Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

The Rise of The Dragon Queen

A dragon’s scream tore through Tidalsong City as I tried to combat the panic welling up inside me. I dashed across the rooftops as quickly as I could, brittle shingles shattering beneath my feet as I ran. I risked a glance over my shoulder, finding the dragon’s eyes fixed on me as it bared its ivory fangs. The ground rumbled as its outspread wings leveled any buildings within reach and I turned my attention back to where I was heading. My eyes focused on the gap between the rooftop that I was on and the next one.Bookmark here

I can make it! My breath hitched in my throat as I jumped, my feet leaving the edge of the rooftop as an enormous, ruby-scaled tail slammed into it. My right foot hit the next rooftop as the building that I had been on before crumbled from the impact. A shooting pain rushed up my leg and I fell onto my side. My leg scraped against the roof’s shingles, ripping my pants and cutting my outer thigh, but that wasn’t the worst part. At that moment, the blade that was strapped to my back escaped from its sheath and skidded away from me. I lurched toward it, but it was too late. It tipped off the edge and plummeted, the worn metal clattering when it hit the ground below. I pushed myself back up and turned around to watch dreadfully as the beast approached me.Bookmark here

The whole dragon was covered in crimson scales, which reflected a ruby color in the sunlight, and jagged fangs emerged from its mouth as it let out another roar. Its eyes were entirely enveloped in a black that resembled ink, so its glare appeared to hold no soul. I had no idea how it had gotten to Tidalsong City, but then again, I didn’t know where it came from to begin with. My entire body was rendered paralyzed in its empty glare. Everything seemed to stand still for that instant except for the pounding of my heartbeat and the light breeze, which carries some debris throughout the area. My mouth grew dry as I pulled a knife from my belt and gripped it tightly, holding it out in front of me as my whole body trembled. I knew that there was no way it would save me, but there was someone who could.Bookmark here

“Vixia!” I screamed. Just as I called out her name, a blur darted past me and scurried across the rooftop. Sunlight reflected off the orb that topped her staff as she continued on, running almost as if she were weightless. She fearlessly leaped from the ledge and flipped midair as she unleashed some sort of spell, surrounding herself in light. The light then broke apart in dagger-like fragments and scattered before they shot away from her in a flurry. I barely caught a glimpse of her silvery hair and matching wolf ears as she fell. She kicked off the monster’s stomach and sprung into a backflip, disappearing from sight just before each of her ethereal blades darted forward and sunk into the dragon’s skin. It let out an ear-piercing shriek and recoiled from the pain.Bookmark here

This was when I found my courage again. Even though I was still shaking, I stood up and held my remaining weapon in front of me. I rushed forward and surged from the roof’s edge, screaming both in fear and anger as I jabbed my weapon into the dragon’s flesh. The blade embedded itself between the dragon’s scales just before I let go. I was falling to the ground when I heard Vixia’s voice screaming my name.Bookmark here

“Ketsuna!”Bookmark here

I honestly expected to smack the ground. I knew that I was supposed to relax, but my body tensed in anticipation instead. I squeezed my eyes shut, figuring this was it for me, but the impact never came. I opened my eyes again, realizing that now I was slowly drifting down toward the ground instead of free-falling, much like a leaf on the breeze. I looked over to see Vixia with her hand outstretched toward me, her brows furrowed like she was concentrating on me.Bookmark here

“Get out of here!” she shouted. I nodded and as soon as my feet met the ground, I was already running toward the edge of the plaza. When I was a safe distance away, I turned around to watch as Vixia proceeded over to the dragon. She held her staff out in front of her with both hands and began shouting the lines of an incantation.Bookmark here

Trial by fire, burning with easeBookmark here

Scorching flames of a thousand degreesBookmark here

Zelora, I request that you ignite this power in meBookmark here

So mote it be!Bookmark here

I took a wild guess as to what that meant and dove for cover as everything around Vixia and the dragon burst into flames. The fire wrapped around the two of them, swirling like a tornado, before it exploded and jutted high into the air within an instant. I heard the dragon’s scream again, but I couldn’t see anything through the fiery walls.Bookmark here

The fire burned intensely for a moment, then was snuffed out just as quickly as it was lit. Vixia stood in the center of the plaza, but now the dragon was nowhere to be seen. The ground within her attack radius was scorched and charred black. I stepped out from behind my cover, breathing heavily as I tried to process what had just happened. I was beginning to piece everything together when Vixia slouched her shoulder and her tail went limp. She lowered her head and teetered for a second. Then, she collapsed.Bookmark here

“Vixia!”Bookmark here

I rushed over to her and was relieved to see that she was still breathing. Her eyes were barely open as she stared up at the sky, a look of exhaustion scrawled across her face. I dropped to my knees beside her and grabbed her shoulders.Bookmark here

“Hey, stay with me.”Bookmark here

“I’ll be fine,” she replied weakly, her eyes still fixed on the sky above us. “I just need a second. That spell was a bit much for me.” She cracked a bit of a smile as I brushed her bangs away from her face.Bookmark here

“Zelora warned you not to, huh?” She nodded, but didn’t say anything. “I’ll hold you until you can get up, okay?”Bookmark here

“Okay . . .” Her voice trailed off as I pulled her closer to me. I looked at the city around us.Bookmark here

All of the buildings surrounding the plaza were either completely demolished or severely damaged; even the poles for the streetlights had been bent or snapped like twigs if they were even still there. Rubble littered the streets and the sky was clouded with ash. I took it all in as I processed what was going on.Bookmark here

This had become our new normal. For the past year, dragons had been appearing all over the kingdom of Zaledrid, from the winding forests to the major cities. There was a guild created by the queen to take care of them, but Vixia and I usually managed to get to them first, somehow. This was the first time a dragon had attacked Tidalsong City, Zaledrid’s capital and our home.Bookmark here

Honestly, it was terrifying.Bookmark here

“I’m feeling better now,” Vixia murmured, snapping my attention back to her. I looked back down at my lap to see her smiling at me instead of staring past me. I brushed her bangs out of her face again, taking note of all of the scorch marks on her.Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

“Mhmm.” She nodded and sat up.Bookmark here

“Did you incinerate the dragon?”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

“So, all of this ash is—”Bookmark here

“The dragon and anything within the casting radius,” she answered bluntly. She held out her hand and waited as some of the ashes drifted into her palm.Bookmark here

Well, I guess I’m not getting my weapons back . . . The thought ran through my mind but then Vixia shifted my attention back to the situation.Bookmark here

“We’re going to get in trouble if we keep this up.”Bookmark here

“It’s not like the Ironscale Slayers are doing much better, though,” I replied. Vixia tilted her head and shrugged. She let the ashes in her hand get swept away by the breeze and leaned back against my arm. Unfortunately, her back also pressed against my injured leg.Bookmark here

“Ow!” I yelped.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?” She jolted upright and looked back at me, startled. I watched her gaze wander down to the shredded side of my thigh and my scuffed boot. She then changed her question to, “What happened there?”Bookmark here

“I lost my balance,” I answered, scratching the back of my neck sheepishly. “I’m super lucky that you came in when you did. Perfect timing.”Bookmark here

She stood up and held out her hand, offering it to me. A sweet smile crossed her face.Bookmark here

“You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that.”Bookmark here

I nodded and took her hand, the joints in my knees and ankles popping as I rose. We both laughed as I stretched them a little. Instead of letting go of Vixia’s hand when I was on my feet, I clutched it even tighter. I squeezed it three times and she did the same back to mine.Bookmark here

I love you.Bookmark here

“Ketsuna, let’s go home,” she said quietly. I nodded and we began the short walk back to our house, hand-in-hand.Bookmark here

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Steam shifted in the room behind me when I opened the bathroom door. The window down the hall to my left, which was right beside the front door, showed me that it was already night time since it was pitch-black outside. The house around me was dimly lit and I could tell that the only light that was on besides the ones in the bathroom had to be in the kitchen. I flicked off the light switch in the bathroom when I caught the scent of Vixia’s cooking.Bookmark here

I stepped off of the bathroom tile and onto the hardwood floor of the hallway, closing the door behind me before I walked around the corner to my right. I was greeted with the sight of Vixia standing at the stove, her tail wagging back and forth mildly. She appeared to be stirring something, but I couldn’t see what. A smile crossed my face as I tried my best to dry my hair with my towel.Bookmark here

“You cooked?”Bookmark here

My wife looked back at me from over her shoulder. At first, she seemed surprised, but it quickly melted into a smile.Bookmark here

“Well, we both worked hard today. I figured you’d be pretty hungry after all of that.”Bookmark here

“Aren’t you tired? You were being pretty acrobatic back there.”Bookmark here

“I’m fine,” she reassured me with a giggle, waving her free hand dismissively. “You know I have a lot of stamina.” I shrugged and she turned away from me, lifting her ladle out of the pot that was sitting on the stove. She brought it to her lips and took a quick sip of what appeared to be stew. Her ears perked up and her tail picked up speed in its wagging. She immediately began searching for bowls in the cabinet beside her.Bookmark here

“It’s ready,” she chimed.Bookmark here

I walked up behind her as she reached for one of the bowls. I wrapped my arms around her waist, hugging her from behind and burying my face in the back of her shoulder. She froze for a second.Bookmark here

“Thank you,” I whispered. She looked back at me from over her shoulder, but I figured that she couldn’t see much other than my hair since she was much taller than me. When I looked up at her, I saw that she was smiling again.Bookmark here

“No problem. Go ahead and take a seat.”Bookmark here

I let go and did as I was told. I removed the towel from my shoulders and rested it on the back of my chair as she set a bowl down in front of me. I waited for her to sit down across from me before I did anything.Bookmark here

“Thank you for the food,” we both mumbled in a tiny prayer.Bookmark here

“Thank you for protecting us today, Zelora,” Vixia added quietly, praising her patron goddess. When she was done, we both picked up our spoons and began eating.Bookmark here

This was how our evenings usually went, at least when things were calm. I tried to remember the last time that we were able to relax for a weekend like we used to. My mind conjured up memories of the days when the sort of things that we worried about was if we had over-watered the garden rather than if there was a threat nearby. I let out a sigh and immediately saw Vixia’s ears shift from the edge of my sight.Bookmark here

“Is it not good?” she asked. I looked up to see there was a worried look on her face and she had tilted her head at me.Bookmark here

“Huh?” It took me a second to realize that she was talking about the stew. “Oh, no. It’s great. My mind was just wandering, that’s all. I’m okay.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I promise.” We both went back to eating. After a moment, a question popped up in my head. “Hey, what did you catch me with earlier? Was that a new spell?”Bookmark here

Vixia let out another giggle. Even after years of being together, it still made my heart flutter.Bookmark here

“Yeah, Zelora and I have been working on it for a bit. It’s kind of like a levitating spell. She told me that it would come in handy at some point.” Vixia always worked very closely with her deity. Zelora was the reason why she had magic, after all.Bookmark here

“Well, thank her for me, okay?” Vixia nodded and took another bite of her stew.Bookmark here

When we both finished our dinner, I took our bowls and spoons to wash them while Vixia headed to her altar, which was set up in the living room, to pray. She was finishing up just as I was putting the dishes away and we headed to our room together.Bookmark here

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The next morning, Vixia and I set out to the local blacksmith’s shop so that I could replace my dagger and sword. We lived at the edge of the city, so as soon as we stepped out the door we could hear the sound of numerous, indistinct voices and the footfalls of passing travelers and merchants, carried by the sea breeze. The same breeze rustled the leaves of the trees that surrounded our little home and the plants in our garden. The ocean was visible from the front porch, stretched out on the horizon, just beyond the cliff where our home stood. I had picked out this house nearly five years ago, not long after Vixia and I got married.Bookmark here

“We need to water the garden,” Vixia mentioned as we stepped onto the sidewalk. I glanced over at our side yard to see that some of the plants were beginning to wilt. I nodded to her.Bookmark here

“We shouldn’t be gone for long. We’ll deal with it when we get back.”Bookmark here

“Okay.” And with that, we followed the cracked sidewalk deeper into the city.Bookmark here

Tidalsong City was sectioned into blocks by pewter streets and most of the buildings were white with cobalt-colored roofs, which was unique and exclusive to Tidalsong City alone. The crowds of people that flooded the streets during the busiest times of the day seemed just as vast and endless as the ocean that the city was known for. I could see the beach as we continued down the sidewalk. Its shore was made almost entirely of white sand and was spotted with people wandering alongside the waves, most of them being sailors. Further down there were massive docks with people dragging cargo toward the city. I was watching some struggle with a large crate when I was snapped back to reality by something slamming into my shoulder.Bookmark here

“Hey, watch it!” a deep voice snapped.Bookmark here

I looked up to see a man glaring down at me. He was slightly taller than Vixia with dark brown hair and eyes to match. He was wearing a familiar set of armor, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it before. He stood there with his hands on his hips, leering down at me.Bookmark here

“Sorry,” I began, noticing that there were two other men with him, standing behind him at either side. They were both wearing the same kind of armor as the first man, but one was clearly a mage and the other was an archer. Vixia, who was standing beside me and was now holding my hand, was eyeing them with a scowl on her face.Bookmark here

“Wait, I know you!” the man started again, an accusatory tone in his voice. “You two are those nosy dragon-slayers! You two caused us a lot of trouble yesterday.” That was when it finally clicked that their armor was the uniform of the queen’s guild, the Ironscale Slayers.Bookmark here

“Couldn’t be that much trouble since we did your job for you, but okay,” I replied bluntly. I had never seen someone’s expression twist so quickly. I wondered if he expected some sort of apology as I watched his brows furrow.Bookmark here

“What, so now a pointy-eared freak and a mangy mutt are going to tell us how to do our jobs?”Bookmark here

I saw Vixia’s ears fold back from the corner of my eye. For context, Vixia and I both look like humans, but we have some features that make us stand out. For me, all I have are pointed ears, but Vixia had the ears and tail of a wolf and slightly sharper teeth. Insults like these usually rolled off my back, but Vixia had a harder time with them. Both of the men with the main guy tensed at his comment and I could tell that they were also getting heated. That didn’t stop me, though.Bookmark here

“I guess so,” I answered, straightening a little as I put my free hand on my hip. “If you did your jobs right in the first place, we wouldn’t have to step in. If you don’t like it, then hurry up and do it yourselves. It’s not our fault that you guys are slacking.”Bookmark here

I felt Vixia squeeze my hand as she tried to fight the urge to bare her teeth.Bookmark here

“Now hold on just a—”Bookmark here

“Let’s go.” I squeezed Vixia’s hand three times and she nodded, doing the same back. We continued on our way, stepping off the sidewalk to go around them. I could feel their glares like daggers on my back, but I ignored them. I didn’t realize how that interaction would influence things during the rest of our time in Zaledrid.Bookmark here

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The rest of our day wasn’t very significant. Or, at least it wasn’t until dinnertime. Vixia and I made it back home a few hours after we left and managed to get some chores done. After that, we spent most of the day relaxing, especially since we hadn’t completely recovered from the fight with the dragon. That evening, I changed the bandages on my leg and decided that it was my turn to make dinner. Vixia and I were both sitting at the table, getting ready to eat, when there was a knock at the door.Bookmark here

“I’ll go get it,” I volunteered, setting my fork down on my plate. “Go ahead and start without me.” Vixia nodded quietly and shoveled some rice into her mouth. I turned and headed for the front door. When I opened it, I saw a man dressed in a blue and white uniform waiting on the porch. I noticed that there was an envelope in his hands.Bookmark here

“Can I help you?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Is this the residence of Ketsuna and Vixia Wynstar?”Bookmark here

“Yes, this is. Who are you?”Bookmark here

“I am a messenger sent by her majesty, Queen Evelyn, to bring you this message.” He held the envelope out to me and I took it hesitantly. “Everything you need to know is inside of that. I’ll be taking my leave now.” He bowed, turned around, and left just as quickly as he came. I eyed the envelope in my hand, raising an eyebrow at it as I closed the door.Bookmark here

“Who was that?” Vixia asked as I walked toward the table. In the light of the kitchen, I could see that there was an intricate navy-colored wax seal placed on the envelope. At the center of the design was a crown with a cursive E imprinted on it.Bookmark here

“Apparently it’s from the queen,” I answered. Vixia’s eyes widened and for a second I thought that she was going to choke on her food.Bookmark here

“Wait, are we in trouble?”Bookmark here

“I think she would have sent someone to arrest us if we were, not a letter.”Bookmark here

“Good point. What does it say?”Bookmark here

“Not sure. I haven’t opened it yet.”Bookmark here

I carefully wedged my fingernail underneath the edge of the wax seal and popped it off of the bottom half of the envelope. Inside was a neatly folded sheet of paper. I pulled it out and began to read it to Vixia.Bookmark here

Dearest Ketsuna & Vixia Wynstar,Bookmark here

I trust that this letter finds you well.Bookmark here

I have heard much about you from my soldiers, guards, peers, and the numerous citizens of Zaledrid. On behalf of everything, thank you. The people of this land have come to respect your combat skills and what you stand for after your recent victories against the dragons that have been plaguing our fair land. I have even found myself taking an interest as well. As of this time, I have one simple request.Bookmark here

I would like to meet you both at my palace tomorrow morning. We will discuss more then. I look forward to making your acquaintance.Bookmark here

With warm regards,Bookmark here

Queen EvelynBookmark here

“Huh, well her sentiment is much different from her guild members,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“That’s what I was thinking.” I looked at Vixia, who was now standing behind me and leaning over my shoulder. “What should we do?”Bookmark here

“Well, if the queen summons you, you show up.” Vixia sighed at my response and returned to the table.Bookmark here

“I have a bad feeling about this.” I shrugged and joined her, sitting back down to start eating dinner. However, one thought kept running through my head the whole time I was eating.Bookmark here

What could the queen possibly want with us?Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.