The Rise of The Dragon Queen
The following morning, I was woken up by the ringing of a bell. The high-pitched sound, although muffled by the walls, reached my ears and I groaned as I rolled over, opening my eyes. Sunlight poured into the room from the window and the whiteness of the walls added to its intensity. I rolled back over and could barely see Vixia rubbing her eyes through my blurry vision.
"Good morning," she mumbled groggily. Her ears shifted back as she yawned and stretched, flinging one of her legs over me. I smiled.
"Morning." I gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and pulled her into a hug. She buried her face into my neck, her soft ears brushing against the sides of my face. We stayed like that for a few minutes, almost falling asleep again before someone knocked at the door.
"Time to get up," a masculine voice called from beyond the room. "Breakfast is ready." The voice was unfamiliar, but I found myself comforted by the fact that it wasn't Sparrow's. Vixia, already slightly more alert than me, lifted her head at the mention of food. Her ears perked up as she looked toward the door.
"You don't have to tell me twice." She let go of me and rolled away. I laughed at her as I sat up, finding that she had already crawled out of bed. Now she was heading for the closet, ready to grab her clothes.
"I wonder what kind of quest they'll have for us today," she began, opening the closet door. I stretched and climbed out of bed, following her lead.
"Me too," I replied, reaching around her to retrieve a black tank top. "Can you pass me my pants?"
Vixia handed them to me and picked out her own clothes as I got dressed. She laid them out on the bed as I pulled on my top.
"Have you seen the brush?"
"I put it in the chest yesterday. Here."
It wasn't that different from how our morning started at home, but something felt off. When we were home, we at least had some idea of what our day would look like. Now we were at the command of the guild, and Nesryn would dictate our schedule for us. I dismissed the thought as I buttoned my pants and pulled the hem of my tank top over my hips. Vixia caught my attention when she did a quick twirl in her new uniform.
"How do I look?" she asked. I caught a peek at a tiny protective sigil that she had drawn on her hand when she fidgeted with the hem of her dark blue skirt, which overlapped her white tunic. She paired them with long combat boots and a navy bow that held her silver hair back in a ponytail. As a magic user, she didn't wear much in terms of armor. She was staring at me expectantly, waiting for the same response I gave her every morning.
"Adorable," I answered with a smile. In comparison, I was wearing a black tank top with matching pants and dark brown boots. A sleeveless jacket covered most of my top and I had strapped my new dagger to my thigh. I normally wore light clothes to keep my mobility up after putting on armor, which was just a breastplate and pauldrons. I was tugging on my long fingerless gloves as we looked toward our armor and weapons in the corner of the room.
"Should we put them on?" Vixia asked. I shrugged, but we didn't have much time to think it over because the same voice from before shouted again, this time quite a bit farther away.
"Last call!" Vixia and I looked at each other, then immediately rushed for the door.
As soon as we left our room, the sound of numerous voices met my ears. We rushed down the hall and toward the staircase to find that a majority of the guild was already seated at the tables downstairs, eating breakfast.
"Crap!" Vixia whimpered. "I hope we didn't miss the food!" I laughed at her as we headed down the stairs. The smell of the food led us to the bar on the first floor. The counter was lined with different dishes, from vegetables to porridge to thick slabs of meat. After we grabbed our plates and heaped them high with food, we began our search for a table.
"I can barely see," I grumbled, my shortness thwarting any efforts I made to look over the crowd around us. On the other hand, Vixia was tall enough to see just fine.
"Over there. There's a little table over by the wall." She began to walk toward it and I followed, still unable to see where we were going. I finally spotted it when we got closer since no one else was at the edge of the room. It was a relatively small, round table with only three seats. It could probably seat a fourth, but one side was pushed up against the wall, so there was no room for another chair. It was far from the other tables, but that was fine with me. I spotted some people glaring at us as we sat down, but I didn't see Sparrow, which was a plus. We only got a few minutes to eat before Nesryn's voice called out over the crowd.
Conversations died away gradually; within a minute or so, even the faintest of whispers had disappeared. Vixia and I watched silently as Nesryn stood at the bottom of the steps and began to speak again.
"Good morning, everyone. I hope that you all rested well because today is going to be busy for most of you. We're on high alert right now, so let's get today's assignments over with."
I wonder what we're going to get.
She looked down at a list attached to a clipboard in her hands and began reading off the names of different parties within the guild, telling them what they would be working on for the day. As soon as they were told, many got up from their seats and began preparing to leave. Chair legs scraped against the floor and silverware clattered against tables and dishes as they were abandoned. Unfortunately, the ruckus made it hard to hear Nesryn since we were so far away from her.
"Ketsuna, can you make out what she's saying?" Vixia asked, slumping in her seat. I tried my best to listen but never heard our names amongst the noise. Eventually, the last group was summoned and most of the guild left, their dishes remaining at the tables.
"Let's go ask her for our assignment," I suggested. "I'm sure she'll understand." I stood up from my seat, bringing my plate with me as Vixia did the same. We headed toward Nesryn and I was the first to speak.
"Hey, guild master."
"You can call me Nesryn," she replied, her eyes fixed on her clipboard.
"Oh, um, okay. Nesryn, we couldn't hear you call our names from where we were sitting."
"That's because I didn't call your names. I have something to give you two real quick." She dug through her pocket and fished out two matching pins, which looked like replicas of the one on her chest. She held them out to us. "These go with your uniforms. They are supposed to be visible on your tops whenever you work outside the guildhall."
"So, we're being sent out into the field?" Vixia guessed.
"No," Nesryn replied in a flat tone. "You guys have cleaning duty today."
Vixia and I both stood there, stunned. I blinked.
"Why?" Vixia inquired.
"The queen has requested that you two stay close in case of an emergency. Sometimes our guild members are gone for days at a time since they get sent all over Zaledrid. We can't afford to do that with you two."
"I trust that you will make this guildhall spotless by this evening," Nesryn chimed, interrupting me. "You can start with your own dishes if you'd like." And with that, she turned around and walked away. I looked back at Vixia, whose ears were folded back. It was clear that she was just as disappointed as I was. That was when I heard laughter coming from the doors of the guildhall.
I looked back to see Sparrow and his party mocking us on their way out. They slipped outside before I got a chance to say anything and I turned around to look at the tables, each cluttered with dozens of dirty dishes.
You've got to be kidding me.
Vixia and I decided that our first task was cleaning up the dishes everyone had left behind. We split up the effort, so Vixia started washing the dishes while I cleared the tables and wiped them down. After I was done, I helped her with the remaining plates and silverware, and then we started working on sweeping and mopping the floor. It was an hour or two past noon when we finally finished, and we took a break before continuing our chores.
"Man, this is a pain," Vixia remarked with a sigh, taking a seat at one of the tables near the kitchen. She leaned back against the chair, her ears shifting toward the sides of her head instead of staying forward. I sat down across from her and realized that she had closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall behind her.
"Yeah. Nesryn could have literally given us anything but this."
"Excuse me." Vixia and I both jumped at the sound of a voice calling out to us. We turned toward the kitchen to see a tall, muscular man standing in the doorway. He had short, ashy brown hair and looked like he would be fit for combat if he wasn't wearing an apron. Even then, he kind of looked like a butcher, and I noticed that while he obviously worked in the kitchen, he was wearing combat boots.
"Would one of you be willing to help me cook dinner?" he asked. "I'm getting started a little later than usual, so I could really use the help. I can do the main parts, but I need someone to chop up the vegetables."
"I can," Vixia volunteered. She got up from her seat and followed him through the doorway, her tail swishing back and forth with each step. I followed as well, finding a new seat by the door.
Even the kitchen was bigger than I initially expected and had everything you would expect. The walls were made of stone, just like the ones in the main room, but these ones were lined with shelves, each displaying dozens of bottles of seasonings and sauces. There was a large sink right below an equally massive bay window, and a few different stoves and ovens were lined up side-by-side at one side of it. Countertops and cupboards took up the other. There was also a sizable pantry annexed to the side of the kitchen, and it was almost big enough to be its own room. The man emerged from it when I sat down, carrying a large bowl of vegetables and some hunks of meat.
"Were you put on chore duty, too?" I asked.
"Nah, I basically picked this job," he answered, putting a large pot over one of the burners on the stove. He lit it with the ease and swiftness of a seasoned chef and then turned to hand Vixia the large bowl full of vegetables. He turned and started slicing the meat that he had brought out. "The guild members love my cooking, and I prefer to hold down the fort when everyone is gone. It's much more peaceful during the day."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." That was when I realized that it had been mostly quiet since everyone had left.
"What's your name?" Vixia asked. She had already started dicing the vegetables.
"Darius," the man answered with a smile. "It's nice to actually meet you two. I've heard a lot about you."
"I bet," I replied with a sarcastic tone. Vixia laughed and they both continued cooking while we chatted.
The guildhall was flooded with people again by the time that evening began and Vixia and I decided to sit in the same spot we had chosen that morning. Darius and Vixia made a stew and the smell of it alone was enough to make some of the guild members drool. Since we were on chore duty, Vixia and I got our food before most of the parties made their way back. We were sitting together when I started to get an odd feeling in my chest. I pressed my palm into it, rubbed a little, and heaved a sigh. Vixia's ears perked up.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just have a bad feeling," I replied.
"Like the other day?" I nodded, remembering how I felt right before we ran into the dragon in the plaza.
"Yeah, keep it down, though." As I said that, Darius walked up, holding a bowl of food.
"Mind if I sit with you guys?" he inquired.
"Go ahead," Vixia chimed, using her foot to push out the remaining chair for him. He smiled back at us and gripped the edge of it, pulling it out further. That was when another guild member noticed us and stood up.
"Darius, what are you doing with them?" The guy was staring directly at Vixia and me and, for a moment, I could have sworn that his eyes had narrowed in on my ears.
"What does it matter to you," Darius snapped. The shift in his tone made me jump and I looked at Vixia, who was equally shocked. We turned our attention back to Darius.
"Nothing, I just wanted to know—"
He was interrupted by a scream and I felt the inside of my chest clench. Everyone looked toward the kitchen doorway just in time to see flames shoot out of the opening. More screams followed and Darius slammed his bowl down on the table. He was the first to run toward the fire. Vixia and I quickly followed.
When we made it to the kitchen, a crowd gathered behind us. One of our guildmates was on the ground, staring at the bay window. I noticed that it was still closed.
"Dragon!" he shrieked, scooching backward across the floor. Vixia and I dashed into the room while Darius dragged the other guy to safety.
"Ketsuna, where is it?" Vixia asked. I looked around the room and the odd feeling in my chest intensified when my gaze landed on the shelves.
"There!" I pointed toward it just in time for a stream of flames to shoot toward me. I grabbed a pan from the stove and deflected the fire as best as I could. It stopped as quickly as it started and I rushed forward, swinging my makeshift shield at the shelf. I knocked a couple of bottles and jars down and found a tiny dragon crouched behind them. It leaped off the shelf, attempting to get past me.
"Temporal halt!" Vixia yelled, throwing out her hand in its direction. The tiny dragon froze in mid-air and the other guild members stared in astonishment. That was when I noticed an empty jar on the edge of the stove and snatched it up. I captured the little beast and Vixia lowered her arm as soon as I sealed the lid. Now it was free to move. I let out a little chuckle as it scratched all over the inside of the jar.
The tiny dragon was covered in wine-red scales and it had a cream-colored underbelly and chin. However, its eyes weren't empty like the dragon we had fought in the plaza. They were a mesmerizing green color with slitted irises that were as black as obsidian. There was a glimmer of light in them that I had never seen in a monster's eyes before, something different. When its eyes met mine, it slowly stopped scratching and promptly sat down. We stared at each other for a moment while the rest of the guild marveled at Vixia and me.
"What are you doing?" one person cried, breaking the silence. "Kill that thing!" I looked over at Vixia, who was taking a step closer to me. Instead of taking the jar from me, she watched the little creature inside.
"I don't know," she whispered hesitantly, looking from the tiny dragon to me. "This one doesn't seem to be like the usual man-eaters."
So she can tell something's different, too.
"Vixia, Ketsuna." We both looked over to see the crowd thinning as Nesryn walked toward us. She finally made it to the kitchen and everything seemed to stand still again.
"I would like to speak to you two privately. Come to my chambers." And without another word, she turned around and left, still holding everyone else's attention. Vixia and I looked at each other.
What do we do now? After a second of hesitation, we walked through the path Nesryn created through the crowd. I glanced back at Darius, who shrugged in response. I clutched the jar tightly as we headed upstairs, the tiny dragon still staring at me.
When we made it to Nesryn's chamber, Vixia and I found ourselves standing outside the door for a while, hesitating over whether we should go in or not.
"Are we in trouble?" Vixia asked.
"I don't know." I looked away from her and focused on the tiny dragon again. "I think she's probably going to have us do something with him."
The dragon tilted his head, still staring at me. I took in a deep breath and heaved a sigh.
"Him?" Vixia questioned. She bent down, examining the creature closely. "How can you tell?" I shrugged.
"I don't know, just seems right."
"All right. Well, let's get this over with." We both turned back toward the door and I knocked on it before slowly opening it. I peeked inside to see Nesryn sitting at a large desk, facing us. She was looking through some papers, reading them intently through the lenses of her glasses. She glanced up at us before looking back down at the documents.
"Come in." We did as she requested as she filed the papers away. We stood there for a moment, looking at the chairs across from her as she realized we were still standing there.
"Come, sit." Vixia and I sat down and Nesryn leaned forward, resting her elbows on the surface of her desk as she clasped her hands together. "How was your first full day with the guild?" she asked.
"I guess it was all right," I lied in a quiet voice. I was still looking down at the jar. I heard the guild master shift in her seat.
"May I see it?" I looked up to find that she had her hand outstretched toward me, waiting for me to hand her the jar. I felt my grip on it tighten.
Why am I getting so tense? It's just a dragon, and a tiny one at that.
She must have noticed my apprehension because she added, "I'm not going to do anything. I just need to assess if it's a threat." My eyes shifted from the tiny dragon to her.
"Okay." I finally handed the jar over and Nesryn eyed the creature carefully through the glass. After a moment, she handed him back to me.
"It seems like a mere pygmy dragon, so it shouldn't be a problem. Since you caught it, I'll let you go outside and squish it if you'd like. If not, I'm sure one of the other guild members would be willing to do it for you."
"Ma'am, I think this is a different kind of dragon from the ones we've been fighting," I admitted. She gave me a puzzled look.
"How can you tell?"
I sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say. Every answer that ran through my mind sounded dumb. I could tell that Vixia was also trying to formulate a response, but we both remained silent. Nesryn shook her head and pressed her palm against her forehead.
"Even if that were true, Queen Evelyn has declared every dragon as a threat to Zaledrid's safety and security. We aren't in a position to be letting any of them go, either."
"Okay, we understand," Vixia replied, standing up. She put her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it a little. "Come on, Ketsuna. Let's get it over with." My heart sank when I heard her say those words. I stood up silently and followed her out of the room. Once we were in the hallway, Vixia grabbed my wrist and started to lead me down the hall. My eyes widened as I stumbled behind her, clutching the jar to my chest.
"Wait, where are we—"
"Keep quiet and come with me." I closed my mouth and followed behind her as she led me to our room. Once we got inside, she rushed over to her mini altar.
"Vixia, what are you doing?"
"Something's up and I don't know what to do," she blurted, dropping to her knees in front of her altar. She traced a circle around her like before and started to light a few of the small candles as she continued. "You're right, something is different. I could see it as soon as your eyes met. We need Zelora's guidance on this."
"Okay," I agreed with a nod. "Take your time." I climbed onto our bed and sat with my legs crisscrossed with the jar in my lap. By the time Vixia was done with her meditation, the little dragon inside had fallen asleep. I was also starting to doze off when Vixia finally lifted her head. She opened her eyes and looked at me.
"He's not a threat," she determined. "Zelora actually advised me to keep him around."
"Really?" Vixia nodded. "Okay, so what do we do for now? If anyone here sees him, they'll kill him." She stretched her arm across the bed, reaching toward me with her palm turned upward.
"Hand me him." I did as she requested and she gently placed the jar on the floor, sliding it underneath the bed. "He can stay hidden there for now. We can worry about finding a permanent place for him tomorrow."
I got up and walked over to see where she had placed the tiny dragon. He was still fast asleep in the jar, stashed away next to the leg that held up the top corner of my side of the bed. You would have to really search for him if you wanted to find him. I looked back at Vixia and nodded.
"Okay. Let's get some sleep. We can figure it out in the morning." Vixia agreed and we started getting ready for bed.