The weekend passed and Vixia, Darius, and I listened closely for our names as we ate our breakfasts on the following Monday. Nesryn was standing in front of the bar, like usual, giving everyone their quests for the day. But, by the time she finished the list, she still hadn’t called our names.
Don’t tell me she forgot to give us a quest. I tilted my head in confusion as I watched the other teams get up and leave to prepare for their quests. I then looked at Vixia and Darius, who also appeared to be confused.
“Did she skip us?” Vixia wondered aloud. I let out an exasperated sigh.
“It seems like she did.” That was when Puff, who was sitting on Vixia’s shoulder and was hidden by her hair, trilled. I looked over to see him staring at Nesryn, who was walking over to us. When she made it to the table, she set down a map in front of us. It appeared to be drawn by hand with a pencil, shakily I might add.
“This isn’t dragon-related, but I figured you could handle it,” she began. “There is a farmer who is having issues with a pack of wild dogs attacking his livestock. I’m going to need you guys to exterminate them.”
“So, the guild takes on regular quests too?” Vixia asked.
“Sometimes,” Nesryn answered. “Usually we only take them on if they are local and the regular guards are too busy.”
“So, what’s the map for?” Darius inquired, looking it over.
“The farmer drew it up so that you guys wouldn’t get lost. Do you think you can do it or do you need more time to recover?”
It had already been a few days since the dragon attack on the guildhall. This was our first day back to actual guildwork since then and in the meantime we were resting. My eyes wandered over to the window that Vixia broke, which was now boarded up.
“No, we should be fine. We’ll leave soon.”
“Thank you,” Nesryn replied with a smile. “Good luck out there.” She turned and walked away and Darius stood from his seat.
“Here, I’ll take your plates to the kitchen.”
“Thanks.” I watched as he walked away with our dishes, but something else caught my eye along the way. I spotted Sparrow sitting in the corner, glaring at me while his other two partymates were laughing and joking with each other. I glared back and rolled my eyes, now looking at Vixia. I grasped her hand and gave it a few squeezes.
“Let’s go get ready.”
Not long after we finished breakfast, Vixia, Darius, Puff, and I headed outside of Tidalsong City to the winding farmlands. It wasn’t that far of a walk, but it took nearly two hours to get there on foot. Puff rode along on my shoulder for most of the way, still recovering from the dragon fight. I was thinking about that when we made it to the short dirt path that led to the farm and Puff carefully climbed onto my shirt sleeve. I bent my arm so that he could safely crawl into the pouch on my belt, which I had emptied for him. I watched him curl up inside of it.
Growing like that must really wear him out. Is that why he always stays so tiny? Just as I pondered that, the tiny dragon let out a yawn and stretched his wings before wrapping them around himself. I smiled just before an unfamiliar voice snapped my attention back to my surroundings.
“You must be from the IronScale Hunters guild.”
I looked up to see that we had made it to a farmhouse and an old man was rising from a rocking chair on the porch. He placed his hand on the wooden railing to secure his balance and began to walk over to the porch steps. I realized that he was looking at our uniforms, which bore the same blue and white colors that Sparrow was wearing the first time we ran into each other. Fortunately, we got to choose from different options, so the only thing that was the same across our uniforms was a small badge that we had to wear over our hearts. I saw Vixia nervously grip the hem of her skirt from the corner of my eye.
“You sure are an odd lot,” he continued, eyeing us. His gaze specifically narrowed in on Vixia. “They sent a hybrid to help deal with a livestock issue?” Vixia’s ears folded back at that comment. I stepped forward, drawing the farmer’s attention to me.
“She’s just as capable as anyone else at the guild,” I answered defensively. “Her race is irrelevant.” He crossed his arms at my response and glared at me.
“So, you’re having a problem with some wild dogs?” Darius spoke up, steering the conversation back to the task at hand.
“The damn things keep attacking all my animals!” the old farmer shouted.
“So we’ve heard,” Darius replied. “Do you have any idea where they might be now? The sooner we find them, the sooner we can resolve this issue for you.”
“I usually see them running in that direction when they leave.” The old farmer pointed to his right, toward a large open field full of grains. “They blend in with the plants for the most part, so be careful.”
“Thank you.” So, we turned and headed out into the field. By the time we approached the edge of it, I realized that the stalks of the grains were much taller than I was. However, Vixia’s ears were still visible over the tops of the field and Darius was tall enough for almost his whole head to be within sight.
“Don’t get lost,” Vixia teased. “Trying to find you in here would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
“Wow, thanks.” I crossed my arms and pouted, which elicited a laugh from my wife. She nudged me with her arm.
“Just stay close.”
“Follow me and stay sharp,” Darius warned. Vixia and I nodded and he led us into the field.
For the most part, I couldn’t really see anything other than Vixia’s back. As soon as we passed through a section, the plants would spring back to how they were before, surrounding us. I finally understood how easy it would be to get lost there. We had been walking for a few minutes when I saw one of Vixia’s ears shift.
“Wait,” she commanded in a near whisper, stopping in her tracks. “I heard something.” We waited there for a moment and I looked around me, but couldn’t see anything. Suddenly, a set of snapping jaws jutted out of the grain stems. I screamed and I fell backwards, barely avoiding being bitten and waking Puff. The tiny dragon darted out of the pouch on my belt and let out a growl. Before the wild dog had a chance to retreat, Puff fired a tiny flame at the creature’s face, burning its nose. It yelped and disappeared back into the field. When I looked up, I realized that Vixia and Darius were gone.
“Vixia?” I shouted. There was no response, just a loud yelp from one of the wild dogs. I carefully grabbed Puff and got to my feet as quickly as I could. I put him on my shoulder and drew my sword before I actually looked at him.
“Do you think you can fly?” He nodded. “Okay, lead me to them.” He nodded again and jumped off of my shoulder. He flew in a small loop around my head and rose up high into the air. He zipped through the sky, flying further ahead of me. I ran after him.
It only took a minute or so to find Vixia. She had made it to a clearing and was surrounded by a bunch of the wild dogs, who were all snarling and baring their teeth. She was doing the same while holding her staff out in front of her. It was easy to forget that she could get this way when things caught her off-guard. Her tail was stiff, every hair standing on end. They appeared to be in some sort of standoff.
That is, until Vixia began her incantation.
Goddess, heed my call
Make my foes like lightning fall
The orb on her staff began to glow and she slammed the bottom of it into the ground. Bolts of electricity erupted from the orb and darted toward the wild dogs. They were practically fried almost immediately, which was impressive for a spell that only had two lines. After the beasts were defeated, she turned back to me.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Where’s Darius?”
Just as I asked that question, we heard Darius shouting from a few yards away. I looked up to see Puff zooming in the direction where we heard his voice. I grabbed Vixia’s hand and practically dragged her as I ran in the same direction. When we made it to the clearing where Darius was, he was surrounded by more wild dogs. One had managed to sneak up behind him and lunged at him as soon as we entered the clearing.
“Darius, look out!”
He turned around just as I shouted and caught the creature’s jaws on the handle of his axe. The other dogs saw this as an opening and also went to attack, but I was just a little quicker. I stood back-to-back with Darius and slashed at the attackers, cutting them down. Darius managed to push the one that had grabbed his weapon off and split its forehead with a crushing blow. We looked around us for a moment, realizing that they had all been slain. Darius let out a sigh of relief and wiped some sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
“That was probably the last of them.”
I sheathed my weapon as Puff circled around us. I held out my hand for him and he landed on my palm, trilling. I put him back in the pouch on my belt and after he got comfortable I lightly scratched his chin.
“Thanks, buddy.” He chirped in reply, like usual, and we decided to report back to the farmer. After that, we went home.
We headed back to the guildhall and after dinner, Vixia and I headed straight for our room. Puff and I watched from the bed as she prayed to Zelora and slowly opened her eyes. She lifted her head and turned to me with a smile before climbing into bed next to me. She cuddled up to me and rested her head on my chest. I stroked her ears in turn while Puff curled up on a pillow above our heads and we stayed like that for a while.
“Thank you for sticking up for me earlier,” she began quietly. It took me a second to realize what she meant. I ran my fingers through her silver hair.
“No problem, it’s what I am here for. What kind of wife would I be if I didn’t defend my partner?” Vixia smiled and then buried her face into my chest. I laughed.
“Still, thank you.” Her voice was muffled against my shirt. I went back to stroking her ears but didn’t say anything.
Little did I know that this was the calm before the storm.
The next week passed pretty uneventfully as the kingdom of Zaledrid began to grow colder in the approaching winter. Surprisingly, there weren’t any incidents with any dragons either. That is, until the following weekend.
It was dinnertime when Nesryn started the meeting. Everyone had just begun to eat when she ascended the steps and called for everyone’s attention. Unlike the usual meetings in the morning, everyone became quiet as soon as she spoke. Everything felt tense and still. Vixia leaned over to Darius.
“What’s going on?” she whispered.
“Something must have happened.” We watched silently as the guild master began to speak again.
“There has been another outbreak of dragon sightings,” she stated grimly. “The queen has tasked us with disposing of them immediately. I will be listing locations and if your party is up to it, volunteer. The first sighting has been found at . . .” She began listing locations as I looked to Vixia and Darius.
“Would you guys be okay if I volunteered us for one?” I asked. They nodded.
“Go ahead.” I turned my attention back to Nesryn just as she called out another location.
“The next one is in Centrum Forest.” My eyes widened upon hearing that name. I slammed my palm down on the table and stood, raising my hand.
“We’ll take that one!” Nesryn looked up from her clipboard and nodded when she spotted me. She quickly scribbled something down on her paper and continued listing.
“The final one is in the Highland Caverns.”
“We can do it!” I looked over to see Sparrow standing now, but instead of looking at Nesryn he was smirking at me. I raised a brow at him, but he didn’t care. Nesryn scribbled something else down and lowered the clipboard.
“All right, that’s all of them. Eat up and start your preparations tonight. You’ll all set out in the morning, except Sparrow’s team. I have some extra information for you guys.”
“Yes ma’am!” most of the guild shouted back. I sat down and Sparrow did the same across the room. I turned back to my dinner, doing my best to ignore him.
I guess he really wasn’t kidding about being shown up.
That night, Vixia and I finished the preparations that we needed to do for our quest in the morning. I flopped on the bed and let out a sigh. My eyes wandering to all of our gear in the corner of the room.
How are we supposed to bring all of that with us on foot? I wondered as Vixia joined me. She crawled under the covers and inched closer to me. When she was close enough, she wrapped her arms around me.
“Did you pick the forest on purpose?” she asked.
“Maybe.” I looked over to see that she was smiling at me.
“Well, thank you. It’ll give me a chance to visit Zelora’s shrine again.”
“No problem. I know it’s been a while.”
“Yeah . . .” Vixia’s voice trailed off and we both fell silent. After a moment, I pulled myself out of Vixia’s embrace and rolled over to get under the blanket.
“Let’s get to bed. We’ve got a long quest ahead of us tomorrow.”
“Okay.” She sat up and flicked off the light as I got comfortable. After that, she cuddled up to me again and we fell asleep.