The Rise of The Dragon Queen
Later that night, all of us were sent to the bedrooms. The boys and the girls were separated into different rooms, but I shared with several other kids no matter which room I ended up in. I climbed on top of my bunk at the back of the room by a row of tall windows and was about to get under the covers when Ms. Emery walked into the room. We all stopped what we were doing and watched as the new girl followed closely behind her. They headed to the end of the room and stopped beside my bunk bed.
"Ketsuna, this is Vixia," Ms. Emery explained. "She'll be taking the bottom bunk for the time being."
"Okay," I replied quietly, still thinking about the book she had taken from me.
"Why don't you come down and say hello?" I hesitated for a moment, but then I climbed down and held my hand out to the girl. This was the first time that I noticed her yellow eyes.
"Hi, my name is Ketsuna."
She took my hand and shook it. "I'm Vixia," she chimed. "Glad to meet—"
"Good," Ms. Emery interjected. "Ketsuna, be on your best behavior. Everyone, it's time for lights out! I don't want to hear so much as a peep from you."
Vixia wriggled her way underneath the covers of the lower bunk as I climbed back onto the top one. Ms. Emery left the room, flicking off the light on her way out and closing the door behind her. I peered over the edge of the railing as soon as she was gone and Vixia must have had the same idea as me because I was met with the sight of her glowing eyes.
"I thought she said that this place was full."
"She did, but that doesn't make it true. She just doesn't want any more kids here." Vixia nodded in understanding and smiled.
"Sorry if my eyes are creepy," she whispered. They make it to where I can see in the dark."
I beamed back at her.
"That's so cool."
That was the moment when our friendship began.
About a month passed, along with the pouring rain and winter weather that kept us confined to the inside of the orphanage. When spring rolled around, we were allowed to play outside in the courtyard. Some kids would garden with the other caretakers or run around playing tag, but not Vixia and me. On that first day of spring, we sat under a tree at the far end of the courtyard, taking in the sunlight as we skimmed through my book.
"Isn't that the book Ms. Emery took from you?" she asked. I nodded, flipping to the next page.
"Yeah, she usually does that. I sneak it back when she's not looking, though. Plus, she's too old to remember the title, so she never realizes it's the same one." I continued to flip through the pages as Vixia looked down at her lap, weaving some wildflowers together. After a moment, she spoke again.
"Did you have a family?" she asked. I stopped skimming and stared at one of my favorite illustrations in the book: an enormous red dragon.
"Yeah. They left me in the forest."
"I've never had a family."
"Really? Then have you been here your whole life?"
"Then what happened before—"
"Look at this!" I interrupted, holding up my book. "Isn't this picture cool?" I showed her the illustration that I was staring at before. However, my moment of excitement was short-lived.
"Ketsuna, what do you have there?" Ms. Emery shouted from the front steps. I jumped, startled, and we both looked up to see her storming toward us.
"Crap!" I got up to run, but Ms. Emery had already made it to us. She snatched the book out of my hands again and was practically fuming.
"This again? You're such a bad influence. Both of you, inside, now!"
Vixia and I looked down at the ground for the walk back to the building, but when Ms. Emery wasn't looking, Vixia took my hand and held it.
I lied in bed that night, staring at the ceiling above me as I contemplated everything. After Vixia and I were sent inside, we were forced to spend the rest of the day cleaning. Vixia never complained when she got caught up in my punishments, but a part of me felt guilty for it. I wondered if I really was a bad influence and if I would ever be adopted. Most of all, I wondered what it would be like to leave.
I wouldn't have to deal with her anymore, and Vixia won't get in trouble because of me. I could go explore and do my own thing. No one could stop me.
I sat up and looked out the windows. The moon was high in the sky, its light dying everything an iridescent blue color. The trees outside blocked some of it from coming in, so shadows of their leaves and branches stretched across the floor in front of me. I was admiring it all when I made up my mind. I climbed out of bed and began to get dressed as quietly as possible. I had picked up my boots when Vixia sat up and looked at me, her eyes glowing against the shadows in the room.
"What are you doing?" she whispered.
"Why? Where are you going?"
She tilted her head as she continued to stare at me. I shrugged and turned toward the door.
"I'm tired of this place and I don't want to get you into any more trouble. I'm not sure where I'll go, but I'll be fine." After that, I began to head for the door, careful not to wake anyone up.
"Wait." I stopped and turned around to look at Vixia. She had her hand outstretched toward me, but she hadn't gotten out of bed. "Let me get dressed. Take me with you."
"Don't you like it here, though? You seemed like you wanted to stay here when you first showed up."
"That's only because I didn't have anywhere else to go," Vixia admitted, shaking her head. "I was lonely. But if you leave, I'll be alone all over again."
"But there's plenty of other people here. You can make new friends."
She shook her head in refusal without even a hint of hesitation.
"I'll still be lonely without you. You're my only friend and the only one who was willing to get to know me." The last part came out so softly that I barely heard it. She clutched the blanket on her lap as she stared at me, her eyes still glowing brightly. This was probably the most determined I had ever seen her.
"Are you sure?" I asked. This time, she nodded. "Okay."
She finally climbed out of bed while I walked back over to her and started getting dressed. "Don't put your shoes on yet," I instructed. "They'll make too much noise for us to sneak out." She nodded again and picked them up, carrying them like I did mine. We left the room and headed into the kitchen. I grabbed a sack that was sitting in the corner of the room and started to fill it with any food I could grab without making noise.
"Wait, isn't that stealing?"
"What else are we supposed to eat? Twigs?" Vixia shrugged and I continued to fill the bag. We then headed into the common room, where Ms. Emery always hid my book. I handed Vixia the sack and grabbed a chair. I carried it over to the bookcase and set it down gingerly before climbing on top of it.
"Please be careful." I didn't say anything back. I stood almost on the tips of my toes to peer over the top of the bookcase. I could barely spot the spine of my book against the darkness of the room and could tell that Ms. Emery made an effort to push it further back than usual. Maybe she did know that it was the same book the whole time. I silently cursed myself and Ms. Emery as I stretched a little further. That was when the chair shifted underneath me.
"Ketsuna, look out!" Vixia rushed over and grabbed the chair just before it could tip over. She steadied it while I regained my footing. I looked at her fr over my shoulder.
"Hold it still. I've almost got it." She nodded and did as I told her. I reached again and barely touched the book's cover with my fingertips. I managed to drag it close enough to grab and held it to my chest once I got it down. I got off the chair and added the book to the sack that Vixia left on the floor.
"Should we put the chair back?"
"Nah, let's just go," I replied.
We made our way over to the front door and I carefully turned the knob. There was no sound until the hinges let out a high-pitched creak when I slowly pulled it open. We listened for a moment to ensure we hadn't woken anyone up and I noticed that Vixia's ears shifted around as she picked up sounds that I couldn't hear. After a moment of complete silence, we crept outside and I closed the door behind us. We were walking across the courtyard and heading toward the forest when I began to question Vixia again.
"Are you sure you want to come with me?" I asked. "As soon as we cross the gate, there's no turning back."
She stared at me, her hair shining in the moonlight, and nodded firmly as she took my hand and squeezed it tightly. We finally made it to the front gate and pushed it open together. Then we slipped into the forest, veiled by the darkness of the night.
. . . . Ketsuna. Hey, Ketsuna.
I could feel someone shaking me by my shoulder and the world around me came into focus. I was still in my room at the guildhall, lying in bed. Vixia was looking down at me with Puff perched on her shoulder. I groggily rubbed my eyes and I sat up as I yawned.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"I think so."
"What time is it?"
"About 6 o'clock. Most of the guild is back now and Darius and I just finished making dinner."
"All right. Let's go eat."
I got up while Puff jumped back down onto the bed. Vixia and I were about to walk out into the hallway when I heard a low rumbling sound. Everything began to shake and the inside of my chest tightened.
"It's a dragon!"
Vixia and I immediately grabbed our weapons and rushed out of our room with Puff hidden in my hair. We made it to the balcony just in time to see the whole guildhall descend into chaos. The lights that hung from the ceiling were swaying as the walls trembled. Some guild members were hiding under tables, while others were rushing for the exit. Screaming and cries of terror filled the air. Vixia and I dashed for the stairs and I slid down the banister, trying to get to the ground floor as quickly as possible. When I made it down to the first floor, I realized that the dragon wasn't inside the building.
The rumbling intensified as debris fell from above in a small trail. The wooden support beams creaked and groaned overhead as I watched the trail end directly in the center of the ceiling.
"It's on the roof," I said to Vixia as she joined me.
"Then we have to get outside."
I looked toward the front doors but found that it was crowded because Nesryn was standing in front of them, blocking the only way out.
"If you all run out there now, you'll get yourselves killed!" she screamed at them. "Grab your weapons before you do anything stupid!"
Even though Vixia and I already had our weapons, I doubted that the crowd would clear to let us through. There was no way that we were getting through those doors. I looked over at Vixia, who was staring at one of the large windows nearby.
"Are you thinking what I am?"
"Mhmm." Vixia nodded, holding her hand out in front of her. She closed her eyes.
Great Goddess, please help me disperse this glass
So that through it, we may pass
A glowing circle filled with intricate designs erupted from her palm and the windows shattered as if on command, catching the attention of both the crowd and Nesryn.
"Wait, you two—"
We didn't wait to listen to what she had to say. I sprinted across the room and jumped out the window, Vixia following close behind me. Once we were outside, I realized there wasn't a flame in sight.
"Must be fireless," I concluded. "Vixia, is there any way for you to put us on top of the roof?" When I looked over, I saw that she was staring at the top of the building. From the ground, we could only see the dragon's wings.
"I have an idea, but it's too risky."
"Well, we don't have time to think of a better one. If we don't handle this right now, the roof will cave in."
"I know, I know!" Vixia snapped. "Just give me a second. I don't want to put you up there because it's steep. One wrong step and you'll fall off."
"And you can't incinerate it like last time because—"
"Everyone inside will burn up with it," she finished, gripping her staff. Puff finally wriggled out of my hair and climbed onto my shoulder. He jumped off and glided over to Vixia, nuzzling the side of her neck once he landed on her.
"If only we could fly up there," I mumbled.
"Or if we had something to catch us, it wouldn't be so risky." Vixia and I both jumped and turned to see Darius walking over to us. There was a massive battle ax strapped to his back this time.
"What are you doing out here?" I asked.
"What, you thought I would leave all of this to you guys? I am a member of the IronScale Slayers, after all." He was smiling triumphantly when he noticed Puff clinging to Vixia's shoulder. "Were you guys planning on fighting fire with fire?" he asked.
"The dragon up there doesn't breathe fire, though," I replied.
"You're missing the point."
"Guys, we need to focus," Vixia interrupted. "How can we fight without falling off the roof?"
"What about the spell you used on me?" I suggested. "The one that you caught me with last time." Vixia frowned and shook her head.
"That was meant to slow your fall. I can only make something float by stopping its descent, so I can't lift anything up." We all fell silent, trying to come up with another plan. That was when Puff jumped off Vixia's shoulder and scampered across the grass, heading toward the building.
"Puff, where are you going?"
He stopped and looked back at us. For a moment, I could have sworn that he was smiling. He flexed his muscles in a weird way, arching his back like a frightened cat, and slowly began to grow in size. The three of us stared in awe as he steadily grew bigger, finally expanding to about the size of a carriage. He then flapped his wings and began to lift off the ground.
So he can change his size at will? I didn't know dragons could do that.
"Well, there's our way up," Darius said. "Vixia, you've got our backs, right?"
She was still staring at Puff when Darius asked his question. She looked at us and smiled with a nod.
"Let's get started."
It only took a few minutes for us to set our plan in motion. Puff would fly Darius and me up to the roof and Vixia would stay on his back, casting spells from a distance. If either of us got knocked off the roof, Vixia would cast another spell to slow our descent and Puff would fly over and catch us before we could reach the ground. I felt the inside of my chest ache as the dragon came into my field of vision.
As I had noticed before, it was fireless. Its body was covered in dark blue scales and its eyes were pitch-black like the others before Puff. Its wings shuddered as it stretched them out to maintain its balance on the roof, and it dug its claws into the material for extra support. It waved its tail menacingly as it turned toward us, almost as if it were giving us some sort of warning. It let out an ear-piercing cry and our plan was set into action.
"Now!" My pulse thudded against my temples as I rushed forward from Puff's back and launched myself toward the roof below. Once I felt the impact of landing, I resisted the urge to roll since I didn't want to end up going backward off the roof and did my best to keep running up the side of the slant. Darius was just a bit farther ahead of me when Vixia launched her first attack.
I barely heard her shout a quick incantation and shards of ice shot through the air and pierced into the dragon's skin like large splinters. It screamed and Darius hesitated for a moment, slowing down.
"What kind of spell was that?" he asked, bewildered. This was when I finally caught up to him. I was starting to pass him when I drew my sword.
"That wasn't even close to her strongest one, believe it or not. Come on." He drew his ax and quickly followed behind me. I ended up standing on the support beam that ran between the slants on either side of the roof, facing the dragon head-on.
While it was still distracted and writhing in pain from the icy splinters, Darius and I rushed forward from either side of the roof with the idea that it wouldn't be able to block both of us and keep its balance at the same time. I jabbed my blade into the dragon's foot, which caused it to scream as Darius hacked at its shin. It decided to attack Darius instead of me and flicked him off the side of the building in one swift motion. He was sent flying off the side of the roof, but Vixia caught him just as quickly as he had been thrown, and Puff returned him to the end of the support beam, a safe distance away from the other dragon. I stomped down on the dragon's toes and pulled my blade out of its foot before slashing at its leg. That was when I noticed some frost creeping down the dragon's scales and solidifying into chunks of ice. Its whole neck was already encased in it, and it was starting to spread to the dragon's wings. I ducked down as it began to flap them furiously and scream.
Now's our chance! Darius started shouting at me as Vixia and Puff flew overhead. As soon as I saw what they were doing, I turned and started running back toward the other side of the roof. Puff's throat was puffing outward as wisps of flames emerged from his mouth. He let them go as soon as Vixia finished the incantation for her ice spell again. I made it back to Darius just before both attacks hit the dragon. I glanced at Darius and saw that he was already looking at me. There was a glint of determination in his eyes and sweat running down his forehead.
He must be thinking the same thing as me. He got into a position to sprint and I nodded, turning my attention back to the aftermath of the devastating attack that Vixia and Puff had landed. Smoke—or was it steam?—clouded the area and made it hard to see anything other than the tips of the flames and the cinders floating through the air. It slowly began to clear and the dragon became more visible. At this point, it was writhing in pain again, but it was also free from the ice that was growing on it before. Darius and I both took our chance and rushed in.
Darius managed to jump up and chop at its neck while I stabbed into its belly. The dragon's cries finally stopped as its head dropped, detached from the rest of its body. It rolled down the roof's slope, plummeting to the ground near the guildhall's front door as its former body slumped and collapsed— right on top of me.
"Ketsuna!" I could barely hear Vixia's muffled voice from underneath the dragon's body. I tried my best to scooch out from under the tremendous weight but couldn't move at all. My chest and lungs began to ache as I squirmed, reaching my arm out as far as I could. I couldn't see anything from where I was, but I felt the weight on me lessen a little right before someone grabbed onto my wrist and pulled. I was slowly dragged out from under the dragon's corpse and coughed as soon as I could breathe again. Darius and Puff dropped the monster's body after I was freed and Vixia let go of my arm, dropping down to sit on the roof. She reached out to touch my face.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I think so," I managed to say between heavy breaths. Vixia pulled her hand away as I rolled onto my back. That was when we realized her entire palm was covered in the dragon's blood. Her face wrinkled in disgust.
"Ew." She wiped her hand off on her skirt and we both laughed.
Puff carried us all back to the ground and shrunk down to his usual size before anyone had a chance to see him. He decided to hide in Vixia's hair this time since I was still covered in blood. As soon as he hid, the front doors burst open and most of the guild rushed out, finding us standing there. They froze, dumbfounded. My focus was on Nesryn, who was at the front of the crowd and staring at me in horror.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah," I replied with a smile. I motioned to the blood all over me. "This isn't mine. Actually—" I walked over to where the dragon's head had landed, picked it up, and continued, "it was from his." I then held the head up for everyone to see. There was a moment of shocked silence, but then the crowd began to cheer. Most of them headed back inside to celebrate as Nesryn stepped closer to us.
"You three managed to slay it by yourselves?" We nodded, but no one said anything. That is until Vixia spoke up.
"Um, Nesryn, I have a request."
"What is it?"
"Well, as you can see, Ketsuna and I can handle ourselves."
"Yes, her majesty has made that very clear."
"Basically," I interrupted, "Vixia's trying to say, can we please be put on something other than chore duty? And can we take on actual quests instead of being stuck at the guildhall? It's a waste of our skills."
"I wasn't going to go that far," Vixia mumbled. Nesryn held her chin and crossed her arms, seeming to consider my words for a moment.
"Fine, I'll allow it. Let me speak to Queen Evelyn and see what can be done."
"Really?" The guild master nodded.
"But parties in this guild travel in groups of three. You'll need to find another member to join you."
As soon as she said this, Vixia and I turned to look at Darius.
"Darius, come with us!" Vixia cheered, hugging his arm.
"Wait, what?" he wondered aloud.
"We can go on so many adventures!"
"And it'll give you a chance to get away from the kitchen," I added. Darius shifted his weight away from Vixia, but she still held onto his arm. He scratched the back of his head nervously with his free hand.
"I guess you're right. I do kinda miss getting out there like I used to . . ."
"Then it's decided," Nesryn said at last. "You three are now a party. You'll begin with your regular quests tomorrow. Now I have to go through the members and assign chore duty to someone else." She turned and headed back toward the front doors. She went to go inside but stopped for a moment and looked at us from over her shoulder.
"Don't let me down."
All three of us nodded and she left.
That night, Vixia and I showered and headed straight to bed. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get all of the dragon blood out of my hair and I was starting to feel the effects of being crushed, so I was exhausted. We were getting ready to go to sleep when there was a knock at the door.
"I'll get that."
"Okay," Vixia replied, mid-yawn. I headed for the door and opened it. At first, I didn't see anyone there, but as soon as I stepped into the hall, I spotted Sparrow waiting for me. I sighed and closed the door behind me.
"What do you want?"
"There's no way that you guys could have done that all by yourselves."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"Don't play dumb."
"I'm not. We didn't do it by ourselves. Darius was there too."
"I'm not talking about that. There's no way that you guys could have gotten up on the roof that fast."
"Magic," I replied simply. Sparrow opened his mouth to protest, but I cut him off. "So you're underestimating my wife's abilities, is that it?" My voice had lowered into a snarl. Sparrow glared back at me and spoke again.
"You may have fooled the others, but I know you guys are not invincible. I'll make you regret coming around this guild."
"Do you seriously still think that we actually wanted to join? I came here for my own reasons and none of it had to do with you." I turned to head back into my room. I opened the door as he followed me, trying to get the last word in.
"I swear, I'll—" I slammed the door in his face.