“Three, two, one, go!”
I immediately spun around and rushed for Sparrow just as he began to turn to face me. I clenched my teeth as I went to slash at him, but he managed to jump out of the way in the nick of time. He barely managed to maintain his balance after that. When he had stable footing again, he swiped at me and my heart skipped a beat. I blocked it with my own weapon and his blade glanced off of mine before I took a step back. He went to launch another attack, this time jabbing at my chest, but I turned sideways and easily avoided it.
“Don’t get sloppy,” I warned. “You aren’t even paying attention to what you’re doing.”
I jumped back to gain some distance and then dashed forward again, gripping my hilt as tightly as I could with my right hand. I let out a roar as I rushed him and swiped at his side. I landed the hit, which caught him off guard. When he tried to get back at me, I planted my foot in his stomach and shoved him backward. He let go of his sword and hit the ground with a loud thud. I stood over him, the tip of my blade pointed at his face as I kept the sole of my boot pressed against the center of his chest.
“Ketsuna is the winner!” Nesryn declared, and Vixia and Darius began to cheer. The others clapped, but I could tell that a majority of the guild was still against me. I returned my blade to the sheath that rested on my back and stepped back to remove my foot from Sparrow’s chest. He glared at me as he coughed and propped himself up on his elbows. I bent over and held out my hand in an offering to help him up, but his glare just intensified and he began to get up by himself. I straightened out again and turned just in time for Vixia to collide with me.
She immediately pulled me into a hug. Puff, who was hiding in Vixia’s hair, trilled with excitement.
“You did great, Ketsuna!”
“Thanks.” But I looked away from her when I heard some of Sparrow’s party talking.
“I can’t believe you got your ass kicked by an elf,” one of them said with a laugh.
“Yeah, and so quickly too!” the other added.
“Shut up!” Sparrow snapped. He looked over his shoulder to glare at me and I shrugged. I looked back toward Vixia again, seeing that Darius had also wandered over to us.
“Why don’t you go get some rest?” he offered. “Vixia and I can handle making dinner and we’ll get you when it’s done.”
“Okay, I guess I will.” I stepped closer to Vixia and hugged her again. I smiled and looked at the tiny dragon, who was still hiding in her hair. “Puff, you wanna come with me?” I whispered.
The tiny dragon scrambled from Vixia’s shoulder to mine and I laughed as he crawled into my shirt. I let Vixia go after he was out of sight.
“All right, I’ll see you guys later then.” I went to head inside and I could feel Sparrow’s eyes on me the whole time.
When I went upstairs, the first thing that I did was grab one of the books that I had brought with me. The next thing that I did was flop onto the bed, right after Puff had chosen his own spot on Vixia’s pillow. While I did have an easy time beating Sparrow, I was still a little tired, especially because it had been the first time I was in combat for nearly a week. I was beginning to read my book when Vixia came in. She crept into the room and closed the door quietly behind her. I looked over to see her smiling at me.
“Hey, you did great out there.”
“Thanks, but it wasn’t much,” I replied. “Hopefully he won’t be giving us as much trouble anymore.”
Vixia walked up and leaned over me to kiss me. After she pulled away, she stared at me for a moment.
“We’ll get through this, okay?” I took a deep breath in and let out a sigh.
“I’m going to chat with Zelora real quick. Is that all right?”
“You do whatever you need to. Tell her I said hi.” Vixia’s smile widened, showing her sharp canine teeth in a way that was surprisingly comforting. She walked over to her altar in the corner of the room and sat down on the floor, the lower part of her legs folded underneath her. I watched her for a moment as she closed her eyes, relaxed her shoulders, and bowed her head. I closed my book and set it aside. I began to remember the day that I first met Vixia.
When I saw Vixia for the first time, I lived in an orphanage at the edge of Zaledrid. I was in the common room, sitting by the fireplace with a book, when there was a knock at the door. Ms. Emery, the lady that ran the orphanage, went to answer it as the rest of the children and I watched in awe. We never got visitors, so a knock on the door usually meant that either someone was getting a new home or there was another child moving in.
The door creaked open and the sound of pouring rain filled the room. On the front steps were what appeared to be two royal guards. Between them was a small girl who had her gaze downcast while she gripped the hem of her dress. She had long, silver hair and this was before she had grown into her oversized ears and tail. She was wearing a cloak, but the rest of her clothes were not meant for the harsh weather outside.
“I’m sorry, but we do not have enough room,” Ms. Emery began. “We’ve been at max capacity for a while now and we’re really trying to focus on giving loving homes to the children that are already here.”
One of the guards opened their mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by Vixia.
“Is there anywhere else that I can go?” she asked. Silence followed as her words hung in the air. No one could give her an answer, and she knew it. “I promise I won’t be a problem,” she whimpered, lifting her head to look up at Ms. Emery. Tears were welling up in her eyes and a brief thought crossed my mind.
Why would anyone be so desperate to stay here?
That was when Ms. Emery took her hand and gently led her into the room. I recall thinking that Ms. Emery was never that gentle with me.
“Thank you,” she said to the guards. They nodded and she closed the door. When she turned around, she noticed all of our eyes on her and Vixia. She looked back down at the young girl.
“What is your name?”
“Vixia, go in there for a minute,” Ms. Emery instructed, pointing toward the kitchen. The silver-haired girl did as she was told and Ms. Emery looked back at the rest of us. Her dark hair was up in a messy bun and time had carved wrinkles into her face. They were even more apparent when she scowled at us.
“It’s chore time. Get up and clean somethin’!”
“Yes ma’am,” we all shouted in a panic, stumbling to our feet. I had closed my book and was trying to tuck it away under the nearest bookshelf when Ms. Emery spotted it.
“Ketsuna!” I jumped and my heart dropped into my stomach. I turned around to look at her.
“Yes, Ms. Emery?”
“What are you hiding there?”
I felt my hands begin to tremble as she stomped over to me. She snatched the book away from me and, as soon as she looked at the cover, I knew I was in trouble.
“Dragons? Again?” There was an exasperated tone in her voice. She glared at me. “You know these things are monsters, right? They kill people.” She walked across the room and put the book up on a high shelf, one that I couldn’t reach without standing on a chair. “Get to cleaning,” she demanded. When she walked away, my eyes passed by the doorway to the kitchen. Vixia was standing there, watching me.
I looked away from her and went to go find a broom.