The Rise of The Dragon Queen
Vixia, Puff, and I made the long journey to the mountains where Sparrow's party was sent, flying when Puff and the energy and walking while he rested. Thanks to his quick flying, we managed to reach the mountain's winding roads by the following day. Vixia and I were walking along the main path when I felt my chest begin to ache. I gripped my shirt and heaved a sigh, unsure how else to deal with the pain. It must have caught Vixia's attention because she stopped in her tracks and looked back at me.
"Ketsuna, are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," I answered, slouching. I drew in a deep breath, which then came back out shakily. "I just need a minute."
"Is it because of the dragon?"
I shrugged, now bent over with my hands on my thighs.
"It's got to be close by if I'm feeling it now, which means Sparrow's party either hasn't gotten to it yet or—"
"Were killed trying, right?"
"I'm sure we'll run into it soon enough. Why don't you let Puff carry you for a bit?"
I wasn't sure what to do, but Puff decided for me. He climbed out of the pouch on my belt and shifted into a bigger size, ready to carry me. His eyes had a level of concern in them that I had never seen before.
"All right." I climbed onto Puff's back and he cradled me with his wings. Vixia walked along beside us but was far enough away to where I couldn't see her face. I rolled onto my side and watched the path slowly pass by, dust swirling in the breeze as we went. I cushioned my head with my arm and began to doze off as I remembered when Vixia and I left the orphanage as kids.
Vixia and I trudged along through the brush and debris of the forest as we wandered, having no clue where to go. I was mostly following Vixia since she seemed to recognize where we were, at least. She stopped in a clearing and looked around with a blank expression on her face.
"This is where they left me," she began quietly. I was confused for a moment, but then I realized she was referring to her family. I walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"It's okay. We'll be fine as long as we've got each other, right?" She turned to look at me and smiled. She nodded and grabbed my hand.
"Come on, I want to show you something." She pulled me along as she walked across the clearing. We headed through another thick patch of forest before finding another clearing. It was a bit more overgrown than the previous one and I could see trails through the tall grass, likely from animals trekking through the area. We followed one over to a small stone structure at the center of the clearing. A gap in the canopy above us made the moonlight act as a spotlight on the stones. Vixia looked at me expectantly as I stared at it.
"What is that?" I asked.
"It's a shrine."
"Who's that?" Vixia shrugged and kneeled down in front of the tiny shrine. She smiled at it and ran her fingers across one of the stones.
"I'm not sure, but she comforted me when I was alone. I'm glad I met her." She clasped her hands together in front of her face and bowed her head as she closed her eyes. She fell silent and I realized that she was praying. I took a few steps back and sat down, watching her quietly. Once she was done, she lifted her head again and touched the stones.
"I may not be back for a while. Farewell." She had a sweet smile on her face, almost as if she were talking to a friend. She stood up and turned toward me. "Let's keep going. I think there's a city nearby. I was brought there before the guards took me to the orphanage."
I nodded and stood up. Vixia took my hand again and we continued on our way.
We discovered that Vixia was right about the city because we found it by that evening. It was Centrum City, the heart of Zaledrid, even if it wasn't the capital. I had never been there before, so I let Vixia take the lead. We crept out of the forest and over to one of the large stone walls surrounding the city's perimeter. She looked at them, her eyes glowing slightly in the shadows, and let out a sigh as she slumped on the ground. I sat down beside her.
"I'm not sure where to go from here," she admitted, staring at the top of the wall. "These are too tall to climb, but the only other way in is through the main gates where the guards are. They'll just send us back." I thought about this for a moment, then stood up and held my hand to her. She looked up at me, confused.
"Then let's walk around a bit. Maybe we'll find something that can help us get over." She nodded and took my hand. I helped pull her to her feet and we began our walk around the walls.
The sun slowly continued in its descent and the world around us grew colder as night fell. We made it all the way to what I figured was the back side of the city and found the northern gate. We stopped just beyond the view of the guards and decided to rest. We sat down on the dewy grass and I opened the sack we had brought with us, finding that it was nearly empty. I sighed as I took out a piece of bread and passed it to Vixia.
"We're going to need to restock."
"How?" she asked, taking a bite out of her bread. "It's not like we have any money." I shrugged and closed the bag again, deciding to skip a meal to make our remaining food last longer. I was looking around, trying to ignore the rumbling in my stomach, when I saw Vixia's ears shift from the corner of my view. She quickly tapped my shoulder.
"Hey, what's that?" She got up and wandered over toward a section of the wall that we had just passed a moment before. I followed and noticed that some of the stones were slightly ajar. Vixia must have seen it, too, because she grabbed onto one of them. She slowly moved it out of the way, trying to make as little noise as possible. It shifted, revealing a small tunnel leading through the wall. Vixia and I exchanged glances, then focused back on the wall.
"I guess that's our way in," she determined. "Let's go." She got down on her hands and knees and began to crawl through the tunnel. I followed behind her.
The first thing I noticed when I emerged on the other side was the bright light from the nearby street lamps. The next was that we were actually behind a tall building. The area was littered with wooden crates and the ground was paved with small slabs of stone. I looked over to see Vixia dusting herself off, also taking in the sights around us. Then her gaze fell on me.
"What now?" she asked. I shrugged.
"I don't know, honestly. I didn't expect us to get this far." I crept over to the edge of the building, peering out at the streets. Even though it was nighttime, there were still tons of people wandering around. I was about to retreat to the shadows and let Vixia know when something caught my eye. A piece of paper fluttered through the air, carried by a breeze. I grabbed it once it drew close enough and was surprised to see Vixia's face etched on the front, followed by a reward for her return to the orphanage.
"Well, this just made things a bit more complicated," I groaned, stepping back to show Vixia. Her ears folded back as she looked toward the street.
"I guess there's no chance of us blending in now, not that we could anyway." Her tail wrapped around her and she began to smooth out the silvery fur that covered it. I tore up the flier and dropped it on the ground.
"We'll have to sneak around until things settle more. Follow me." I began to walk toward an alley between the building we were behind and the next. That was when Vixia rushed for me.
"Wait!" She managed the snag the back of my shirt and stop me before I could step into the street. She yanked me down behind a large crate, and we watched silently as two guards walked by, clad in royal armor. After they disappeared from view, I looked over at Vixia to see a concerned look on her face.
"You've got to be more careful," she warned. "At least, until we can disguise ourselves."
I reached up to touch my ears. "How are we going to do that?"
"Maybe one of the stores here has clothing or something. We'll find a way. Let's just lie low for now." I nodded and we returned to where the rest of the crates were, cramming ourselves into one of the large ones. I pressed my knees to my chest as Vixia rested her head on my shoulder. I was tempted to stroke her ears but resisted and drifted off to sleep.
Later that night, the traffic in the area died down and Vixia and I slowly crept out of the crate we were hiding in. Now it was so quiet around us that you could hear the chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs from beyond the wall. I peered around the corner of the building, seeing that the street was completely empty. Vixia followed silently as I snuck around the wall's edge. I stepped onto the sidewalk and looked around, searching for any nearby shops. That was when something caught my eye.
Just down the street, at the corner of one of the city's blocks, there was a shop with the windows still lit. I could see a man's silhouette behind the glowing panes of glass and guessed that he was probably preparing to leave. I looked over to see Vixia watching as well. I took her hand and her attention was brought back to me.
"I have an idea. Let's get over there and wait for him to leave."
She nodded in agreement and we crossed the street together. We headed behind the building across from where we had been hiding, hoping to avoid any guards that might be patrolling. I looked to the sky, finding the trail of smoke rising from the shop's chimney. We followed it and found ourselves beside our targetted building, creeping along the dark alleyway beside it. I edged toward the corner, finding that the man we had spotted earlier was in the process of locking the door. I ducked behind the wall and waited until I heard him walking away before I peeked around the corner again. He had disappeared into the night. I walked over to the door, finding a sign hanging over it.
"A blacksmith's shop?" I whispered. Now Vixia was peering around the corner as well. I motioned for her to join me by the door and she walked out into the light of the streetlamp. She crossed her arms.
"What now?" she asked. I shrugged. We both stood there for a moment, but then Vixia approached the door. "Here, let me try something." I stepped aside as she took the lock that was hanging off the door's latch into both of her hands.
"Vixia, what are you—" I stopped as soon as I heard her begin mumbling a few words under her breath, but I don't remember what they were. Her fingers glowed with an odd green light and she pulled on the lock. It clicked, and when she opened her hands, it fell to the ground with a clattering sound.
"What the hell was that?" She just turned to me and shrugged back.
"I don't know. Zelora told me to do it."
"I still don't know who that is."
"I'll explain later. Come on." Vixia opened the door and headed inside. Now it was my turn to follow her lead. I left the door open behind us and stepped into the building, awestruck by what was inside.
The earth at the center of the room emitted a low glow as it cooled, providing just enough light to illuminate the weapons on the walls. Swords and daggers hung to my left and shields and maces were to my right. My eyes scanned the room, where I found a large assortment of axes, hammers, and armor sets either pinned to walls or locked away in glass display cases. My eyes then found Vixia as she wandered further into the shop, heading toward the back left corner of the room where staffs were displayed on the walls. I followed her, finding that she was staring at them in awe.
Mage's staffs? I had never seen one in real life before, but they looked like what I had imagined from the books I read. My attention was turned back to Vixia when she grasped my hand. When I looked at her, she pointed further up on the wall.
"I want that one."
My eyes drifted up to where she was pointing, and I instantly knew what she was talking about. There was a staff toward the top of the wall that appeared to be crafted from wood and metal with a glass orb secured at the top. It was far out of our reach.
"How are we supposed to get it?"
"Well, how would a blacksmith get it down?"
"A latter, maybe." We were both looking around the room for one when we heard a shout from behind us.
"Hey!" Vixia and I both jumped and looked over to the door, finding a man standing in the doorway. As far as I could tell, it was a different man from the one who had locked the door before, but I couldn't tell if he was a guard or not. "What are you doing here?" he asked, stepping toward us. In a panic, I grabbed the nearest sword and held it out in front of me.
"Stay back!" I screamed, my voice cracking. "I will use this if I need to." Looking back, there is no way he could have believed me with how badly I was shaking. My arms and the blade trembled as I held them out in front of me.
Shit, shit, shit! I glanced over at Vixia just in time to see her reach up toward the staff. Her palm began to glow again as she whispered something. The staff then lit up with the same light and lifted itself from its place on the wall. She held out both of her hands and it plummeted straight into her grasp. The man and I both stared at her in disbelief as a smile crossed her face.
"Let's get out of here." She grabbed my arm and pulled me over toward the nearest window. With a quick blow from the bottom of her staff, she broke the window and started to climb through.
"Hey, wait a minute!" the man protested. He rushed for me, but I managed to jump through the window before he could get ahold of me. Vixia and I ran off into the night, now equipped with our first weapons.
Vixia and I headed back the way we came and found ourselves at the gap in the city's surrounding walls. She shoved her staff through first and then took my sword to do the same when I finally voiced the question that I was still holding onto.
"How did you do that?" I asked.
"The glowing thing with your hands," I replied, holding out my hand to mimic how she lifted the staff. She shrugged and turned back to the wall.
"I don't know, but I heard a voice. I think Zelora told me to do it." I tilted my head as she crawled through the hole in the wall. I followed behind her.
"And Zelora is?" Vixia reached the other side, kneeled on the ground, and picked up her staff again.
"She's my friend, the one that lives in the shrine that we went to earlier."
"Friend?" Vixia nodded as she stood up. I decided to let it go for the time being and grabbed my sword. That was when I realized I didn't have anywhere to put it. "Crap, I forgot to grab a sheath."
"It'll be fine. We've got to get moving, though. I'm sure more guards are looking for us now." She was right. We walked off, heading back into the forest.
After that, Vixia and I spent most of our days traveling around the kingdom of Zaledrid. After some time, Vixia managed to explain that Zelora, the friend she had referred to, was once a popular goddess but was forgotten over time. Since she had first visited the shrine, Zelora spoke to her directly and Vixia was her only follower. With the help of the magic that Zelora gave to her, Vixia and I managed to take on quests almost everywhere we went. As time went on, the search for the two young girls who left the orphanage died out, and we were able to use our real names again. Even so, we never stayed in one place for too long since I was the only one out of two of us that was old enough to not be sent back.
That is until we reached Tidalsong City.
It was the day before Vixia's 18th birthday and we were walking along the cliffs at the edge of the city. We were looking out at the ocean, the wind whipping our hair and lashing at our faces. I watched as the waves crashed against the shore and stared at the city sprawled out in front of us in awe.
So, this is an ocean.
I was pulled away from my thought when Vixia squeezed my hand.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
"Yeah." She tilted her head, resting her cheek on the top of my head. "Maybe we can find a way to stay here."
"Sure, I don't see anything wrong with that."
Over the next few months, it became apparent to Vixia and me that we could actually stay in Tidalsong City. We began by taking quests around town and eventually became somewhat known by most of the people there. The kinder ones would give us food along with our payments for quests, and after helping out an innkeeper, we managed to get a room for a few weeks. The only downside was how people looked at Vixia and me since we weren't exactly human, but that was an issue no matter where we went.
The first incident like this that happened in Tidalsong specifically was when Vixia and I decided to go to a restaurant after finishing a quest with a hefty reward. We were sitting at our table, beginning to eat our food, when a man wandered over to us.
He was tall with broad shoulders and wore a set of hunting gear. I assumed he was probably part of a guild specializing in monster population control because of the massive bow and quiver on his back. As soon as he approached the table, he slammed his palms down on its surface, making all of our dishes clatter from the force.
"What's a monster like you doing here?" he asked Vixia in a threatening tone. Vixia stared at him, her eyes wide with fear. She held up her hands defensively, but she was trembling.
"I'm not a monster," she replied in a shaky voice. My brows furrowed and I stood up.
"Leave her alone," I snapped. "She hasn't done anything wrong." He looked toward me and I could tell he had noticed my ears because he immediately began laughing at me.
"What a pointy-eared freak! Why don't you go back to Draladen and take your pet with you?" My eyes narrowed as I lifted my arm and gripped the hilt of my sword. I was about to draw it when one of the waitresses rushed over to us.
"Sir, I am going to have to ask you to leave." The hunter turned to look at the girl, his expression shifting from amusement to shock.
"Sir, you are disturbing our guests. If you refuse to leave, I will go get the guards outside." He grumbled something and left without further incident. Vixia and I tried to calm down and go back to eating, but Vixia couldn't stop shaking. The waitress was kind enough to bring us a free dessert and assured us that people like the hunter were few and far in-between. That was the first time it seemed like a stranger had our backs.
Overall, Tidalsong City was a place where Vixia and I could not only survive but thrive.
A few years passed, and Vixia and I found a semi-permanent living arrangement at one of the local inns. The people there were kind and let us stay for a few months at a time for a lower price than what it would have cost to rent a place of our own. By this time, Vixia and I had been together for most of our lives, and I finally saved up enough to buy a ring to surprise her with. I could not imagine spending my life with anyone else, much less spending it without her by my side. I had already planned the proposal out by the time I bought the ring and decided to pop the question on a warm summer afternoon.
We were at a local sightseeing spot, a cliff that overlooked the shore and the ocean. The breeze carried the sound of the waves and Vixia's voice as we chatted about her magic.
"Zelora's been teaching me all these crazy spells recently," Vixia explained, leaning against the railing with her arms crossed. She was facing the ocean, and the wind blew her hair away from her face in flowing wisps. I was standing beside her. "But I'm sure they'll be useful."
"I have a random question," I interjected.
"What is it?"
"What does Zelora think about me?" Vixia let out a chuckle.
"I already talked to her about that, actually," she replied, taking my hand. "All good things, of course." She squeezed my hand three times and I did the same back.
"Zelora is very knowledgable, isn't she?" Vixia nodded and I let go of her hand. She turned to face me as I knelt down on one knee.
"Yes, but—" She froze mid-sentence when she saw what I was doing. I could barely hide my excitement as I reached into my pocket, revealing the ring box I concealed inside. Vixia's hands rose to cover her mouth and her ears stood up as her tail started wagging.
As soon as I remembered her face, I was snapped back to reality by the sound of a scream. I sat up, finding myself lying on the ground. I looked around, realizing that Vixia and Puff were gone.
The pain in my chest grew in intensity as I got up and began to run, heading toward where the scream had come from. I made my way into what I assumed to be the deepest cavern and was met with a sight that made my blood run cold.
Vixia was lying on the ground, face-down and motionless, while Puff towered over her at a size that I didn't even know he could grow to. Across from him, at the other end of the cavern, was another dragon with someone on its back. My eyes widened in horror when I heard the rider's voice.
"I've been waiting for you."
It was Sparrow perched on the back of the giant dragon with a triumphant grin on his face. My eyes moved from him to the monster he was riding on, and my fears were confirmed. Its eyes were dark and soulless, like the others. Sparrow peered down at me from beyond the dragon's green and yellow scales and a million thoughts ran through my mind, but one was the loudest.
How the hell did he get a dragon?
"Took you long enough to show up. The mangy mutt wouldn't tell me where you were."
I opened my mouth to respond but didn't have a chance before the opposing dragon lurched for us. I jumped backward as Puff lunged for it, letting out a vicious roar that shook the cavern walls. My eyes darted around the cave until they found Vixia again, lying on the ground behind the fighting dragons. I rushed over to her.
"Not so fast!" Sparrow yelled maniacally. I didn't know what he was talking about until I saw green flames erupt from his dragon's mouth, heading straight toward us. I dropped to my knees and grabbed onto Vixia, pulling her limp body close and positioning my back to the approaching fire. I braced for the burn, but it never came.
I had squeezed my eyes shut, but they opened again when I heard Puff scream. I looked back to see that he had blocked the fire, wisps of it burning his scales. He growled and bared his teeth as he stared Sparrow and the other dragon down, his tail whipping back and forth in anger. He dug his claws into the ground and launched himself at them again. I stared in awe before I heard a voice call out to me.
"Ketsuna?" I looked down to see Vixia reaching for my hand. She was shaking and could barely open her eyes, but she managed to tap my hand three times with her pointer finger.
"I'm going to get us out of here," I promised, but the truth was that I didn't know how. Puff's cries ripped through the cavern as he was slammed into one of the walls. Dust and rubble went flying from the impact, clouding my sight of him. "Come on," I instructed Vixia, lifting her up. Her head rolled over to look toward the corner of the cavern and she reached out her hand.
"My staff . . ."
"We have to get you out of here first." I was about to start dragging her toward where I had come in from when I noticed everything around us was rumbling. My eyes darted around the cavern and I finally spotted Sparrow's other party mates, who were lying on the ground and covered in blood. I guessed they were dead, but there was no way to really tell. Puff let out another roar, which shook the cavern even more, and my heart started pounding to where I could hardly hear anything else.
We need to get out of here.
"Puff!" I shouted. He shoved Sparrow's dragon off of him and hurried over to us. I lifted Vixia up and pushed her onto his back. I was scrambling on myself when Sparrow's dragon turned toward us. "We need to get out of here."
Just as I said that, a boulder fell from the ceiling. Then, like falling dominoes, more and more followed suit, one landing on one of the wings of Sparrow's dragon. It let out a cry as I looked around frantically for an opening. Sparrow was cursing loudly when I finally found one. A large enough boulder had fallen to where the sky outside was visible through a medium-sized gap.
"There!" I yelled, pointing the spot out to Puff. He nodded and flapped his wings, pushing us off the ground.
"I'm not letting you get away," Sparrow screamed. As he said that, more flames sputtered out of his dragon's mouth. Puff tried his best to avoid them as he headed for the opening. When we were almost there, I noticed that there was no way we could fit at Puff's current size.
"Puff, shrink!" I held onto Vixia as tightly as I could as I clung to Puff's neck. I felt it become looser in my grasp as he shrunk down, and I held on even tighter. The heat from Sparrows' flames trickled up my back as we flew, but it never had a chance to reach us. We made it through.
Once we were out, Puff gained as much altitude as he could and leveled out. Even from a distance, I could hear Sparrow's dragon screaming against the sound of the wind against my ears. I sighed in relief and looked down at Vixia.
She was bleeding from her forehead and several other scrapes and cuts on her body. She was covered in dirt and dust from the cave and her clothes were torn. I wondered if she managed to set off any spells before Sparrow attacked. I turned my attention to Puff, noticing that he had also taken quite a bit of damage. Most of his scales were singed or burnt, some even beginning to peel off, and he had gashes all over.
"Puff, are you okay?" The dragon grunted in response, nodding a little. I rubbed the top of his head. "I don't care where we go, just don't push yourself." He trilled and continued soaring through the air, heading for the horizon as the sun began to descend.
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