Chapter 12:

Chapter 12

The Rise of The Dragon Queen

The sun was beginning to set by the time we reached Tidalsong City. As we drew closer, gliding over the tall trees surrounding the area, I could see a mass of people crowding the city's main plaza, the same one Vixia and I had fought a dragon in just a few months before. Puff dropped a little lower and clutched the top of one of the trees, flapping his wings to maintain his balance. The other dragons did the same, landing on the treetops and waiting. Vixia and I looked down on the city, listening to hundreds of murmuring voices and a scene that almost looked like a hive of buzzing bees. At the center of it all was a temporary scaffold, surrounded by guards, with a chopping block placed in the center of it. The first thing I noticed was that there wasn't a drop of blood in sight, but I couldn't find Darius or Nesryn either.

"Looks like we got here in time," Vixia said from over my shoulder, coming to the same realization I did.

"Yeah. We need to hang back for now. If they spot us, we probably won't be able to grab them." Vixia nodded and I called back to the dragons to wait. None of them made so much as a sound, some even finding a way to balance on top of the trees without flapping their wings. That was when a realization dawned on me.

If the dragons really wanted to attack Zaledrid, we wouldn't have lasted this long. They would have ambushed us a long time ago.

I was still thinking of that when Vixia tugged at the sleeve of my gloves. She then pointed past me, back toward the crowd.

"Hey, I think they're bringing them out."

I looked back at the crowd and saw that she was right. The crowd parted in one area and four guards walked down the aisle, each couple surrounding two cloaked figures. I could see the sunset's light glimmering off of the shackles on their wrists and ankles, and the clinking of their chains seemed to silence the crowd. The first of the cloaked figures, Nesryn, tripped and I could hear her let out a whimper from where we were hiding. One of the guards snatched her arm, gripping it tightly as he hauled her back up to her feet. I could hear her let out another cry in pain and it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Even if I didn't like her, I knew it wasn't her fault that she was in this position. Vixia shifted behind me and I could hear the sound of her sniffling. I didn't look back, though. I kept my eyes on the crowd before me.

That was when I noticed that the other cloaked figure, Darius, was still standing tall, even if his head was angled downward. He walked slowly and steadily and I could tell he had already resigned himself to his fate. They finally made their way to the scaffold and Nesryn's legs trembled as she climbed the steps. On the other hand, Darius was just as calm and steady as he was before.

Once they were in their positions, still surrounded by guards, another man came down the same path that they had just walked. He was wearing a mask and was armed with an axe, so I concluded that he was the executioner. He was much more hurried when he headed to the scaffold and as soon as he was in sight, the mass surrounding it began to stir. When he made it to Darius and Nesryn, the crowd erupted with bloodthirsty screams and demands. Amongst the ruckus, the guards turned to their prisoners and removed the cloaks that hid them. Now everyone could see that they were wearing tattered clothes. Darius was looking down at the wooden planks below his feet, his expression blank. Nesryn, on the other hand, was sobbing.

"Kill the traitors!" a distinct voice shouted over the crowd. The rest of them followed, using these words as a chant. I could almost see Nesryn's eyes widen in surprise when the executioner grabbed onto the collar of her shirt and began dragging her to the chopping block.

"Now!" I shouted to the dragons. Without hesitation, we took to the air again, zooming toward the crowd. I kept my eyes on the scaffold as I gave more orders. "Vixia, you're going to need to jump when we get close enough."

"On it." We were nearing the crowd when Nesryn was forced down on her knees, her throat pressed against the chopping block.

"I didn't know!" she cried. "I swear, I didn't know!" She was screaming and struggling, still restrained by the guards while the executioner lifted his axe. By this time, we were flying over the edge of the crowd. My eyes widened when I saw the axe descend onto the back of Nesryn's neck.

We're too late.

Puff let out an ear-piercing shriek as he swooped down toward the crowd. The rest of the dragons followed and it wasn't long before everyone's attention had been ripped away from the execution. Panic ensued as they scrambled to escape, screaming and crying about yet another attack. The dragons didn't do anything to them, though. They just swarmed the area, snapping their jaws and screeching to scare everyone away. The guards rushed to grab Darius, but we were a little faster this time. As soon as the guards surrounded Darius, Vixia launched herself off Puff's back, already gripping her staff. She shouted the lines of a quick incantation as she fell and bolts of electricity shot out from the orb that topped her new weapon. They struck everyone on the scaffold except Darius and the guards dropped like flies. I remember thinking it was the first time I had seen Vixia use lethal force on people as the executioner's axe clattered against the wooden platform.

She landed on the scaffold and tucked and rolled as soon as she made impact. She quickly got back to her feet and grabbed the axe. She turned to Darius, who was staring at her in pure shock.

"Come on," she commanded. "You're not dying today." He did as she ordered and Puff flew in close to them. I grabbed Vixia's arm to pull her back onto Puff's back as the dragon snatched up Darius before he could even say anything. As soon as we were in the air again, I looked back at the plaza. By this time, all the people had retreated to the edge of the area, held back by their fear. Most of the dragons had landed by now, still acting vicious. I called out to them and they turned and followed behind us.

When we reached a safer area, another dragon came along beneath Puff to catch Darius. Once he was secure on the other dragon's back, it elevated him high enough to where he was even with Vixia and me. I smiled at him.

"Sorry, that was so close." He opened his mouth to talk, but nothing came out at first. Tears welled up in his eyes and he clung to the dragon. At first, I thought he was scared of flying so high, but when he spoke, I found out that wasn't it.

"Thank you." I nodded and Vixia reached out, grabbing ahold of the chains that connected his wrists and ankles. She muttered a short spell and they seemed to dissolve in the red light illuminating her palm. Darius lifted his arms again, finding that the chains were gone, the shackles remaining like bracelets.

"That should free you up a little," Vixia chimed. "We'll worry about the rest later. Are you ready to fight?" He nodded.

"I've seen better days, but I can try."

"Good," I replied. Vixia passed him the executioner's axe, which was still covered in Nesryn's blood. I looked back at the rest of the dragons and raised my fist. "Onward to Queen Evelyn's castle." The dragons screeched in response and we continued on our way.

As soon as we cleared the top of the castle's surrounding walls, our army of dragons spread out over the perimeter of the palace's grounds, but we didn't find any guards. We met up near the castle's double doors, the same ones I had been intimidated by only a few months ago.

"Looks like the guards aren't around," Darius observed, looking at all the dragons that had returned empty-handed.

"Yeah, that's odd."

"They must have known that we were coming," Vixia pointed out. "Do you think that Queen Evelyn escaped?"

"It's possible, but there's only one way to find out." We all looked back at the doors again. Darius walked up to them and began pushing, but they wouldn't budge.


"Leave it to me," Vixia declared as Darius stepped back. She took a few steps closer to the doors, holding her staff readily. Her ears were perked up and her tail whisked back and forth as she slammed the bottom of her staff on the ground. She held it out in front of her, gripping it in both hands.

Unleash the flames of wrath

So that we may pass

The orb at the top of Vixia's staff began to glow and flames shot out from it. Puff and some of the other dragons had readied their own attacks and helped to incinerate the doors. As soon as the wood began to crack and wilt away, I felt a sharp pain in my chest.

"Look out!"

Vixia and the dragons stopped just in time for the door to be engulfed by green flames coming from the other side. They continued after the door was gone and enveloped Vixia and our army. Once they ceased, I saw that most of the dragons had backed off enough to avoid being burnt. Vixia was standing where she was before, now with her hand stretched out in front of her. Smoke trailed over the surface of an invisible shield in front of her. She stayed in this position as she glared ahead, her ears folded back.

"I should have known you'd be here," she growled. Darius and I stepped closer to see who she was talking to. At the center of the main room, stationed between both staircases that led to the balcony, was Sparrow atop his massive dragon. He laughed as he gripped a set of reigns equipped to his dragon.

"You're too late, you know. You're not going to catch her. I'll make sure of it." The last sentence carried a venomous tone with it. Vixia bared her clenched teeth as he spoke and I saw her grasp tighten on her staff. She took off like a bolt and rushed into the room, fangs bared as she yelled.

"Go ahead and try, you fucking coward. This ends here!" Before Sparrow or his dragon could do anything to react, her staff started to discharge sparks. Electricity radiated throughout the floor, bolts of it pulsating around her with an intense glow. I went running in after her, but Darius grabbed my shoulder.

"Ketsuna, you need to focus on catching up to Queen Evelyn. We'll handle this." I looked back, shocked. That's when I spotted all the dragons behind him, who were also staring at me. I swallowed hard, turning my attention back to Darius, and nodded.

"Okay, okay. I can do that." I looked at the dragons and added, "Help them stop him." They grunted in reply and we all ran into the room, Puff beside me. By the time we joined Vixia, Sparrow's dragon had become partially stunned, twitching from the electricity coursing through its body. That was when I noticed the glowing from the orb on Vixia's staff was beginning to fade. She was still gripping her weapon, but her knees had bent inwards and her shoulders were slouching.

"What the hell are you doing?" Sparrow screamed at his dragon. He snapped the reigns, but all the poor thing could do was groan.

"Vixia, fall back!" She did as I commanded and stepped back as Darius and most of the dragons rushed forward. Before Sparrow could regain control over his dragon, Darius was already slashing at its legs. The dragons that followed started clawing and biting at it. Sparrow's dragon let out a scream that shook the building. I looked back over at Vixia. When her eyes met mine, I could see how much the spell had drained her. Her whole body was trembling.

"Puff, get her up there," she shouted, pointing toward the balcony. Puff nodded and before I could do anything, he launched himself into the air and snatched me up with his claws. He darted toward the balcony.

"Where do you think you're going?" As soon as we got close, Sparrow's dragon reared up on its hind legs and swiped at us. Before I had time to react, I was thrown through the air. For a split second, I saw the dragon's claw colliding with Puff'd right wing and the side of his body right after I was flung away from him. He was swatted down like a gnat and hit the floor just before I felt my own body collide with the tile on the balcony. I slid painfully across the floor, now positioned behind Sparrow. I stood up, frantically looking for Puff, but my eyes caught Vixia's gaze instead.

"Ketsuna, run!" I went to shake my head at first, but when I heard one of the dragon's screams, I turned and hurried off toward the hallway to my right. I continued down the corridor as quickly as I could, the sounds of the fight I was leaving behind echoing off the walls around me.

I'm leaving this up to you.

As I ran on, the screaming and shouting behind me became more and more distant until I almost couldn't hear them anymore. The sheath of my sword thudded against my back with every step and my throat burned. Everything still ached from when I hit the floor earlier, but I couldn't stop. Not now. I sprinted down the hallway, a million thoughts racing through my mind.

Was Puff going to be okay? Were any of us going to survive this? Was Queen Evelyn even still here? Ultimately, I didn't know, and I was becoming increasingly doubtful of the queen's presence when I still couldn't find any guards. I had hoped that the halls would be swarmed with them as I got closer, but there wasn't a single one in sight.

Just as I thought about that, another scream ripped through the hallway and the building around me trembled with it. I tripped and hit the floor. When the shaking subsided, I pushed myself up onto my hands and rolled over, looking back toward where I had come from.

I hope they're all right. I was in the process of standing up again when a door at the other end of the hallway burst open. I drew my sword as four guards came dashing toward me.

"Drop your weapon," one of them commanded. Instead, I drew my sword and cut him down, slashing at his exposed neck. Blood sprayed from his wound and he collapsed, his armor clattering against the floor. The others didn't attempt to help him and continued to charge toward me.

I managed to kick one in the stomach and pushed him back into another. They collided and hit the floor as the last one attempted to slash at me. I stepped back, but it wasn't enough to avoid his blade. He nicked my left arm and I recoiled. I felt a flood of warmth through the area as I readied for another attack.

He rushed forward again, but this time I was prepared. I swung my blade at him as soon as he got close enough. He blocked it with his own and our swords made a deafening clank sound. I then leaned back and ducked down low, drawing my blade down with me. In the next instance, I sprung back up and drove my blade into the underside of his right bicep. He cried out and, in another swift movement, I struck the side of his neck. He hit the floor just like the other guy, but now the two I had knocked into each other were getting up.

I looked at the two of them, unsure of what to do as they struggled to stand in their armor, which was heavier than their comrades'. Panicking, I ran toward the one just beginning to lift himself off the floor and slammed my foot into the front of his helmet. His face smacked the floor again and I figured he would be out for a while. The other, who was now standing, grabbed onto my shoulder and I instinctively wheeled around. I slashed at his thigh, but my blade couldn't pierce his armor. I clenched my left hand into a fist and punched the front of his helmet. We both recoiled for a second and I shook my hand to try and dispel the pain as I searched for an opening. I was able to see one on his right wrist. I swung my weapon at it and cut deep into his skin. He let out a scream of agony and dropped to his knees, his sword falling to the floor beside him. I ran around him and hurried to the door that they had come from.

She's got to be in here! I threw the door open and that was when I saw Queen Evelyn. She was standing by a desk, hurriedly shoving papers and envelopes into a thick suitcase. The shift in the air made some of the documents stacked on the desk fall over and flutter away. She turned to look at me as soon as the doorknob crashed into the wall beside me. Her eyes were wide and I noticed that her previously silky hair was now a frizzy mess. She was wearing a much plainer dress compared to what she wore when we first met, likely to help her hide easier after she made her escape. However, her lofty crown was still perched atop her head. Her eyes narrowed when she noticed I was glaring, and the same condescending air she had when she threatened me before came back.

"I see that the guards posed a challenge to you," she began with a grin. This was when I noticed my arm was bleeding where I was nicked earlier, except it wasn't a nick; it was a full-on gash. I directed my attention back to the queen.

"I should have let you send me back to Draladen before."

"Ah, so that's where you were! Not that it matters now. You're too late, Ketsuna. There's nothing you can do."

"Are you sure about that?" I lifted my sword again, getting ready to strike. Queen Evelyn's grin widened and she lifted her hand. She snapped her fingers.

The sound echoed throughout the room for a moment, reverberating off the walls and filling the space. Everything began to shake again as I heard another dragon's scream. Then, the wall to my right completely collapsed. I watched in horror as the jet-black eyes of a massive dragon stared me down, its silver scales glistening against the moonlight that illuminated the sky outside. It let out a roar and clamored into the room, positioning itself between Queen Evelyn and me.

It was an enormous dragon, even bigger than Dralnith or Sparrow's. Two ivory horns, the kind you would expect to see on a demon, protruded from its forehead and similar daggers made up its claws and fangs. It bared these at me, drawing closer as Queen Evelyn laughed.

"Where are your dragons?" she asked mockingly. "Not here to save you?" I gritted my teeth and held my sword in front of me, trying to devise a plan, but nothing came to mind as the creature drew closer and closer. When it came close enough, I swung at its face, but it caught my blade in its jaws. The dragon tore my weapon out of my grasp and flung it across the room, away from me. I watched as it skidded across the stone floor, then looked back at the dragon snarling before me. I closed my eyes, drew in a deep breath, and let out a sigh.

"I know you don't want to do this." I opened my eyes again to see Queen Evelyn tilting her head as she stared at me from behind the dragon's back. I stepped forward and the creature roared and growled in response, but I didn't flinch. It then lunged forward, ready to snatch me up in its jaws, but I grabbed onto either side of its head, my fingers nearly digging into its scaly skin. I glared straight into its pitch-black eyes.

"Listen to me," I growled. "I command you to stop."

"Like that's going to work," Queen Evelyn shouted. I ignored her and kept my focus on the dragon. It was still growling and I could tell it was about to start thrashing its head. I gripped its temples harder.

"You don't serve her. You serve me. She's using you as a weapon, but we both know you're more than that." The dragon let out an irritated snort and I thought I saw its eyes shift for a second.

"What are you doing?" Queen Evelyn asked shrilly. "Kill her!"

"It's okay," I whispered to the dragon, this time in Draladenian. "She doesn't own you." I hoped with every fiber of my being that this would work. In an act of desperation, I pressed my forehead against the dragon's snout, closing my eyes. At this point, everything had grown quiet.

After a few seconds of the dragon remaining still between my hands, I opened my eyes and lifted my head. As soon as my gaze met the dragon's, I saw the darkness in its eyes begin to retract. The shadows slowly withdrew into the center of its eyes and became slitted irises. It was exactly like the others.

I slowly removed my hands from its temples and stepped back. It was as if the dragon's next breath filled it with new life, one of its own. It slowly began to turn around, now glaring at Queen Evelyn.

"What the hell?" she yelped. "That's not possible! I injected it myself!" I strolled over to my sword and picked it back up. I then turned back toward the queen, who was backed up against the desk with the dragon looming over her.

"Was this your getaway plan? Kill me and fly off on a dragon?" She kept her gaze on the dragon, but I could see tears filling her eyes.

"Go to hell!" she screamed. She reached back for something on the desk and turned toward me. She then rushed for me, a letter opener held firmly in her hands.

I will never forget the way her face contorted with hatred and anger as she ran toward me, nor will I forget how it was replaced with pure fear when the dragon got ahold of her. Its jaws clenched around her torso, starting from her left shoulder and ending at her right hip. Her bones snapped and popped from the force and blood drenched her gown and dripped off her shoes as she was yanked from the floor. Her crown fell and rolled toward me, trailing her blood across the floor. I bent over and picked it up.

I did it. I looked back at the silver dragon, who was preoccupied with devouring what was left of the queen, then at the door. Without much thought, I headed back down the hallway, crown in hand.

When I made it back to the hallway's entrance, I realized that almost everything at the front of the castle had been demolished. A good portion of the wall surrounding the front doors was now blown away and only a few support beams kept the entire facade from crashing down. Wind from outside swept through the room and whistled against the remaining stones. The balcony and winding staircases had also collapsed, and I spotted some dragons underneath the rubble, motionless. Sparrow's dragon was standing atop this rubble and I could see that both of them were covered in blood and wounds. Vixia and Darius were standing at the other end of what remained of the room, over where the doors used to be. I could see that they weren't in the best shape either and Puff was lurking behind them, growling. The other dragons were on either side of Vixia and Darius, preparing to attack. I stepped toward the ledge that the collapsed balcony left behind, holding my sword in one hand and Queen Evelyn's crown in the other.

"Sparrow!" My voice echoed off the remaining walls and ceiling and everyone turned to look at me. I held up the crown as I glared at him. "It's over."

"Not for me, it's not," he shouted back. He dismounted from his dragon and pulled out his weapon, a large sword similar to the practice one he had used in our duel. Boosted by his dragon, he jumped onto the ledge and ran for me as Vixia bolted across the floor downstairs. I was preparing to block Sparrow's first blow when she reached out in front of her.

"Temporal halt," she screamed. Just as Vixia cast her spell, Sparrow froze, his blade already lifted high into the air. I stepped back just in time to see Darius run forward and launch his axe toward us. It hurtled through the air with a force that I didn't think was possible and sunk into Sparrow's back and shoulder. He screamed as Vixia's spell wore off and he hit the ground.

His weapon clattered against the tile as blood drained from his wound and spread across the floor. Darius, now unarmed, was picked up by one of the dragons as Vixia got ready to cast another spell. The remaining members of our army managed to tackle Sparrow's dragon to the floor while Puff grabbed Vixia, carrying her over to us. She stepped lightly on the floor and approached us as Sparrow grunted and squirmed on the floor. The blade of the axe was still firmly planted in his back, so he couldn't move. For a second, I saw a sadistic smirk cross Vixia's face, but it disappeared in an instant. She stepped closer to him, pointing the end of her staff at his face.

"Looks like you've been outdone by a mangy mutt and a pointy-eared freak."

"I'm going to kill you," Sparrow screamed. He began dragging himself across the floor, trying to reach his sword. I kicked it off the ledge and he froze, watching with wide eyes as it fell. Vixia began to mumble a quick incantation and the orb on her staff began to glow. Before Sparrow could do anything, he burst into flames. He shrieked in agony as his body burned, his flesh charring almost immediately. After a moment, his voice withered away, and soon after, the only things left of him were his bones and ashes. At the same time, Sparrow's dragon let out an ear-piercing cry as it flung the other dragons off it. Realizing what was going on, I sheathed my blade.

"Stop!" I commanded the other dragons. They did as I said, backing away from the angered dragon. When they were back far enough, I ran forward and leaped off the ledge, landing on its back. It thrashed around fiercely as I tried to climb its neck. It almost flung me off at one point, but I squeezed my arms around it and hung on for dear life. When I had a moment, I clambered up to its head. As I guessed, its eyes were still pitch-black.

"He's gone," I stated calmly. "You don't have to be afraid anymore." The dragon let out a low growl, but I could feel its body beginning to relax. That was when its eyes started to do the same as the silver dragon's, and I could see that they were originally a light blue color. I let out a sigh of relief as everything around us seemed to calm down.

"Are you okay now?" I asked. The dragon grunted in response and slowly lowered its head, bringing me down to the floor. When it lifted its head again, I could see Vixia staring at me in shock from the ledge.

"How did you do that?" ashe asked. I shrugged.

"I figured it out earlier." I then looked over to Darius, who was cheering in the corner.

It really is over.

Just as that thought crossed my mind, I heard the clattering of armor and the crash of heavy footfalls behind me. We all turned to look toward a troop of soldiers who were marching across the yard. As soon as the dragons spotted them, they rushed to surround me, Sparrow's former dragon looming over me from behind my back. As the soldiers approached the now destroyed facade of the castle, they became more and more out of time with each other until they came to a complete stop. Their leader, who was standing at the front of the crowd, stared in awe from beneath his helmet.

"It's okay," I promised the dragons. "Leave this to me." They did as I said and the ones in front of me stepped out of the way so I could walk forward. Once I did, I held up Queen Evelyn's crown.

"It's all over. I have slain the queen and conquered Zaledrid." Everyone was staring at me, silent, as I lowered my arm. I looked at the bloodstained crown for a moment. Then, I got an idea.

"I now declare myself, Ketsuna Wynstar, the ruler of Zaledrid." I laid the crown sideways on the floor and retrieved my blade. I plunged it through the side of the crown, shattering parts of it. Metal and stone scattered around me and I looked back at the soldiers. "Queen Evelyn's reign is over. This moment is the beginning of mine."

That was the day that I became known as the Dragon Queen.