A dragon’s scream tore through Tidalsong City as I tried to combat the panic welling up inside me. I could barely hear it over the pounding of my own heartbeat as I dashed across rooftops, brittle shingles shattering beneath my boots as I ran. I risked a glance over my shoulder, finding the dragon’s eyes fixed on me as it bared its fangs. The ground rumbled as its outspread wings leveled any buildings that were within reach and I turned my attention back to where I was heading. My eyes focused on the gap between the rooftop that I was on and the next one.
I can make it! My breath hitched in my throat as I jumped from one rooftop to the next, abandoning the vacant building behind me just as an enormous, ruby-scaled tail slammed into it, demolishing and crumbling it to pieces. My right foot hit the rooftop first, then my left. The feeling of the sole of my boot hitting the edge of the roofing forced a shooting pain up my leg and I teetered slightly. That was when I fell onto my side. My leg scraped against the roof’s shingles, ripping my pants and cutting my thigh, but that wasn’t the worst part. At that moment, the blade that was strapped to my back escaped its sheath and skidded across the roof, away from me. I lurched toward it as quickly as I could on my hands and knees, but it was too late. It tipped off the edge of the roof and plummeted, the worn metal clattering when it hit the ground below. I pushed myself back up and turned around to watch dreadfully as the beast approached me.
The whole dragon was covered in crimson scales, which reflected a ruby color in the sunlight, and jagged fangs emerged from its mouth as it let out another roar. Its eyes were entirely enveloped in a black that resembled ink, which made its glare appear to hold no soul. We had no idea how it had gotten to Tidalsong City, but then again, we didn’t know where it came from to begin with. My entire body was rendered paralyzed in its empty, yet terrifying, gaze. Everything seemed to stand still for that instant, except for the pounding of my heartbeat and the light breeze, which carried the smell of debris throughout the area. My mouth grew dry as I pulled a knife from my belt and held it out in front of me. I gripped it tightly, but I knew there was no way that it would save me.
“Vixia!” I screamed. Just as I called her name, a blur darted past me and scurried across the rooftop, sunlight reflecting off of the orb that topped her staff. She fearlessly leaped from the ledge and performed a flip midair as she unleashed some sort of spell, which surrounded her in light. The light then broke apart in dagger-like fragments. They shot away from her in a flurry, each ethereal blade sinking into the dragon’s skin. I caught a glimpse of her long, silver hair and her matching wolf ears as she fell. She kicked off of the monster’s stomach, sprung into a backflip, and disappeared from my sight as the dragon let out an ear-splitting cry and recoiled from the pain.
I stood again, suddenly finding my courage, and held my remaining weapon in my right hand. I rushed forward and surged from the roof’s edge, screaming both in fear and anger as I jabbed my weapon at the creature. The blade embedded itself between the dragon’s scales. I was falling to the ground when I heard Vixia’s voice screaming my name.
“Ketsuna!” Just before I hit the ground, I felt something else catch me. My feet and hands began to tingle and my entire body ached from the impact, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it would have been if I had hit the ground below. Without checking to see what broke my fall, I quickly got back up and saw Vixia standing right in front of the dragon. She held her staff in front of her with both hands and began shouting the lines of an incantation.
Trial by fire, burning with ease
Scorching flames of a thousand degrees
Goddess, I request that you ignite this in me
So mote it be!
I took a wild guess at what that meant. I turned and sprinted away as everything around Vixia and the dragon burst into flames. The flames wrapped around the two of them, swirling like a tornado, and exploded, the fire raising up high into the air within an instant. I heard the dragon’s scream again, but I couldn’t see anything through the fiery walls. When I was at the edge of the plaza, I turned back around to look.
The fire burned intensely for a moment, then was snuffed out just as quickly as it was lit. Vixia stood in the center of the plaza, but the dragon was nowhere to be seen. The ground was scorched, charred black by her flames. I stood there for a moment, breathing heavily as I tried to process what just happened. I was just beginning to piece my thoughts together when Vixia slouched her shoulders and her tail went limp. She lowered her head as she teetered for a second, then collapsed.
I rushed over to her as quickly as I could. When I got to her, her eyes were barely open, but she was still breathing. She was staring up at the sky, a look of exhaustion scrawled across her face. “Vixia, stay with me,” I pleaded.
“I’ll be fine,” she replied weakly, her eyes still fixed above us. “I just need a second. That spell was a bit much for me.” She cracked a small smile and I brushed her bangs away from her face.
“I’ll hold you until you can get up, okay?”
“Okay . . .” Her voice trailed off as I looked at the city around us.
All of the buildings surrounding the plaza were either completely demolished or severely damaged; even the poles for the streetlights had been bent or snapped like twigs, if they were even still there. Rubble littered the streets and the sky was clouded with ash. I took it all in as I processed what was going on.
This had become our new normal. For the past year, dragons had been appearing all over the kingdom of Zaledrid, from the winding forests to the major cities. There was a guild assigned by the queen to take care of them, but somehow Vixia and I usually managed to get to them first. This was the first time a dragon had attacked Tidalsong City, Zaledrid’s capital and our home.
Honestly, it was terrifying.
“I’m feeling better now,” Vixia said, snapping my attention back to her. I looked back down at my lap to see her smiling at me instead of staring at the sky. I smiled back.
“Mhmm.” She nodded and sat up.
“Did you incinerate the dragon?”
“So, all of this ash is—”
“The dragon and anything that was within the casting radius,” she answered bluntly. She held out her hand and waited as some of the ashes drifted into her palm.
Well, guess I’m not getting my weapons back. The thought ran through my head, but then Vixia shifted my attention back to the situation.
“We’re going to get in a lot of trouble if we keep this up.”
“It’s not like the queen’s dragon hunters are doing much better,” I replied. Vixia tilted her head at me and shrugged. She let the ashes in her hand get swept away by the breeze and leaned back against my arm. Unfortunately, her back also pressed on my injured leg. “Ow!”
“What’s wrong?” She jolted upright and looked back at me, startled. I watched her gaze wander to the shredded side of my leg and my scuffed boot. She then changed her question to, “What happened there?”
“I lost my balance,” I answered simply. “I’m super lucky that you came in when you did. Perfect timing.”
She stood up and held out her hand, offering it to me. A sweet smile crossed her face.
“You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that.”
I nodded and took her hand, the joints in my knees and ankles popping as I rose. We both laughed at it and I stretched them a little. Instead of letting go of her hand when I was on my feet, I clutched it even tighter. I squeezed it three times briefly and she did the same to mine.
I love you.
“Ketsuna, let’s go home,” Vixia said quietly. I nodded and we began the short trek back to our house, hand-in-hand.
Steam shifted in the room behind me when I opened the bathroom door. The window over by the front door, which stood just down the hall to my left, showed me that night had already fallen and it was pitch-black outside. I noticed that the house was dimly lit because the only lights that were on were the bathroom lights and the one in the kitchen. I flicked off the lights in the bathroom when I caught the scent of Vixia’s cooking.
I stepped off of the bathroom tile and onto the hardwood that covered the hallway floor, closing the door behind me, and looked around the corner of the wall to see Vixia standing at the stove, her tail wagging back and forth. A smile crossed my face as I tried my best to dry my hair with my towel.
My wife turned and looked at me. At first, she gave me a look of surprise, but it quickly melted into a smile.
“Well, we both worked hard today. I figured you’d be pretty hungry after all of that.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
She turned away from me again and picked up a ladle that was nearby. She turned back to the pot on the stove and scooped up some of the stew she had made. She lifted it to her lips and took a quick taste, then began searching for the bowls in the cabinet.
I walked up behind her as she reached for one of the bowls and wrapped my arms around her, hugging her from behind. She stopped for a second and I buried my face into the back of her shoulder.
“Thank you,” I said quietly. She looked at me from over her shoulder, but she probably couldn’t see much other than my hair and forehead because she was much taller than me. She smiled again.
“No problem. Go ahead and take a seat.”
I let go and did as she told me. I removed my towel from my shoulders and rested it on the back of my chair as she set a bowl down in front of me. I waited for her to sit down before I did anything.
“Thank you for the food,” she whispered in a tiny prayer. When she was done, we both picked up our spoons and began eating.
This was how our evenings usually were, but it wasn’t always this way. It was hard to believe that Vixia and I didn’t always have each other and, for a brief moment, I remembered what things were like when we first met. I let out a quiet sigh, which caught Vixia’s attention.
“Is it not good?” she asked.
“Huh?” I quickly realized that she was talking about the stew. “Oh no, it’s great. My mind was just going places again. I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I promise.” We both went back to eating when a question popped into my mind.
“Hey, did you catch me earlier? Was that a spell?”
Vixia let out a giggle. I adored her laugh.
“Yeah, it’s a new spell that I’ve been working on with Zelora. It basically uses a small barrier to stop your fall. She told me that it would come in handy.” For context, Zelora was Vixia’s deity, the one that she prayed to in order to maintain her magic powers.
“Well, thank her for me, okay?” Vixia nodded as she took another bite of her stew.
We both finished our dinner and I took our bowls to wash them while Vixia went to her altar, which was set up in the living room, and prayed. She finished up as I put the bowls away and we both headed to bed.
The next morning, Vixia decided to come with me when I headed out to get a new dagger and sword. We lived at the edge of the city, so as soon as we stepped outside the door, we could hear the sound of numerous, indistinct voices and the footfalls of passing merchants being carried on the sea breeze. The same breeze rustled the leaves of the trees that surrounded our little home and tall weeds that had grown nearby, beyond our property. From the front porch, you could see the ocean stretched out on the horizon, just beyond the cliff where our home stood. I had picked out that house nearly five years prior to that day, not long after Vixia and I got married.
“We need to water the garden,” Vixia mentioned as we stepped onto the sidewalk. I looked back to see our plants wilting and nodded in agreement.
“We shouldn’t be gone for long. We’ll do it as soon as we get back. Let’s go.” And with that, we followed the cracked sidewalk deeper into the city.
Tidalsong City was sectioned into blocks by pewter streets and most of the buildings were white with cobalt-colored roofs, which was unique and exclusive to Tidalsong City alone. The crowds of people that flooded the streets during the busiest times of the day seemed just as vast and endless as the ocean that the city was known for. I could see the beach as we walked down the sidewalk. Its shore was made almost entirely of white sand and was spotted with people walking alongside the waves, most of them sailors. Further down there were massive docks with people dragging cargo toward the city. I was watching some struggle with a large crate when I was snapped back to reality by something slamming into my shoulder.
“Hey, watch it!”
I looked up to see a man who was slightly taller than Vixia glaring at me. His hair was dark brown with eyes to match and he was wearing a familiar set of armor, but I couldn’t figure out where it was from. He stood there with his hands on his hips, leering down at me.
“Sorry,” I began, noticing that there were two other men with him, standing behind him at either side. Vixia, who was standing beside me and had taken my hand, was eyeing them with a scowl on her face.
“Wait, I know you,” the man started again, an accusatory tone in his voice. “You two are those nosey dragon-slayers! You two caused a lot of trouble for us yesterday.” That was when I realized that their armor was from the queen’s dragon-slaying guild, the Ironscale Hunters.
“Couldn’t be that much trouble since we did your job for you,” I replied bluntly, “but fine.”
“What, so now a pointy-eared freak and a mangy mutt are going to tell us how to do our jobs?” Both the men with him tensed at the comment and I could tell that they were also getting heated. That didn’t stop me, though.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied. “If you did your jobs right, we wouldn’t have to step in. If you don’t like it, then hurry up and do it yourselves. It’s not our fault that you guys are slacking.” Vixia squeezed my hand. She hated confrontation but knew that I’d hold my ground.
“Now hold on just a—”
“Let’s go.” I squeezed Vixia’s hand three times and she nodded, doing the same back. We went on our way, stepping off the sidewalk to go around them. I could feel their glares like daggers on my back, but I ignored it. I got that a lot because of the way I looked, especially my ears, so I was used to it by then, but there was more to their anger than I realized.
The rest of our day wasn’t very significant; at least, not until dinnertime. Vixia and I made it back home a few hours after we left and we stopped for groceries along the way. We spent most of the day relaxing, especially since we hadn’t completely recovered from the fight the day prior. That evening, I changed the bandages on my leg and made dinner. Vixia and I were both sitting at the table, getting ready to eat when there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll go get it,” I volunteered, setting my fork down on my plate. “You stay and eat.” Vixia nodded quietly and shoveled some rice into her mouth. I turned and headed for our front door, which was just down the hall. When I opened it, I saw a man waiting on our doorstep in a blue and white uniform, holding a letter in his hands.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Is this the residence of Ketsuna and Vixia Wynstar?”
“Yes, this is. Who are you?”
“I am a messenger sent by her majesty, Queen Evelyn, to bring you this message.” He held out the envelope to me, which I took hesitantly. “Everything you need to know is inside of that. I will be taking my leave now.” He bowed, turned around, and left as quickly as he came. I looked at the envelope in my hand, raising an eyebrow at it as I closed the door.
“Who was that?” Vixia asked as I reentered the kitchen.
“Apparently it’s from the queen.” Vixia’s eyes widened and for a second I thought that she was going to choke on her food.
“Wait, are we in trouble?”
“I think she would have sent someone to arrest us if we were, not a letter.”
“Good point. What does it say?”
I opened the letter and began to read it to Vixia. She got up and came over to see it for herself as I read.
Dear Ketsuna and Vixia Wynstar,
I have heard much about you from my soldiers, guards, peers, and the numerous citizens of Zaledrid. On behalf of everyone, thank you. The people of this land have come to respect your combat skills and what you stand for after your recent victories against the dragons that have been plaguing our fair land. I have even found myself taking an interest as well. As of this time, I have one simple request.
I would like to meet you both at my palace tomorrow morning. We will discuss more then. I look forward to making your acquaintance.
With warm regards,
“Huh, well her sentiment is much different from the dragon-slayers from her guild,” I pointed out.
“That’s what I was thinking.” I looked over at Vixia, who was now leaning over my shoulder. “What should we do?”
“Well, if the queen summons you, you show up.” Vixia sighed.
“I’ll wash the dishes since you cooked and then I’ll pray to Zelora for our protection tomorrow. Go get some rest, I’ll be in bed soon.” I left the letter on the table and did as Vixia instructed. Even when I was laying in bed, waiting for her, my mind began to wander.
What could the queen possibly want with us?