dragon.
Uzaki slowly moved out from under the desk and rose to her feet. Sensing the cue to follow, Samantha did the same and stood next to her.
“My friends have a place for us to hide.” Samantha whispered, “Once we exit, run to the left until you see a staircase-”
Uzaki cut her off firmly, “That isn’t an option.”
“Hey, what about that trust…”
The door made a cracking sound. There was no time for Samantha to argue and no time for a full explanation. Still, in this case, the girls understood that a quick exchange of information was necessary in order to stay on the same page.
“A corrupted creature brings itself and those it encounters to the same fork in the road.” Uzaki whispered, “Kill or be killed.”
“Eh? Wait, then…” Samantha shuddered, “We don’t just have to escape that dragon… We have to kill it?”
“Yes.” Uzaki replied with a casual shrug, “Or we can die. Which do you choose, stranger?”