The Rise of The Dragon Queen
A dragon's scream tore through Tidalsong City as I tried to combat the panic 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 I was on and the next one.
I can make it! My breath hitched in my throat as I jumped, my feet leaving the rooftop's edge as an enormous, ruby-scaled tail slammed into it. My right foot hit the next rooftop as the building 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, turned around, and watched dreadfully as the beast approached me.
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 carrying 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.
"Vixia!" I screamed. A blur darted past me as I called out her name and she 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. Then the light 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 her ethereal blades darted forward and sunk into the dragon's skin. It let out an ear-piercing shriek and recoiled from the pain.
This was when I found my courage again. With shaky hands, I stood up and drew a dagger from the sheath on my thigh. I rushed forward and surged from the roof's edge, screaming in fear and anger as I jabbed my weapon into the dragon's flesh. The blade embedded itself between the dragon's scales before I let go. I was falling to the ground when I heard Vixia's voice screaming my name.
I honestly expected to smack the ground. I knew 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 I was slowly drifting down toward the ground, much like a leaf on the breeze, instead of free-falling. I looked over to see Vixia with her hand outstretched toward me, her brows furrowed like she was concentrating on me.
"Get out of here!" she shouted. I nodded, and as soon as my feet met the ground, I began running toward the plaza's edge. 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.
Trial by fire, burning with ease
Scorching flames of a thousand degrees
Zelora, I request that you ignite this power in me
So mote it be!
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.
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.
I rushed over to her and was relieved to see that she was still breathing. Her eyes were barely open as she stared at the sky, a look of exhaustion scrawled across her face. I dropped to my knees beside her and grabbed her shoulders.
"Hey, stay with me."
"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 smile as I brushed her bangs away from her face.
"Zelora warned you not to, huh?" She nodded but didn't say anything. "I'll hold you until you can get up, okay?"
"Okay . . ." Her voice trailed off as I pulled her closer to me. I looked at the city around us.
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 still there at all. Rubble littered the streets and the sky was clouded with ash. I took it all in as I processed what was going on.
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.
Honestly, it was terrifying.
"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, noticing all the scorch marks on her.
"Are you sure?"
"Mhmm." She nodded and sat up.
"Did you incinerate the dragon?"
"So, all of this ash is—"
"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.
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.
"We're going to get in trouble if we keep this up."
"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.
"Ow!" I yelped.
"What's wrong?" She jolted upright and looked back at me, startled. Her gaze then wandered down to the shredded side of my thigh. She then changed her question to, "What happened there?"
"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."
She stood up and held out her hand, offering it to me. A smile crossed her face.
"You know I wouldn't leave you hanging like that."
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.
I love you.
"Ketsuna, let's go home," she said quietly. I nodded and we began the short walk back to our house, hand-in-hand.
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 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.
I stepped off 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.
My wife looked back at me from over her shoulder. At first, she seemed surprised, but it quickly melted into a smile.
"Well, we both worked hard today. I figured you'd be pretty hungry after all of that."
"Aren't you tired? You were being pretty acrobatic back there."
"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 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.
"It's ready," she chimed.
I walked up behind her as she reached for one of the bowls. I wrapped my arms around her waist and buried my face in the back of her shoulder. She froze for a second.
"Thank you," I whispered. Vixia looked back at me from over her shoulder, but I figured 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.
"No problem. Go ahead and take a seat."
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. Before I did anything, I waited for her to sit across from me.
"Thank you for the food," we both mumbled in a tiny prayer.
"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.
This was how our evenings usually went when things were calm. I tried to remember the last time we were able to relax for a weekend like we used to. My mind conjured up memories of the days when we worried about whether 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.
"Is it not good?" she asked. I looked up to see a worried look appear on her face as she tilted her head at me.
"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."
"Are you sure?"
"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?"
Vixia let out another giggle. Even after years of being together, it still made my heart flutter.
"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.
"Well, thank her for me, okay?" Vixia nodded and took another bite of her stew.
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 put the last of the dishes away and we headed to our room together.
The following morning, Vixia and I set out to the local blacksmith's shop so that I could replace my dagger and sword. 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. The sea breeze rustled the leaves of the trees surrounding 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 picked out this house nearly five years ago, not long after Vixia and I got married.
"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.
"We shouldn't be gone for long. We'll deal with it when we get back."
"Okay." And with that, we followed the cracked sidewalk deeper into the city.
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 that flooded the streets during the day seemed just as vast and endless as the ocean for which the city was known. 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, mostly 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.
"Hey, watch it!" a deep voice hissed.
I looked up to see a man glaring down at me, finding that he was slightly taller than Vixia. He had dark brown hair and eyes to match and 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.
"Sorry," I began, noticing two other men with him, standing behind him at either side. They wore the same armor as the first man, but one was clearly a mage and the other was an archer. Vixia, who was standing beside me and holding my hand, was eyeing them with a scowl on her face.
"Wait, I know you!" the man started again with an accusatory tone. "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.
"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.
"So now a pointy-eared freak and a mangy mutt are going to tell us how to do our jobs?"
I saw Vixia's ears fold back from the corner of my eye. For context, Vixia and I both look mostly human, 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. The other two men tensed at his comment and I could tell they were also getting heated. That didn't stop me, though.
"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, hurry up and do it yourselves. It's not our fault that you guys are slacking."
I felt Vixia squeeze my hand as she tried to fight the urge to bare her teeth.
"Hold on a—"
"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.
The rest of our day wasn't very significant. Or, at least, it wasn't until dinnertime. Vixia and I made it back home after a few hours and we 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 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.
"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, illuminated by the light coming from the hall behind me and a nearby streetlight. I noticed that there was an envelope in his hands.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"Is this the residence of Ketsuna and Vixia Wynstar?"
"Yes, this is. Who are you?"
"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.
"Who was that?" Vixia asked as I walked toward the table. In the kitchen's light, I could see an intricate navy-colored wax seal stamped on the envelope. At the center of the design was a crown with a cursive E imprinted on it.
"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.
"Wait, are we in trouble?"
"I think she would have sent someone to arrest us if we were, not a letter."
"Good point. What does it say?"
"Not sure. I haven't opened it yet."
I carefully wedged my fingernail underneath the edge of the wax seal and popped it off 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.
Dearest Ketsuna & Vixia Wynstar,
I trust that this letter finds you well.
I have heard much about you from my soldiers, guards, peers, and the numerous citizens of Zaledrid. On behalf of everyone, 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 plaguing our fair land. I have even found myself taking an interest as well. As of this time, I have one simple request.
I would like to meet you both at my palace tomorrow morning. We will discuss more then. I look forward to making your acquaintance.
With warm regards,
"Well, her sentiment is much different from her guild members," I pointed out.
"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?"
"Well, if the queen summons you, you show up." Vixia sighed at my response and returned to the table.
"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 ate.
What could the queen possibly want with us?