Chapter 3: Best Friends with Weirdos Part II
Entering the gymnasium late and drenched, Ash was given glares from his fellow classmates. What made things worst was that he seemed to have been holding up the class as the four squads were just huddled around a tall woman with short dark blond hair. She was dressed in a white uniform that had black feathers jutting out from her left shoulder with a long sword on one hip and a short sword on the other. It was safe to say she was Ash’s combat instructor.
“Ohoho, look who finally decided to show up. General Fireheart did say that the Halfbreed was going to be a handful.” She said, signaling out Ash with a weird accent.
“Yeah, sorry Teach, dealt with a freaky thunderstorm on the way. Thought it was supposed to be sunny today, weird.” Ash said, trying to laugh it off, but she obviously did not find him funny.
“If you have time for games, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the penalty I have for disrespectful hatchlings such as yourself.” Her amber eyes gleamed a ferocious glare. “Also, I am no Teach. You will refer to me as Ms. Sparkfang. Am I clear?”
“As the sky,” Ash said as he placed his things in an empty locker.
“If that’s the case, come here.”
“Um, shouldn’t I change first?”
With a snap of her fingers, Ash’s clothing dried up, earning claps from her students for how well she could control her aura. Even Ash was impressed as his own mother tried that—instead of using the dryer—which led to him washing his clothes from then on. As wearing woman’s clothes for a day was not the greatest of experiences.
“Now, come and assist me with today’s lesson.”
Ms. Sparkfang beckoned Ash forward past the class. Then she clapped her hands twice, turning on the lights for the other half of the room. They were on the second floor of the dome gymnasium and while on one side, it was the typical orange flooring, basketball court with lockers, stands, etc. The newly lit portion of the room was an ecosystem of its own with tall mountains and rainforests. However, there was an invisible wall that seemed to divide two zones.
“Amazing,” Ash said along with the other students chiming in.
“I-Is that what’s outside of the walls?” Scott asked.
“Why, of course.” Ms. Sparkfang said, answering her young pupil. “This is but only a small taste. As you know, most of the territory outside of the walls are unexplored, untamed lands. It is why Dragon Guards are the lifeblood of our society. They are the explorers, the conquerors, and the scientists. They are our culture and our lifeline. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to connect to the other nations of the world.”
Ms. Sparkfang was clearly glowing with pride for her nation and the job she enjoyed, so much so, others were beginning to feel her excitement as well. Everyone except for Baron, Alexis, and Lissandra who were ready when an earsplitting screech ripped through their ears.
That alone silenced the class as a giant bird of prey slammed its beaks against the unseen wall. A wingspan well over 10 feet with dark brown feathers, but what made the class tremble was the deformity of its face. A beak for each one of its cheeks, yet all three moved in conjunction of each other, creating a paralyzing screech.
“Ouh-là-là, how did a Griffon enter this domain?” Ms. Sparkfang muttered before stepping past the barrier. “No matter, I can’t have you breaking their spirit on the first day. En Garde foul beast, you face a Sparkfang.”
Finding prey foolish enough to enter its territory, the Griffon took high to the sky, and the beat of its wings shook the ground itself. Shaking the class who weren’t even on the other side, but Ms. Sparkfang stood out in the open, easy pickings for any avian. The Griffon swooped down, talons out; it was going to end it in one blow and then hope for another meager lizard to enter its domain. But of course, that wasn’t even a possibility as Ms. Sparkfang drew her rapier.
“Oh powerless Griffon, though I have not a clue how you got here. I shall release you from this world for fire cleanses all.”
After feeling the intensity of its supposed prey’s blood lust, the Griffon tried to stop in a panic, only to be swallowed up by the thousand piercings of a blade waltz poking holes through its body in rapid succession. Ending the bout with the Griffon crashing past Ms. Sparkfang, who flicked the blood off her blade and then sheathed it as the body of the ferocious bird of prey turned to ashes.
“So Ash, come and face your punishment.” Ms. Sparkfang beckoned him forward without so much as a smile. In perfect control of her Draconic state. “That is if you can still move.”
Ash scratched his head. “If it’s to kill one of those things? I’ll be honest. Not even I can do that.”
“Ohohoho, surely you jest. I would never send a hatchling to face something clearly beyond their years. No, you will face a Baal.”
“You want me to kill a giant toad?”
“It is much weaker than a Griffon, and it isn’t uncommon for first-years to face multiple Baals on their first outing. Now come and accept your punishment, or you can face me.”
“So where’s this toad?” Ash said, standing next to Ms. Sparkfang.
Ash may have never seen a Baal in person, but he knew it would not compare to his nutcase of a teacher. He was 90% certain she wouldn’t hold back against him, so any option was better than her, even fairytales.
“Decisive. The mark of a true guard.”
“Can you just give me a weapon?”
“Rude. Like I would send my student to duel unarmed.”
Ms. Sparkfang snapped her fingers, and out from the ground appeared a long sword made of steel.
“And a shield too. Kind of need to defend myself.”
Ms. Sparkfang raised an eyebrow but decided not to question her foolish student and summoned a steel shield to go with his sword. Ash picked up both, feeling slightly uncomfortable as if he was having déjà vu.
“Mind if I get some armor too—”
“You foolish Halfbreed do you not even understand the basics? Your garments already have resistances. If I give you armor on top of that, you will surely die.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Teach.”
“I thought I told you to refer to me as Ms. Sparkfang.”
Ash scratched his cheek. “Sorry, but it feels weird calling you that. As my squadmate has the same last name.”
Ms. Sparkfang glanced back and saw the chatty hooded figure, immediately recognizing her to be Alexis. “I see. That could be confusing. Then you may use my title.”
“Title? Like teacher?”
“No, you Halfbreed!” Lissandra said, stepping past the barrier just to berate Ash. “Ms. Sparkfang is the Kingdom’s Grand Duelist. By Dragons, how do you know what a Baal is but not know her.”
Ash shrugged his shoulders. “What can I say? I enjoy a good story about monsters.”
Lissandra facepalmed, unsure what she should do with him, but luckily she had someone with more sense she could handle as Ms. Sparkfang tapped her shoulder.
“Princess Lissandra, may I ask why you’ve entered this domain?”
“To talk some sense into my vanguard.” Lissandra then bowed to her instructor. “I apologize for his tardiness, and I ask for his forgiveness as he is but a foolish Human with a lack of common sense.”
“You know my rules Princess Lissandra. If you want something done…” Ms. Sparkfang paused, looking for an answer.
“You must do it yourself. Human, bow and ask for forgiveness.”
“No can do, Princesss,” Ash said, ignoring Lissandra’s glare that really pushed him to not want to listen to her.
“What the hell do you mean? Do you want to die?”
“It’s not about want. It’s about the fact that if I don’t stand up now, I’ll get stepped on for the rest of the year. Besides, the Teach won’t let it kill me.”
“Of course I won’t.” Ms. Sparkfang said as she finally cracked a smile. “Though if I happen to not make it in time, I will take full responsibility for my ineptitude.”
A wayward breeze blew between them as both Ash and Lissandra understood their teacher’s weak attempt at an excuse.
“Ash, no joke, she will let you die,” Lissandra said, trying to be as clear as possible.
Yet Ash only heard one thing in that entire sentence as he smiled. “Hey, that’s the third time you’ve said my name. I guess you do care about me.”
“I care about my sssquad, not you. We can’t complete the term with four membersss.”
“Then you better just hope I win, right Princesss,” Ash said, laughing.
“You know what, fine, but I’m coming with you.”
“No, no.” Ms. Sparkfang said, appearing between Ash and Lissandra. “It wouldn’t be a punishment if you took care of the monster for him. I already know you can handle a Baal with ease.”
“Then I’ll go.”
Everyone was shocked to see Scott standing next to them, having somehow conquered the fear that the rest of his classmates were still suffering from.
“I’ve never faced a Baal, and I’m a part of his Squad.” Scott then bowed his trembling head. “So please, let me come too!”
Ms. Sparkfang didn’t even have to look at Scott to tell he wasn’t ready. Sure he overcame the Griffon’s paralyzing screech of death, but it looked to be temporary at best. One of the issues with first-years was that they had never been faced with the raw killing intent of a predator. Rendering them useless in the outside world, where many things considered Dragonoids a tasty treat. It was her job to fix that. To be honest, the fact that there was a squad that could still move was impressive. But that Human’s rashness would get them killed. So it was better for her to nip it in the bud now.
“You’re clearly shaking, filled with fear.” Ms. Sparkfang said, trying to be as gentle as she possibly could. “I don’t believe you’d be able to face a Baal in your current state, and I refuse to send my student to his death.”
“Grand Duelist, if I may speak,” Ash said, surprisingly polite for a change as his eyes met Scott’s. “Don’t count my friend out just yet. I’d be happy for him to come.”
“I second that idea,” Lissandra said with a nod to Scott for him to raise his head.
Ms. Sparkfang didn’t know what to say as she didn’t expect her own pupil to continue to defy her. “B-But Princess Lissandra, you know I can’t. The risk is too high—”
Lissandra raised her hand, finally evoking her authority as a Princess of Fire. “If the risk is too high for Scott, then it is too high for the Halfbreed, meaning we cancel the whole thing.”
Ms. Sparkfang bowed and let out a sigh. “Fine, as you wish, Princess Lissandra.” Then she looked over at Scott’s small stature, who was insignificant even while she was hunched over. “Go ahead and join him, but that is it. He gets no more help.”
“That’s fine. Not like I was expecting any to begin with.” Ash said, already prepared to walk deeper into the forest without a care in the world but stopped to look back at Scoot, who was running over to him. “Don’t forget to get a weapon.”
“R-right… Though… I’ve never held a weapon before….”
Practically everyone except Ash facepalmed at that. It even made some of the students come out of their paralyzed state just to do it. And those who were quick to recover began to discuss how they were going to die, but Ash didn’t care about that as Scott seemed to focus on it until he received a tap on the head.
“You think I’ve held a sword before yesterday?”
“Yes.” Lissandra and Scott both said, which earned them a laugh to the face.
“You think they give swords to Humans? Nope, I’m a full-on greenhorn, so just ask for something, and you’ll be fine.” Ash said, telling the truth—sort of—since he did carry a purple armband under his sleeve, a mark of someone who was fairly decent at hand-to-hand combat. Though that only mattered for Humans and not Dragonoids, as martial arts were different for the two.
“If that’s the case,” Scott said, accepting Ash’s words. “Ms. Sparkfang, can you recommend me something?”
“Of course. I already know what will suit you the best. You’re the Scout of Squad S and a Sightsear, correct?
Scott nodded frantically as his face turned red from being recognized.
“Then here, take this crossbow. It should serve you well.”
A sleek black crossbow with a scope appeared from the ground, and Scott could lift it with relatively no difficulty. Sadly it came with silver bolts that made Scott’s breathing shakier than usual.
“You ready?” Ash said as Scott struggled to move forward.
After that, an alarm went off as a robotic voice spoke: Warning. A Baal has entered the area. Warning a Baal has entered the area.
“So do we just wait here or—”
“Nope, we hunt it.” Ash sprinted off, going deep into the forest with a wide grin, all while Scott hopelessly followed him the best he could.
“They’re going to die.” A male student muttered with murmurs of agreement from his classmates.
“Oh really. Wanna bet on it.” Alexis said, taking out a pouch of gold.
“Depends on the conditions and how much?”
“Ooo, I like you,” Alexis said, pouring gold coins onto her hand. “500 gold worth that they’ll kill the thing. If they turn tail and run, I’ll even pay you double.”
“And if only one runs?”
“Then one and a half times the total.”
“Deal.” The student said, shaking Alexis’s hand, then chatted with others about the faceless who was giving out free money.
“Sucker,” Alexis whispered to Baron. “I never lose a bet.”
“Didn’t you lose yesterday?” Baron said, reminding her of her bet against Ash.
“I don’t remember losing money, so that doesn’t count.”
Baron just shrugged his shoulders since arguing with Alexis was pointless, especially with her betting logic. She was clearly a gambling addict and got a rush from playing the odds, yet isn’t that how they became friends? The worst bet of his life. Though Baron hoped his teammates pulled through as he watched them on the TV display.
The entire class sat in stands prepared for occasions like this where they could watch those in the arena from the comfort of their seats. Of course, Ms. Sparkfang had a steeled face as she watched the various monitors of the rainforest.
It wouldn’t be long before they encountered the Baal, and that was their first test. Even looking at the grotesque creature from the safety of their seats, half of the class was frozen stiff. Reality is often stranger than fiction but believing that something was a fairytale only to be shown otherwise stopped most in their tracks. Except for the knowledgeable and the foolish, so it wasn’t surprising when Scott froze while Ash was sent flying when they found it.
Scott may have been smart enough to have preloaded his crossbow before the encounter but not having the willpower to fire it was crippling. While Ash was much too slow to be able to dodge the Baal's attacks due to being weighed down by his shield. The foolish halfbreed may have good battle sense, but he’d already fallen into the trapped mindset of a bad habit. Believing that one needed a sword and shield to function when his body wasn’t made for that.
Ms. Sparkfang might have to step in after all, she thought, as losing the Halfbreed was excusable but losing a Sightsear would tarnish the Sparkfang’s reputation. Not only that, but she still had a debt to repay to that boy’s grandfather. One that required a lifetime of work to pay off, yet as she stood up, Princess Lissandra held her shoulder.
“Do you remember when you dropped me into a Baal pit?”
“Of course. It was masterful work.”
“I was only 10.”
“And yet you already had a pact weapon.”
Lissandra held onto her chest, covering the dragon marking of her pact with Ignis. “If that was all that kept me alive, then I’m sure Ignis would devour me.”
“Are you saying you could have done it without its help?”
“I’m saying that I trust my squad to succeed. It’s the least I can do as a Leader, just as you trusted me.”
“Ouh-là-là , so you trust him?”
“Of course, he’s like my little brother.”
For once, Ms. Sparkfang laughed as that was not who she meant, but it was good to see her pupil trust in others again.
Ash bolted off, sprinting as fast as he could, making a loud racket wherever he went. Occasionally he checked behind him to see if Scott was keeping up with his momentum. And Scott didn’t disappoint as he kept pace even with his gear weighing on him. Which meant they could stop.
“Hah… Hah… Hah… Why are we stopping? I can keep going.” Scott said, holding onto his knees.
“We can, but with all the noise we made, it’s probably better to relax here.”
“Out in the open?” Scott said, looking around as the most in their way was a small stream and the towering trees that surrounded them.
“Yup, since we don’t know for certain what a Baal can do, it’s better to fight it in the open, where it can’t hide.”
“Th-that’s surprisingly smart.”
“Well, the old man would get mad if I let a friend die because of me. So I actually have to think.” Ash said, taking a sip from the stream. “Wow, this beats those fake reserves.”
“Yeah, Humans don’t have access to the Stars like you do. So to have the taste of the real outdoors, we have to go to Reserves. Though nothing dangerous like a Baal exists there, just your typical bugs and plants.”
“I see. Also, how did you know Baals existed? Not even I did?”
“First load your weapon, then I’ll tell you,” Ash said as he felt uneasy. Even though they were alone in the forest and made a whole lot of noise, they should have heard the monster making its way to them. Strange.
“F-finished,” Scott said with his goggles on.
“Huh, for your first time, you sure were quick.”
Scott’s crossbow was locked and loaded even with the safety off. Something that would have needed at least some sort of instruction where Ash would’ve offered to help, but he wasn’t needed.
“Yeah, I’m a Sightsear. We kind of have a knack for figuring things out. Especially in our Draconic state.”
“Then what’s up with the goggles?”
“Oh these,” Scott scratched his cheek. “They prevent me from seeing too much.”
“Glasses that impair your vision… I have so many questions.”
“Wait, you haven’t answered mine yet.”
Ash ran his hand through Scott’s hair. “Sheesh, you can be adamant at times. It’s nothing really. I just was told a lot of stories when I was younger. One was about Baal, the man-eater. A toad that lurks within murky waters eating boats in one chomp. Of course, the moral of the story is to take faster baths since I used to never want to leave the tub.”
“I-I’ve never heard of a story like that.” Scott just had a blank stare as Ash laughed.
“Well… my parents are weird. But your turn: what did you mean by you see too much?”
“For example, if I adjust my goggles and look straight, I can see clearly through the forest to about 6 miles away as if it were in front of me. From every crack and crevice, even movement—”
Scott froze in place, and Ash took that as a bad sign. He tried to jump out of the way, but Ash only had enough time to raise his shield. Out of the woods came a long pink tongue that slammed into Ash’s shield sending him flying into the tree behind them. Then from the sky, a grey bodied toad-like monster shook the ground as it landed, knocking Scott off his feet.
Compared to the monster, Scott was a snack. How something like that existed in their world, no one knew, but it was certain to view Dragonoids as prey. Yet to be considered much weaker than the Griffon, Scott wasn’t too sure as it had razor-sharp teeth with spikes covering the top of its body, and although it was smaller, it still had a menacing aura.
Th-this is the outside world… No wonder we’re kept in the dark.
Scott slumped his head down to where he could see his trembling hands. His crossbow lay beside him, but he couldn’t even reach it as the monster towered over his body. Blocking out the light and shrouding him in darkness, Scott felt the Baal's hot breath wash over him. Yet instead of eating and finishing off the weak prey, it turned away, attracted to the one with real killing intent.
“Hey, Scott. I know we just met but are your dreams that easily crushed by a mere frog?” Ash said, still pulling bark out of his hair as blood dripped down his forehead. His amethyst eyes gained a shadowy glaze as he smiled at the monster that took being called a frog personal.
Ash struck forward with his blade as the Baal shot its tongue at him. It was going to be a clash of force that Ash would surely win, but right before the two collided, the tongue swerved around his blade! The Baal’s tongue acted like a third arm moving with precision as it encircled and wrapped around Ash’s body. This was not a part of the fairytale! Ash thought as the monster started to swing him around like a toy.
All Ash could do was scream as his words slurred while being squeezed. Scott still hadn’t moved from his spot to the point that Ash started to believe he was too optimistic. Not everyone was like him, Maybe Alexis enjoyed a brush with death, but Scott definitely wasn’t that type of person. Ash was crazy to believe anyone else found being thrown high into the sky by a monster that wanted to eat him to be anything but exhilarating.
Another tongue-lash raced out into the air at Ash, but with eyes of violet and a broad smile on his face, he rolled out of the way. Free falling once more, just like earlier, he felt the rush of the wind and the howling of his beating heart. Ash felt alive.
Though his shield was gone and his body was in pain, Ash could care less as he deflected the tongue that tried to hit him from behind. And was surprised when his blade didn’t cut through. Instead, the Baal’s tongue was like hitting a rock which meant he had to go for a softer target. Eyeing the growing monster below, Ash yelled out, coughing up blood along the way:
“I can’t have you stepping all over me! Especially when my little brother’s watching! So say your prayers, Baal!”
In that moment, Ash plunged straight into the Baal’s open mouth, shocking Scott back into his senses.
“Ash!” Scott screamed.
His friend eaten and swallowed by a monster. If only he had done his job and warned him instead of standing still. If only he had told him the Baal’s weak point was its soft underbelly. Even in a paralyzed state, Scott had seen through the Baal’s strengths and weaknesses, but that was exactly why he was scared. The Baal’s tongue was practically indestructible, its legs could carry it for miles, and it could swallow him without even needing to chew. What could he have done—
“I could’ve done this, dangit!”
Scott grabbed his crossbow and fired at the Baal’s underside, left unguarded as a prey that couldn’t move was practically a stored meal. Yet, once the silver shot pierced through its soft skin, soaring out into the sky. The Baal stopped moving, and it spoke.
“Hey! Watch where you’re aiming that thing! I almost died.”
“A-Ash?” Scott said with wide eyes.
Ash cut open the Baal and stepped out of its mouth with a smile. “Yeah, I never told you how the story ends. The fisherman who was swallowed, boat and all, just cut his way free. Since Baals don’t like to chew. Which is why you should always chew your food. Or something like that—”
With tears in his eyes, Scott jumped into Ash, crushing his already fractured ribs. Scott didn’t even seem to care that Ash was covered in and smelled like vomit. He simply apologized.
“I’m so sorry for leaving you to fight alone like that!”
“D-Don’t worry about it,” Ash said, coughing up blood. “You helped out a ton. That frog was trying to crush me. And your shot gave me the space I needed. So thanks.”
“You’re unbelievable,” Scott said, laughing along with Ash, who grunted in pain as he leaned onto his friend.
Ash’s eyes began to lose their violet shine as he started to feel his injuries. A part of him wanted to knock out right then and there, but he couldn’t do that, not in front of Scott. “We should... Probably…. head back….”
“Don’t worry, I already found the fastest way out the domain, big brother.”
“Ha-ha so you heard that….”
“Yup. I don’t mind it though, since I kind of look up to you—Move!”
Scott having looked at Ash, saw something. Though he was wearing his goggles, Scott had a brief image of them being swallowed by the Baal enter his mind. With no time to think, Scott pushed Ash out of the way as the barely alive Baal lunged forward. What was left of its mouth was gaping wide to swallow them both, but now it would only eat Scott. A promise he forged at that moment with himself to never sit there and watch his friends die ever again.
However, that premonition—that last-ditch effort—was unnecessary as the Grand Duelist appeared before them. Drawing both of her blades and finishing the job in a flash as she shattered the Baal’s purple monster core that lay inside it, killing the beast.
“You two were magnificent.” Ms. Sparkfang said, sheathing her blades with a glowing smile. “I’m proud to have you both as my promising pupils. Ash, Scott, I can’t wait to see you become Dragon Guards.”
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