Chapter 2:

Chapter 2

The Rise of The Dragon Queen

No matter how many adventures I went on or dragons I faced, there was nothing more intimidating than standing before the gates of Queen Evelyn’s palace. Vixia and I approached the castle the morning after we received the letter and I tried to swallow the knot in my throat as I gazed at the solid bars of the gate’s doors, each topped with a sharp spike to deter intruders. The rest of the castle’s perimeter was lined by tall walls made from white brick. I remembered wondering why a dragon hadn’t attacked this place when I spotted the roof poking out from above those walls. It was a much bigger target than the plaza. But those thoughts faded away when we stopped in front of the gates to find two guards standing there, clad in matching uniforms. They marched over to us.Bookmark here

“What business do you have here?” one of them asked.Bookmark here

“The queen sent for us,” I replied, holding up the envelope bearing the queen’s seal.Bookmark here

“Her majesty has been expecting you,” the second informed us. “Follow me.” Vixia and I nodded in unison and the duo turned toward the gates. We exchanged unsure glances as the guards pushed them open. The second of the two guards beckoned for us to follow him and the first closed the gates behind us.Bookmark here

“Right this way, please.”Bookmark here

We followed a gray stone path across a massive yard. It was as grand as I imagined it would be. The roof was the same color as those that topped the rest of the buildings in the city, but I guessed that the shingles were made of higher-quality materials. The castle itself was made of thick stone bricks and tall towers were built into its sides. More guards were perched up there with crossbows, keeping a lookout. Even the windows were framed with metal and had intricate designs woven throughout the glass, which I assumed to be both for security and aesthetic. When I turned my attention to Vixia, I noticed that she was specifically staring at the bushes that adorned the castle’s perimeter, each one dotted with numerous dark blue roses and even more thorns. She didn’t look away from them until we came to the entrance. Now there were only two metal doors between us and the inside of the palace.Bookmark here

The guard that was with us looked at one of the towers and gave a brief hand signal. As soon as the guards in the tower saw him, the doors in front of us were pried open from the inside. We followed the guard into the main hall.Bookmark here

Two spiral staircases stood at either side of the room, leading up to a balcony, and the whole floor was covered in white tiles. The walls were also a pristine white, lined with gold and covered in expensive-looking decorations and paintings. Vixia and I looked around in awe, then at each other. That was when the guard that had led us bowed down, catching our attention.Bookmark here

“Hello there, dragon-slayers.” Vixia and I looked over to see Queen Evelyn standing on the balcony. We immediately fell to our knees and bowed.Bookmark here

“Your majesty, I am so sorry for our disrespect—”Bookmark here

“Be calm,” she instructed. Her voice was soft, but it still carried enough volume to reach us in the spacious room. “You have brought me no disrespect. You two are an asset to this kingdom. You may lift your heads.”Bookmark here

We both did as instructed and looked at her. This was when I noticed that she was leaning over the railing a little, her long, black hair hanging over her shoulders. She was wearing an intricate dress, which was primarily dark blue and white with adorning pieces of gold. A matching crown sat atop her head, but I didn’t realize how large it was until she began her descent down one of the flights of stairs. I was amazed that she didn’t have to hold it still. When she approached us, the sound of her hidden shoes clacking against the floor echoed off the walls and I could see that she had a smile on her face.Bookmark here

“I shall lead you to the drawing-room,” she insisted. She then looked at the guard. “Please see to it that our guests have the proper accommodations.”Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty,” the guard replied and then he left. She finally turned back to us, offering her hand to Vixia and me. A sweet smile crossed her face.Bookmark here

“Please, follow me.”Bookmark here

After we stood up, Queen Evelyn led us down a wide hallway that was on the western wing of the palace. I was surprised to find that while one side of the hallway was adorned with the same intricate windows that I had seen outside, the other was lined with bookshelves that nearly reached the ceiling. I was staring at them in awe before I caught Vixia smirking at me.Bookmark here

“Wish you could have married the queen instead, huh?” she joked in a hushed whisper, so quiet that I was practically reading her lips. “Then you would have all the books you could ever read.”Bookmark here

I didn’t say anything back and chose to roll my eyes instead. I then looked down at my hand, fidgeting with my wedding ring as we followed Queen Evelyn through a doorway at the end of the hall.Bookmark here

When we entered the room, I was amazed to see some of the same bookshelves that were in the hallway in the drawing room. There were a few couches scattered around the room, but at the center of it all was a large cedar table with a massive leather chair behind it. When Queen Evelyn took her seat there, I thought to myself that it kind of looked like a throne in itself. She then motioned to the comfy chairs on the opposite side of the table from her.Bookmark here

“Please, sit.”Bookmark here

We did as we were told and took our seats. After we sat down, I noticed that her deep blue eyes were focused on both of us.Bookmark here

“You are probably wondering why I invited you here today,” she began, “so I will get straight to the point. You two are top-notch dragon-slayers in a kingdom that needs them right now. I have a request.”Bookmark here

“Does it have to do with the attacks, your majesty?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Precisely!” the queen cheered. “However, not as much as you may think.” Vixia and I exchanged worried glances as she added, “This mostly has to do with my guild, the IronScale Slayers.”Bookmark here

“We apologize for any trouble that we may have caused, your majesty,” Vixia interjected, bowing her head, “but we have found that the guild does not respond to threats as quickly as we can. We cannot stand aside while people are in danger.”Bookmark here

“Lift your head! There is no reason for you to apologize. That is precisely why I have invited you here.”Bookmark here

We stared at the queen in confusion as she smiled again.Bookmark here

“I would like to make you an offer that you cannot refuse, my dear dragon-slayers. Join my guild and I will give you a hefty reward for your trouble.”Bookmark here

Vixia and I exchanged unsure glances, then looked back at the queen.Bookmark here

“I apologize, Queen Evelyn, but we cannot accept,” I answered. “I fear that your guild would not be welcoming to us, based on experience.” As soon as those words left my mouth, the Queen’s polite smile twisted into a smirk and her eyes narrowed.Bookmark here

She planned for this.Bookmark here

“That is not an option. Ketsuna, you are not from this kingdom, yes?”Bookmark here

Those words sent a jolt through my body. I averted my eyes and stared down at the floor. I reached up to touch my ears.Bookmark here

“No, your majesty, I am not.”Bookmark here

“And you are aware that your marriage to Vixia does not grant you citizenship, correct?”Bookmark here

“Yes, your majesty, I am aware. We learned that long before we even got married.” The grin on the queen’s face widened.Bookmark here

“You see, this is why I said that you couldn’t refuse. If you join my guild and help get rid of the problem, I will grant you permanent citizenship. If you still refuse, I will have no choice but to send you back to the land from which you came, since you have been interfering with the guild’s activities. You are Draladenian, correct?”Bookmark here

I slumped in my chair as the reality of her words sunk in. While I didn’t have many memories from my home country, I still didn’t want to return. Vixia was also struggling, as I saw when her ears folded back.Bookmark here

“Your majesty, I think you are making a mistake,” she began meekly. “Ketsuna hasn’t done anything wrong. By sending her away, you’ll risk the lives of your citizens.”Bookmark here

Queen Evelyn didn’t even flinch. Her expression fell flat and indifferent.Bookmark here

She’s got us in a corner. There’s nothing else that I can do now.Bookmark here

“Vixia, it’s okay.” I stood up from my seat, staring the queen straight in the eyes this time. “Queen Evelyn, it appears that we have no choice but to take your offer. Where do we begin?”Bookmark here

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Less than a week later, Vixia and I had all of our essentials and a good portion of our clothes packed up in bags. It was a bright morning when we first set out for the guildhall, but if I had to describe our state of mind that day, I would say that we were both pretty gloomy. I locked the door to our home after we stepped onto the porch, admiring it for what would be the last time for a while. I remembered the words of the queen as I stared at the ward that Vixia had fastened to the door.Bookmark here

You will need to live at the guildhall for a while. The guild master and I have made arrangements for you to have a room between the two of yourselves rather than bunking with the other guild members. Do not worry, this isn’t a permanent arrangement. You will be able to return home when things become a bit more stable. I am counting on you, dragon-slayers.Bookmark here

I let out a sigh as a thought popped up into my head. But when will that be? How do we even fix this?Bookmark here

Vixia must have noticed how I was feeling because she put her hand on my shoulder, snapping me back to reality. I looked back at her.Bookmark here

“It’ll be okay. We’ll deal with these dragons as quickly as possible and then we can come back.”Bookmark here

“I hope you’re right,” I murmured, turning my attention back to the house as I slipped the key into my pocket. When we turned to leave, I spotted our little garden out of the corner of my eye. I realized that we would have to restart it when everything was over.Bookmark here

“Vixia, did you collect all of the herbs that you’re going to need?” She nodded and opened one of the bags that she was carrying to show me several glass jars that she had filled with them.Bookmark here

“Okay, then we should probably get going,” I said finally. “If we don’t go now, I may not want to leave.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Vixia agreed in a near whisper. So, we turned and left, carrying everything that we could in a few bags.Bookmark here

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We arrived at the guildhall around noon since we made several stops on the way. It was a large building and, for a moment, I wondered if it was half the size of Queen Evelyn’s palace. The roof was the same blue as all of the others, but the walls were built from stone like the castle. The windows and doors also had a particular amount of attention paid to them, their wooden frames covered in intricate carvings. There was also a wooden sign hanging over the entrance, which had the name of the guild scrawled across it in large letters. Vixia and I were admiring it when we walked up the front steps, which were also crafted from slabs of stone. We stood there for a moment, hesitating.Bookmark here

“Do we just . . . walk in?” Vixia asked. I shrugged my shoulders and approached the double doors. They let out a loud creak when I pushed them open.Bookmark here

The building looked even more massive from the inside. The ceiling was incredibly high, much higher than anyone could reach without a ladder or spell. The floor was covered in dark-colored wood and the walls were built from light stone, but these weren’t the first details that I noticed. The first thing that my eyes wandered to was the crowd of people sitting at tables scattered about the main room. The next was the bar, which stood right beside the stairs that led up to the second floor. Metal sconces clung to the walls and a large chandelier illuminated the room. In its light, I could see the faces of some of the guild members. They seemed to be having a great time, eating and joking with each other. Laughter and the sound of people chatting filled the room. That is until they noticed the creaking of the door and the clatter of the windows when it closed firmly behind us. After a moment, they all looked toward the door and fell silent, their eyes piercing us like daggers.Bookmark here

“What the hell are you doing here?” someone shouted. I looked over to see that it was the guy that I had argued with the other day. He was now standing beside his table, but as soon as our eyes met he began walking toward us.Bookmark here

“Zelora, help us,” Vixia whispered to herself in an exasperated tone, closing her eyes. I gripped the straps of my bags a little tighter as he made his way over. He stopped a few feet away from us, then continued his tirade.Bookmark here

“What, you here to argue some more?” he billowed in an attempt to look intimidating. “You can’t do shit here. Get lost before we boot you out!”Bookmark here

“Sparrow, hold your tongue!” a voice snapped. Everyone looked toward the balcony that overlooked the dining area to see a woman with dark hair and glasses glaring down at all of us. “That is no way to treat your new guildmates, especially those admitted by the queen herself.”Bookmark here

“No way,” Sparrow said quietly, disbelief woven into his voice. He took a few steps back but didn’t return to his seat until the woman began to descend the stairs. She headed toward us.Bookmark here

“Everyone, I’m sure you’ve heard of Ketsuna and Vixia Wynstar. Today is their first day as a part of the Ironscale Slayers. I expect you all to be on your best behavior.”Bookmark here

“Yes ma’am!” some of the guild members shouted, but immediately afterward they began to grumble and complain amongst their group. The woman finally made it over to use and I realized that she was wearing some sort of royal uniform rather than armor or adventuring gear. There was a metal emblem in the shape of a shield pinned to the left side of her chest, right over her heart. I was looking at the dragon’s head that was carved into it when she started talking to us.Bookmark here

“Hello there,” she began. “I’m Nesryn, the guild master of the Ironscale Slayers. Pleased to meet you.”Bookmark here

“We’re pleased to meet you, too,” I lied, bowing my head slightly. Vixia did the same, but she stayed silent.Bookmark here

“I’ve heard a lot about you from her majesty.” A grin crossed Nesryn’s face. “You two should be quite useful in our effort to eradicate the dragons.”Bookmark here

“I hope so,” Vixia replied quietly, looking down at the floor. Nesryn’s grin turned into a warm smile.Bookmark here

“Here, I’ll show you to your room. You two should spend the first day trying to get settled, after all. Follow me.”Bookmark here

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Vixia and I were escorted to our room upstairs and I closed the door behind us with an exasperated sigh. My wife immediately began unpacking one of her bags, setting up a temporary altar in the corner farthest from the door. She began to retrieve the jars of supplies from her bag and stacked them beside it. Thankfully, she packed only the bare essentials for her worship because the room was already cramped. There was a large bed in the middle of the room, which took up a large portion of the space even though the headboard was pushed up against the wall. A wooden chest rested on the floor at the foot of it and there was also a small closet and a table that stood underneath the only window. Other than that, the room was empty.Bookmark here

Good thing we didn’t bring much.Bookmark here

I looked over again to see that Vixia had already set up an offering on her makeshift altar. It was burning slowly in a small porcelain dish while she bowed her head in prayer, her eyes closed. I watched quietly, noticing the peaceful expression on her face and how her ears perked up attentively as she listened to Zelora herself. Her long, silver hair draped over her shoulders and down her back and her tail was completely still on the floor. I continued to watch her until I heard someone knocking aggressively on the door behind me.Bookmark here

I felt my brows furrow as I turned to open it, the knocking not ceasing until I did. When the door was finally open, I found Sparrow standing there with his two other party mates. His hands were posed on his hips, just like when we first met. I stepped out into the hall and quietly closed the door behind me. I didn’t want to disturb Vixia.Bookmark here

“You have some nerve, requesting to join this guild,” he began. “Especially directly to the queen.” The other two men in his party stood silently behind him, nodding in agreement.Bookmark here

“You’ve got it all wrong.”Bookmark here

Before I could say anything else, he stepped closer, trying to loom over me. Unfortunately for him, it took a lot more than that to intimidate me, so I stood my ground and glared up at him.Bookmark here

“Do I now?” he asked in a gruff voice.Bookmark here

“Yes, you do,” Nesryn interjected. We all looked over to see the guild master approaching us, annoyance written on her face. Sparrow, once again, stepped away from me. “They were admitted by the queen because she requested for Ketsuna and Vixia personally. Her majesty recognized their efforts and wanted them to join, not the other way around. Maybe if you actually pulled your weight around here, you would get that same recognition.”Bookmark here

I could almost see the gears turning in Sparrow’s head as the realization of what Nesryn said hit him. His eyes widened and he looked between the guild master and me. He opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. So, I decided to say something.Bookmark here

“You should avoid harassing us, especially at this time of day,” I warned. “Vixia is praying right now, and if you interrupt her like this again, I will deal with you myself. She may be quiet and shy, but I’m not.” Sparrow and his party remained silent for a moment, glaring at me. Again, I didn’t flinch. Eventually, Sparrow let out a scoff and started to walk away. The two others followed and, after they left, Nesryn turned back to me.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry about all of that. Sparrow will be written up for all of this.”Bookmark here

“It’s all right. Not your fault that you have some hot-headed guild members.” She smiled and let out a small laugh.Bookmark here

“Please try to get some rest. I’ll give you guys your first assignment tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“I will, thank you,” I replied with a nod and turned back to the door. When I opened it, I found Vixia smudging our new room.Bookmark here

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