Like a breaching whale, the dragon emerges, sending a tsunami of sand in every direction, and making Nora extremely glad she didn’t stay on the ground. She recognizes calling the dragon enormous would be an understatement. Its presence consumes the desert. It practically is the desert, and this is only compounded by its wavy featureless body and pale yellow scales that mimic the color of sand.
As Nora begins to descend, she realizes her trajectory will land her square on the dragon’s back. Not knowing what the dragon’s abilities are and not wanting to test them by stepping directly on it, she propels herself to the side with several shots from her pistol to land on a sandy dune.
A sudden gust whips Nora’s hair into her face. She pushes it back and reinforces her ki to prevent another mouthful of sand. She waits a moment, expecting the gust to pass quickly, but to her surprise it doesn’t. The wind grows to a gale that whips into a sandstorm. Nora has to jam her sword into the ground to stop herself from getting blown away. She quickly realizes the wind is only blowing in one direction, straight toward the dragon. She knows this must be the dragon's doing, but can’t see through the storm to know what’s happening.
All at once, the wind stops. Half buried, Nora has to dig herself out before she can see what happened. As the dust settles, something monolithic comes into view. She’s confused for a moment, thinking what she’s seeing is an aircraft carrier stood on end and pointing straight up in the air. It takes her a moment too long to recognize it’s the dragon. The top half of its jaw, to be exact, unhinged like a snake and pointed straight up in the air.
With jarring speed, it comes back down, sending a shock wave of wind and sand across the desert. It slams into Nora, sending her tumbling like a child caught in a riptide. Again she’s buried and has to dig her way out. When she reaches the surface, something large and shiny flies past her, only missing by inches. She’s on her feet just in time to shoot the next object with her pistol. It shatters, but doesn’t stop, showering her with a storm of razor edged glass. Her ki protects her from the worst of it, but some shards are so sharp and fast they cut through her guard, leaving her covered in shallow cuts.
Nora dodges the next dragon made bomb of serrated glass, but another slams into her from the side. The impact knocks the wind from her lungs, and she struggles to control herself as she skips across the desert like a stone. When she manages to find her feet, she kicks into the air just as two glass boulders collide where she’d just been.
From her high vantage point, Nora sees the dragon is no longer featureless, but peppered with dark holes spotting the length of its body. Dozens of flashes from the holes alert her to more incoming glass projectiles. Her focus hones sharp as the razor glass coming at her. Her mind and body push to their limits to counter the barrage. She becomes a furious blur of motion, streaking through the air, using her pistol to shoot a half dozen projectiles in a second while using the kickback to dodge others. Her sword cleaves three projectiles in half at once as she kicks off another to avoid being crushed between even more.
Even enhanced by ki, Nora’s muscles burn from the exertion. Her eyes sting from lack of blinking, but her determination doesn’t falter. She has full certainty she can outlast the dragon. She’s positive it can’t have an infinite number of these glass boulders in its body. But then her mind catches on the crux. It doesn’t have to have an infinite number because it can make more from the desert sand. That’s what caused the sandstorm, and why its mouth was open wide. It was swallowing sand to do this.
Nora curses her own stupidity. Her temples bulge as anger floods her veins. Hot breath puffs from her clenched teeth. Rage takes hold, pushes her to her limits and beyond. She unleashes a barrage of ki faster and more powerful than ever before. Her attack decimates the incoming volley of glass and crashes into the dragon like hundreds of simultaneous explosions.
Exhausted, Nora drops to the desert floor, which is now a sea of glittering razor glass. A cloud of dust obscures the dragon, but no more projectiles are launched at her. Nora takes this as a good sign and waits, cautious not to make any foolhardy moves. The dust falls, letting her see the dragon was indeed badly injured by her attack. All the black holes are gone, replaced by deep cuts and gashes. Nora smiles triumphantly, and takes a wary step closer, only to suddenly sink to her waist in sand. The entire desert is in motion, vibrating to the point where it’s more liquid than solid.
Nora leaps into the air, but the vibrating sand offers little support. She barely reaches twenty feet when normally she could reach hundreds. A dozen shots from her pistol propel her higher, but she knows both herself and it won’t hold up. She’s exhausted, her ki pool near empty, and her weapons breaking down. Her mind races through solutions, evaluating them in the blink of an eye and tossing aside all but one. It’s high time she tries her new ability.
As Nora crests her ascent and begins to fall, she sheathes her sword and pistol. Her hands come together with a clap, then she spreads them apart as she whispers, “Script of The Ancients.”
From her spreading hands, glowing figures emerge and hover in the air before her. The twisted shapes of a language lost to all but immortals. Nora selects one of the letters and brings it to rest in her palm. It glows brighter as the others fade. To it, she whispers, “Rune of Binding.”
The rune flashed then fades. Nora crashes into the sand, but doesn’t sink. She smiles to herself, knowing that her trick worked. The dragon is now frozen in place, unable to move. She rights herself, dusts herself off, redraws her sword, and starts charging it with ki.
Nora walks nonchalantly across the desert. Toward the dragon she goes. To it, she shouts, “It may take a few cuts to sever your head. Sorry in advance. If I knew where your heart was, I’d try to pierce it instead. Less painful for you probably, but you're so big, I doubt I can find it. Unless you want to tell me where it is.”
“STOP!” Cries a mighty voice directly into Nora’s head.
Nora doesn’t stop. Instead, she replies, “Oh, you can still transmit thoughts even when Bound. Good to know. I haven’t had much chance to test these rune things yet. They just sort of popped into my head after my bloodbath a few months ago.”
The dragon speaks to her mind. It says, “STOP! I COMMAND YOU!”
Nora keeps walking. She says, “Sorry, but I either have to retrieve the missile you stole or I have to kill you. Stop isn’t an option.”
The dragon speaks again, its voice losing power as Nora draws closer. “Missile? You refer to the cylinder I took. ‘Tis gone. Consumed. I was starved when I awoke! It was the strongest energy source I could find! I had no choice!”
Though involuntary, Nora’s voice takes a menacing tone as she says, “Then that leaves me with no choice, doesn’t it? Besides, I kind of need to kill you anyway, so I can drink your blood. Sorry. Soaking in dragon blood made me a vampire or something. The cravings are rather difficult to control, and with you right in front of me, Bound and bleeding. You dragons are smart, so you understand.”
When next the dragon speaks, its voice has lost its initial power and authority, replaced instead with borderline panic. It says, “Wait! Hold on! Stop! Stop! Dragon blood is toxic to humans! You joke! You must be! You humans love jokes!”
Nora doesn’t respond. Her razor edged sword catches the sun as she continues her calm walk toward the dragon.
The dragon’s voice is full of panic as it cries, “Stop! Please! You can have some of my blood! Just don’t kill me!”
“Thanks, but that still leaves us with the missile problem. If I let you live, I’ll be in trouble with my stupid stupid government. Nothing personal, but I have to play nice with them right now, so I can maybe return to my life. This is just how it has to be. No other option.”
“Wait! Wait! Please! There must be another option! Maybe— maybe I can help you!”
Nora sneers, “You?”
“Yes! Most assuredly, I can help! I am a wise and powerful ancient dragon! I could um— destroy your enemies!” The dragon offers.
“Pass. I don’t want to be a demon lord. I want my normal life back.”
“Yes! Of course! Human life! Okay, um uh— oh! A dear friend of mine knows a great deal about humans! He would be more than willing to help you if I only asked! I could take you to him! I could take you right now, but only if you don’t kill me!” The dragon pleads.
Nora scoffs. Sarcastically, she says, “A dragon that knows about humans. How convenient. And I’m a princess! Let’s get this over with.”
Nora raises her sword, ready to strike.
“WAIT! NO! It’s true! Diam knows everything! Please! Don’t!” The dragon begs.
Nora stops mid-swing, a slash of ki blasts over the dragon, missing by a scale.
“You know Master Diam?” Nora asks in surprise.
The dragon’s whimpering voice enters her head. Between snivels, it answers, “Yes. I know him.”Nora smiles deviously. To the dragon, she says, “Then let's get a move on. Stupid Master and I have many things to discuss.”