The Rise of The Dragon Queen
As soon as I woke up, I checked to ensure that the tiny dragon was still sealed in the glass jar. To my relief, he was. He was awake, staring at me with wide eyes. He began scratching on the glass as soon as we made eye contact, and the sound woke up Vixia. She sat up groggily and rubbed at her eyes as I picked up the jar.
"Morning," she grumbled.
"Morning. Do you have any ideas on where we can put this little guy?" I held up the jar as Vixia looked over, blinking hard against the sunlight flooding the room.
"He's tiny, so it shouldn't be too hard. Wait, have you let him out yet?"
"You should. The lid doesn't have any holes in it."
"Oh, right!" I immediately unscrewed the lid of the jar. The tiny dragon sniffed around the glass before poking his head out of the top of his container, letting out a trilling sound.
"Sorry, little guy. Here." I lowered the jar so he could climb out of it and onto the covers. He then scampered over to Vixia. She used her index finger to rub the underside of his chin and he slowly closed his eyes. I could have sworn that he was smiling.
"Do you think he's hungry?" Vixia asked.
"Probably. After breakfast, we can bring him up some table scraps but, for now, we need somewhere to hide him."
"Hmm . . ." Vixia's voice trailed off as we both looked around the room. When she stopped petting the dragon, he started looking with us. Then, with a quiet chirp, he launched himself off the bed, flapping his tiny wings as hard as he could. After a second, he started to glide and found his way straight onto the closet's doorknob. He started chewing on the shiny metal as Vixia and I watched.
"In there?" I walked over and grabbed the underside of the doorknob. He climbed onto my wrist and I opened the door. He took off again, heading toward a shelf in one of the upper corners. He perched at the edge of it and trilled again.
"Well, I guess he found a spot."
"Awesome, that should work," Vixia replied with a nod. That was when the same bell from the day before rang out and we heard Darius' voice from downstairs, calling for breakfast. I grabbed our clothes, passed them back to Vixia, and started to close the door.
"I'm going to leave this cracked. Don't go anywhere, okay? We'll be back with food." The tiny dragon nodded with a cheerful chirp and I did as I said I would. Vixia and I then got dressed and headed downstairs.
When we made it down to the first floor, we were shunned by the other guild members once again. After we collected our breakfast, we made our way over to our table and sat down. I remember wondering if this would be our new normal when Vixia caught my attention.
"Do you think we'll get a different assignment today?" she asked. I shook my head.
"Probably not, especially if the queen wants to keep us close by." I was about to take a bite of my food when Darius walked up to us.
"Good morning," he began with a smile. "Is this seat taken?"
"Go ahead," Vixia replied, motioning toward the empty chair. He sat down and was about to start eating when something else came to mind.
"Oh, what happened with that little dragon last night?" he asked. "Nesryn seemed kinda stern."
Isn't she usually, though? I swallowed my food.
"We took care of it," I reassured him, trying to avoid the subject. Darius, taking the hint, nodded and started eating. We continued with our breakfast, Vixia and I saving scraps and pieces of our food along the way until Nesryn showed up, giving everyone their duties for the day.
Vixia and I listened carefully and, just as I had predicted, our names were followed by "chore duty." The rest of the guild got up and left to prepare for their quests, just like the day before, while Darius, Vixia, and I continued eating at our table. After Nesryn finished, she walked up to us.
"You two are on chore duty again today, but I have a special request this time."
"What is it?" I asked. The guild master pointed toward the kitchen.
"Figure out how that dragon got in and seal it up. That's all. If you need anything, I'll be in my study." And with that, she left. I was about to get up with my plate, still covered in food scraps for the little dragon, when I realized something.
Wait, I can't just take this upstairs. I looked over at Vixia to find that she was looking at me. She must have come to the same conclusion.
"Hey, Darius, do you want to help me try to find where the dragon came in?" she asked. "Ketsuna can collect the dishes."
"Sure, if that's all right."
"Go ahead," I replied, flashing a smile. They both got up and headed for the kitchen. When Darius was walking ahead of Vixia, she looked back and pointed at the balcony. I nodded in understanding and quickly took my plate upstairs.
When I returned to my room, I found everything exactly as we had left it. I closed the door behind me before I pushed the closet door open. It creaked and I could see the tiny dragon's eyes staring at me before anything else. I lifted the plate and set it on the shelf beside him.
"Here, that should have plenty of meat on it." He immediately began to scarf down his food, dragging his long tongue around the edges of his mouth after every few bites. I smiled. "Stay put for now, okay? I'll bring you more later." The tiny dragon didn't respond, so I left the door cracked again and headed back downstairs. I made sure to collect as many plates as I could before I walked into the kitchen. Vixia and Darius were standing in the center of the kitchen, their eyes scanning the area.
"When it first showed up, it looked like it might have gotten in through the window," Darius began, stepping forward, "but I closed it as soon as I was done cooking. There's no way that it got in through here."
Vixia put a hand on her hip and let out a defeated sigh.
"I have no clue." She looked back at me and I watched as her frustrated expression morphed into one of shock. Her face went pale.
"What?" I wondered out loud. I followed the path of her eyes down to my arm and saw the tiny dragon, who I could have sworn I left upstairs, clinging to my sleeve. However, I made this realization a little too late because when I looked back up, Darius was already staring at me with wide eyes.
"Stay still!" He snatched up the nearest kitchen knife and rushed for me.
"Wait!" I shouted. Before Darius even made it halfway to me, the little dragon's throat had puffed outward like a frog's, and he had scrambled up my arm and onto my shoulder. He was trying to grapple onto the back of my neck and hide underneath my hair when I started to step back. Some of the plates in the stack in my hands fell and shattered on the floor. That was when I got an idea. I shifted them all to one hand and took one from the top of the pile, holding it in a position to throw it straight at Darius. The chef stopped in his tracks, looking from the broken dishes on the floor to me.
"I thought you said you took care of it."
"We did," I shouted back. Then I let out a sigh. "Or, well, we are. We're trying."
"Nesryn didn't order you to kill it?" he said, amazed as he got out of his fighting stance. I, in turn, lowered the plate I was holding.
"She did," Vixia admitted, walking over to join me, "but there's something different about this one."
"How do you know that?" Darius asked. Vixia looked at me, unsure of how to answer.
"I just do," I replied. "Let's calm down for a second. I can explain."
"Okay." Darius set the knife aside and I did the same with the plates. The little dragon peeked out of my hair. I picked him up and cupped him in my hands. I held him out toward Darius.
"All of the other dragons that Vixia and I have fought had pitch-black eyes. They almost looked lifeless. But this little guy clearly has pupils."
"So? That doesn't mean he's not dangerous."
"You just went to attack him and he hid instead of lighting you on fire," I pointed out. "That has to count for something." Darius considered this for a moment, rubbing his chin as he tilted his head. He let out a sigh.
"Okay, you've got a point there. Why did he freak out last night, then?"
"He probably felt cornered," Vixia guessed. The little dragon tried to back away from Darius as he stared. This resulted in him backing up onto my arm and then climbing back onto my shoulder.
"Yeah, you're probably right." There was silence for a moment, then Darius let out a sigh. "Fine, I believe you." Vixia and I stared in stunned silence as the chef turned toward the pantry and opened the door.
"Um . . . does that mean you won't tell anyone?" He started rummaging through everything in the pantry as he continued to speak.
"Yeah, sure. I don't see the point in going out of my way to cause trouble. You seem to have the situation under control. Do you guys have a name for him yet?"
"No," I answered, leaning against the doorframe. Darius returned from the pantry, carrying some of the ingredients for dinner. He was heading toward the stove when he accidentally knocked a metal bowl off a nearby counter. It hit the floor with a loud clang and the tiny dragon puffed out its throat again.
"Puff," I said quietly.
"What?" Vixia wondered aloud, picking up the bowl.
"His name should be Puff." Darius looked over and laughed when he saw why I had come up with that name.
"I agree. It suits him."
The tiny dragon's throat gradually shrunk down to its usual size as he calmed down. Then, he leaped off my shoulder and dashed across the floor, scuttling by both Vixia and Darius.
"Wait, where are you going?" I asked as I followed him. I quickly lost track of him and he caught Vixia and Darius' attention as well.
"Did you lose him?" Vixia asked.
"I guess so."
"Puff," she called, looking around with me. That was when we heard a quiet chirp and I spotted him pulling himself out of a small crack in between the stones in the wall. He scampered over to Vixia and looked up at her, blinking a few times.
"So that's how you got in!"
Darius chuckled from behind us as he pulled a full bag of trash out of the trash can. "I'll go ahead and seal that up for you guys," he offered. "Ketsuna, can you take this out, please? The dumpster is outside on the western side of the building."
"Yeah, I can do that." I took the bag from him and glanced over to see Puff climbing onto Vixia's shoulder before I left.
I walked outside, trash bag in hand, and started heading toward the western side of the building. The sky was a bright blue since it was past noon on a clear day. I was almost to the dumpster when I heard a familiar voice. I stopped and crept around the corner to find Sparrow and his party mates standing around, chatting and laughing.
What the hell are they doing here?
"Hey." All three of them jumped as I walked over to them, glaring. "What are you doing? Aren't you supposed to be keeping watch right now?"
"We're just taking a break," Sparrow groaned. "Besides, aren't you supposed to be inside playing maid or something?"
I dropped the trash bag on the ground and started storming closer.
"I've been doing the best with the job I was given, but that's something that you could hardly say. You guys are lazy at best and negligent at worst."
"Who are you calling lazy?" Sparrow snarled, staring me down.
Now Sparrow and his buddies were looking past me and I turned to see Nesryn walking over to us, her eyebrows furrowed. "Sparrow, what is your party doing here? You're supposed to be on the eastern side of the city right now."
"Um . . ." He struggled for an answer but couldn't find one. He looked over at his friends, who shrugged in response. I could tell he was panicking. "I wanted to challenge Ketsuna to a duel!" I raised an eyebrow at him.
Oh boy, you just screwed yourself over.
"A duel? Like practice sparring?" Nesryn inquired. Sparrow nodded and she continued with, "Why didn't you bring it up ahead of time?"
"I didn't know how to submit the information to you," he lied, glancing over at me. I kept an eyebrow raised while I stared at him. He took note and looked back at Nesryn.
"You know, I should reprimand you for this," the guild master growled. Sparrow cowered for a moment. "But I'll allow it," she finished. "A duel against Ketsuna would be great practice for anything you might run into in the field, and it would be interesting to watch." She then turned to me. "Ketsuna, do you accept the challenge?"
"Sure," I answered with a smile.
I went and retrieved my armor and sword while the guild members that were still in the area gathered outside to watch, including Vixia and Darius. We relocated to the designated sparring area behind the guildhall, a large patch of dirt with some white markings on the ground. Then we got suited up in our gear. I looked over and noticed Sparrow's armor was bulkier than mine and he was wielding a two-handed sword with a much broader blade than mine, too.
I should be able to outspeed and maneuver around him.
I looked toward the crowd that had gathered, finding that Nesryn was standing in front of them. She motioned for Sparrow and me to turn around and, since we were already on opposite sides of the battlefield, we turned our backs toward each other. I wasn't actually listening to the guild master until she began to list the rules.
"No brutal injuries, no attacking private areas of the body, no lethal force. When I say go, both opponents will turn around and the duel will begin immediately. May they both have the best of luck."
This is way different from a dragon fight, I thought to myself as the guild master began counting down.
But I knew that I wouldn't lose.
"Three, two, one, go!"
I immediately spun around and rushed for Sparrow as he began to turn to face me. I clenched my teeth as I went to slash at him, but he staggered backward out of the way in the nick of time. He barely managed to maintain his balance and I swiped at him again. This time, he blocked it with his sword. My blade glanced off his and as soon as I took a step back, he launched into an attack. He swiped at my chest and my heart skipped a beat. I turned sideways, narrowly but easily avoiding it.
"Don't get sloppy," I warned. "You aren't even paying attention to what you're doing."
Sparrow stepped back defensively and I dashed forward again, gripping my hilt as tightly as I could with my right hand. I let out a roar as I rushed him and swiped at his side. I landed the hit, which caught him off guard, and when he tried to get back at me, I planted my foot in his stomach and shoved him backward. He let go of his sword and hit the ground with a loud thud. I stood over him, the tip of my blade pointing at his face as I kept the sole of my boot pressed against his torso.
"Ketsuna is the winner," Nesryn declared. Some people clapped, but Darius and Vixia were the only ones I heard openly cheering. I returned my blade to the sheath that rested on my back and removed my foot from Sparrow's stomach. He glared at me as he coughed and propped himself up on his elbows. I bent over and held out a hand, offering to help him, but his glare intensified and he began to get up by himself. I straightened out again and turned just in time for Vixia to collide with me, pulling me into a tight hug.
"You did great, Ket!"
"Thanks." I smiled but looked away from her when I heard Sparrow's party talking.
"I can't believe you got your ass kicked by a Draladenian," the archer said with a laugh.
"Yeah, and so quickly, too," the mage added.
"Shut up," Sparrow snapped. He looked over his shoulder to glare at me and I shrugged. I looked back toward Vixia again, seeing that Darius had also wandered over to us.
"Why don't you get some rest?" he offered. "Vixia and I can handle making dinner and we'll get you when it's done."
"Okay, I guess I will." I stepped closer to Vixia and hugged her again. I smiled and whispered in her ear, "Where's Puff?"
"In our room," she answered quietly. I nodded and turned back toward the guildhall.
"All right, I'll see you guys later then." Even though I was walking away, I could feel Sparrow's eyes on me until I made it around the corner.
When I made it upstairs, the first thing I did was look around for Puff. I was looking in the upper corner of the closet when I heard a trill from behind me. I turned to see him crawling out from underneath my pillow.
"Ah, there you are," I said with a smile. "For a second, I thought that maybe you had gotten out." The tiny dragon crawled onto Vixia's pillow and curled up into a ball as I stripped out of my armor and grabbed one of the books I had brought with me. I flopped down on the bed next to him and let out a sigh. Even though I had an easy time beating Sparrow, I was still pretty tired. I was thinking about that when I realized that it had been at least a week since the last time I was in combat. I was beginning to read when Vixia came in. She crept into the room and closed the door as quietly as possible. I looked over to see her watching Puff sleep on her pillow. She smiled and looked at me.
"Hey, you did great out there."
"Thanks, but it wasn't much," I replied.
"Oh, I didn't think that it was." We both chuckled at that and she started to make her way over to me.
"Maybe he won't give us as much trouble anymore."
"If he does, he's stupid." After that, she leaned over and kissed me. She lingered for a moment when she pulled away, looking me in the eyes. She could tell that I was tense.
"We'll get through this, okay?" I took a deep breath and nodded.
"I'm going to chat with Zelora real quick. Is that okay?"
"Do whatever you need to. Tell her I said hi." Vixia's smile widened, showing her sharp canine teeth in a surprisingly comforting way. She walked over to her altar and sat down on the floor, folding the lower half of her legs underneath her. I watched for a moment as she closed her eyes, relaxed her shoulders, and bowed her head.
She always looks so peaceful. Maybe I should try that out sometime.
I wedged a strip of paper between the pages of my book and closed it before setting it aside. I scooched down to rest my head on my pillow when I began to remember the day that I first met Vixia.
When I saw Vixia for the first time, I lived in an orphanage at the edge of Zaledrid. I was in the common room, sitting by the fireplace with a book, when there was a knock at the door. I looked up to see Ms. Emery, the lady that ran the orphanage, heading over to answer it as the rest of the children watched in awe. We never got visitors, so a knock on the door usually meant that someone was getting a new home or another kid was moving in.
The door creaked open and the sound of pouring rain filled the room. On the front steps were what appeared to be two royal guards. Between them was a small girl who kept her gaze downcast while she gripped the hem of her dirty dress. She had long, silver hair and had yet to grow into her oversized ears and tail. She wore an equally large cloak, but the rest of her clothes were not meant for the harsh weather outside.
"I'm sorry, but we do not have enough room," Ms. Emery began. "We've been at max capacity for a while now, and we're really trying to focus on giving loving homes to the children that are already here."
One guard opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted by Vixia.
"Is there anywhere else that I can go?" She was still looking at the ground, so it seemed like she wasn't asking anyone in particular. Silence followed as her words hung in the air. No one could give her an answer. I thought I saw her lip quiver before she spoke again.
"I promise I won't be a problem," she whimpered, finally lifting her head to look up at Ms. Emery. Tears were welling up in her eyes and a thought crossed my mind.
Why would someone be so desperate to stay here?
Ms. Emery took her hand and gently led her through the doorway. She was never that gentle with me.
"Thank you for bringing her," she told the guards calmly. They nodded and she closed the door as they turned to leave. When she turned around, she noticed that all of our eyes were on her and Vixia. She looked back down at the young girl beside her.
"What is your name?"
"Vixia, go in there for a minute," Ms. Emery instructed, pointing toward the kitchen. The silver-haired girl did as she was told and Ms. Emery looked back at the rest of us. Her white-streaked hair was up in a messy bun and time had carved wrinkles into her face. They were even more apparent when she scowled at us.
"It's chore time. Get up and clean somethin'!"
"Yes, ma'am," we all shouted in a panic, stumbling to our feet. I had closed my book and was trying to tuck it away underneath the nearest bookshelf when she spotted me.
"Ketsuna!" I jumped and my heart dropped into my stomach. I turned around to look at her.
"Yes, Ms. Emery?"
"What are you hiding there?"
I felt my hands begin to tremble as she stomped over to me. She snatched the book away from me and I knew I was in trouble as soon as she looked at the cover.
"Dragons, again?" There was an exasperated tone in her voice. She looked from the cover to me, glaring daggers. "You know these things are monsters, right? They kill people." She walked across the room and put my book up on a high shelf, one that I couldn't reach without standing on a chair.
"Get to cleaning," she demanded. When she walked away, my eyes passed by the doorway to the kitchen. Vixia was standing there, watching me.
I quickly looked away from her and went to go find a broom.