The next morning, Vixia and I were woken up early to the sound of a ringing bell. I groaned as I rolled over, opening my eyes. Sunlight poured into the room from the window since the blinds were open and it made the white of the walls too intense to look at. I rolled back over and I could just barely see Vixia rubbing her eyes through my own blurry vision.
“Good morning,” she said groggily. Her ears shifted back as she yawned and stretched, flinging one of her legs over me. I smiled.
“Morning.” I gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and pulled her into a hug. She buried her face into my neck, her soft ears brushing against the sides of my face. We stayed like that for a few minutes, almost falling asleep again before there was a knock at the door.
“Time to get up! Breakfast is ready!” It was a masculine voice, one that I didn’t recognize. Vixia’s ears perked up at the mention of food and she lifted her head.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” she mumbled, letting go of me and rolling away. I laughed at her and sat up. She quickly got out of bed and headed for the closet to choose her clothes for the day.
“I wonder what kind of quest they’ll send us on today,” she began. I stretched and climbed out of bed, following her.
“Me too,” I replied, reaching around her to retrieve my tank top. “Can you pass me my pants?”
Vixia handed them to me and picked out her own clothes as I got dressed. She laid them out on the bed as I pulled on my tank top.
“Have you seen my brush?”
“I put it in the chest yesterday. Here.”
It wasn’t all that different from how our mornings started at home, but at least when we were there we had some idea of what our day was going to look like. Now we were at the command of the guild, and Nesryn and Queen Evelyn would dictate our schedule for us.
I buttoned my pants and pulled the hem of my tank top down over my hips as Vixia did a quick twirl in her outfit.
“How do I look?” she asked. She was wearing a red skirt with a white, long-sleeved tunic and black socks that reached the middle of her thighs. She had tied her hair up and put on her combat boots as well. She was staring at me expectantly, waiting for what I said every morning.
“Adorable,” I answered with a smile. In comparison, I was wearing a navy-colored tank top with baggy, black pants and similar boots. I usually wore light clothes to keep my mobility even after I put on some armor.
“Should we put on our armor and grab our weapons?” Vixia asked. I shrugged.
“Last call!” the same voice from earlier shouted. Vixia and I looked at each other, then immediately rushed for the door.
As soon as we left our room, the sound of numerous voices met my ears. We rushed down the hall and toward the staircase to find that a majority of the guild was already seated at the tables downstairs, eating breakfast.
“Crap! I hope we didn’t miss the food!” Vixia whimpered. I laughed at her and we headed down the stairs. The smell of what was cooked led us to the bar as soon as we made it to the main floor. The counter was lined with different foods, from vegetables to porridge to thick slabs of meat. After we grabbed our plates and heaped them high with food, we began our search for a table.
“I can barely see,” I grumbled, my shortness thwarting my efforts at looking over the crowd. Vixia, on the other hand, was much taller than me and could see just fine.
“Over there! There’s a little table over by the wall.” I quickly followed her and we sat down. It was a relatively small, round table with three seats. It could probably seat four, but it was pushed up against the wall so that there was no room for another chair. It was a little far from the other tables, but that was fine with me. I clearly spotted some people glaring at us as they ate, but I didn’t see Sparrow, which was a plus. We only got a few minutes to eat before Nesryn’s voice called out over the crowd.
Conversations died away gradually and within a minute or so even the faintest of whispers had disappeared. Vixia and I watched silently as Nesryn, who was standing by the bar, began to speak again.
“Good morning, everyone. I hope that you have slept well. Today is going to be a busy day for many of you. So, here are today’s assignments.”
I wonder what we’re going to get.
She looked down at a list in her hands and began reading off the names of different party members and telling them what they would be working on for the day. As soon as they were told, many got up from their seats and began preparing to leave. Chair legs scraped against the floor and silverware clattered against tables and dishes. Unfortunately, due to the ruckus of everyone moving and how far away Vixia and I were from the guild master, we could hardly hear her.
“Ketsuna, can you hear what she’s saying?” Vixia asked, slumping in her seat. I tried my best to listen, but never heard our names get called. Eventually, the last group was summoned and most of the guild members had left, their dishes abandoned at the tables.
“Let’s go ask her what our assignment is for the day,” I suggested. “I’m sure she’ll understand.” I stood up from my spot, bringing my plate with me as Vixia did the same. We headed toward Nesryn and I was the first to speak.
“Hey, guild master.”
“You can call me Nesryn.”
“Oh, um, okay. Nesryn, we couldn’t hear you call our names from where we were sitting.”
“That’s because I didn’t call your names,” she responded. “You aren’t being sent out today. You guys have cleaning duty.”
Vixia and I both stood there, stunned. I blinked.
“Why?” Vixia inquired.
“The queen has requested that you two stay close in case of an emergency. Sometimes our guild members are gone for days on their quests since we send them all over Zaledrid. We can’t afford to do that with you.”
“I trust that you will make this guildhall spotless by this evening,” Nesryn said, interrupting me. “You can start with your own dishes, if you’d like.” And with that, she turned around and walked away. I looked back at Vixia, whose ears were folded back. It was clear that she was just as disappointed as I was. That was when I heard laughter from the doors of the guildhall.
I looked back to see Sparrow and his team mocking us on their way out. They slipped outside before I got a chance to say anything and I turned back to look at the tables, which were cluttered with dozens of dirty dishes.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Vixia and I stayed behind for the day and our first task was to clean up the dishes that everyone had left behind. We split up the effort and Vixia started washing the dishes while I cleared the tables and wiped them down. After I was done, I helped her with the remaining dishes and we got started on cleaning the floor. By the time we were done, it was already an hour or two past noon and we decided to take a break before continuing with our chores.
“Man, this is a pain,” Vixia sighed, taking a seat at one of the tables near the kitchen. She leaned back against the chair, her ears shifting toward the sides of her head rather than staying forward. I sat down across from her and realized that she had also closed her eyes and was resting her head against the wall behind her.
“Yeah. They could have literally given us anything but this.”
“Excuse me.” Vixia and I both jumped at the sound of a voice calling out to us. We both looked toward the kitchen to see a large, muscular man standing in the doorway. He had short, ashy brown hair and looked as though he would be fit for combat if he wasn’t wearing an apron over his short-sleeved shirt and pants. Despite appearing to work in the kitchen, he was wearing boots.
“Would one of you be willing to help me cook dinner?” he asked. “I can do the main parts, I just need someone to chop up the vegetables.”
“I can help,” Vixia volunteered. She stood up from her seat and followed him into the kitchen. I did the same, finding a new seat by the door.
Even the kitchen was bigger than I expected and it had everything that you would expect. The walls were made of stone like the ones in the main room, but here they were lined with shelves, each displaying dozens of bottles of seasonings and sauces. There was a large sink right below a large bay window, a few different stoves and ovens lined up side-by-side, and plenty of counter space. There was also a sizable pantry annexed to the side of the kitchen and it was almost big enough to be its own room. The man emerged from it when I sat down, carrying a large bowl of vegetables and some hunks of meat.
“Were you put on chore duty, too?” I asked.
“Nah, I basically picked this job,” he answered, putting a large pot over one of the burners on the stove. He lit it with the ease and swiftness of a seasoned chef, dumped the meat into the pot, and then turned to hand Vixia the large bowl full of vegetables. “The guild members love my cooking and I prefer to hold down the fort when everyone is gone. It’s much more peaceful during the day.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I finally realized that it had been mostly quiet since everyone had left.
“What’s your name?” Vixia asked. She had already started slicing what she had been given.
“Darius,” the man replied with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you two. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I bet,” I said with a sarcastic tone. Vixia giggled and they both went back to cooking.
The guildhall was flooded with people again by the time evening began and Vixia and I decided to sit in the same spot that we did in the morning to eat. Darius and Vixia made a stew and just the smell of it made most of the guild members drool. Because we were on chore duty, Vixia and I were able to get our food first. We were sitting together when I started to get an odd feeling in my chest. I grabbed my shirt and heaved a sigh. Vixia took notice.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just have a bad feeling,” I replied.
“Like when we saw that dragon the other day?” I nodded.
“Yeah. Keep it down, though.” Just as I said that, Darius walked up, holding his own bowl of food.
“Mind if I sit with you guys?” he asked.
“Go ahead,” Vixia chimed, pushing out a chair for him as I nodded. Another guild member noticed Darius sitting down with us and stood up.
“Darius, what are you doing with the likes of them?” He was staring directly at me and Vixia, and for a moment I could swear that his eyes had narrowed in specifically on my ears.
“What business is it to you?” Darius snapped, his brow furrowed. The shift in his tone made me jump and I looked to Vixia, who was equally shocked. We turned our attention back to Darius.
“Nothing, man. I just wanted to know—”
He was interrupted by a scream that came from the kitchen and I felt the inside of my chest clench. Everyone looked toward the kitchen doorway just in time to see flames shoot out of the opening. More screams followed and Darius was the first to get to his feet and run toward the fire. Vixia and I quickly followed.
When we made it to the kitchen, a crowd gathered behind us. One of the guild members was on the ground, staring toward the large window that I had noticed before.
“Dragon!” he shrieked, scooching backward across the floor. Vixia and I dashed into the room while Darius picked up the guy, dragging him to safety.
“Ketsuna, where is it?” Vixia asked. I looked around the room and my chest tightened again when I looked toward the shelves.
“There!” I pointed toward it just in time for a stream of flames to shoot toward me. I snatched up a pot from the stove and deflected the fire as best as I could. It stopped just as quickly as it started and I dropped my makeshift shield. I rushed for the shelf, knocking a couple of bottles over to find a tiny dragon crouched there. It leaped off the shelf, trying to get past me.
“Temporal halt!” Vixia yelled, throwing out her hand in its direction. The tiny dragon seemed to freeze in mid air and the other guild members stared in astonishment. I noticed an empty jar on the edge of the stove and captured the little beast. After the lid was sealed, Vixia lowered her arm and the dragon was free to move. I let out a little chuckle as it began scratching all over the inside of the jar.
It was covered in wine-red scales and had a cream-colored underbelly. Its eyes were a mesmerizing blue color, but the slitted irises that appeared at their centers were as black as obsidian. However, this dragon’s eyes weren’t empty like the last one’s. There was a glimmer of light that I had never seen in a monster’s eyes before, something different. When its eyes met mine, it stopped scratching and sat down. We stared at each other for a moment while the rest of the guild marveled at us.
“What are you doing?” one person cried, breaking the silence. “Kill that thing!” Vixia stepped closer, but she didn’t take the jar from me.
“I don’t know,” she began hesitantly, looking from the tiny dragon to me. “This isn’t one of the man-eaters that we normally get rid of.”
So she can tell something’s different, too.
“Vixia, Ketsuna.” We both looked over to see the crowd thinning and Nesryn walking toward us. She finally made it to the kitchen and time seemed to stand still.
“Please come see me. I would like to speak to you two privately.” She turned and left, everyone else watching as she went. Vixia and I looked at each other.
What do we do now? After a second of hesitation, we walked through the path that was created through the crowd and headed upstairs.
We came to the door of Nesryn’s chamber and found ourselves standing there for a while, wondering if we should even go in.
“Are we in trouble?” Vixia asked.
“I don’t know.” I looked at the tiny dragon, which was still captured in the jar in my hand. “I think she’s probably going to have us do something with him.”
The dragon tilted his head, still staring at me. I took in a deep breath and heaved a sigh.
“Let’s get this over with.”
I knocked on the door and slowly opened it. I peeked inside to see Nesryn sitting at a large desk and facing the door. She was looking through some papers, reading them intently through the lenses of her glasses. She glanced up at us before looking back down at the documents.
“Come in.” We did as she requested as she filed away the papers. We stood there for a moment, looking at the chairs across from her as she took off her glasses. She folded them and set them on the desk before she realized that we were just standing there.
“Come, sit.” Vixia and I did as we were instructed and took seats across the table from her. “How was your first full day with the guild?” she asked.
“I guess it was all right,” Vixia answered quietly. I shrugged, looking down at the jar. I heard the guild master shift in her seat.
“May I see the little thing?” I looked up to find that she had her hand outstretched toward me, waiting for me to hand her the jar. I felt my hands begin to tremble. She must have noticed, because she added, “I’m not going to hurt it. I just need to assess if it is a threat.”
“Okay.” I finally handed him over and Nesryn eyed him carefully through the glass. She then handed him back to me.
“It’s very small, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I will allow you to release it if you take it to the fields outside of the city.”
“Actually, ma’am, I’d like to keep it,” I admitted quietly. She and Vixia both gave me puzzled looks. “I-I mean, there’s just—”
“Fine, I’ll allow it,” Nesryn said, handing the tiny dragon back to me, “but only if you can keep it out of trouble and out of sight. Any damage caused by it will be on your wallet, though.”
“Thank you!” I replied, beaming.
“You are excused.” She put her glasses back on and began to resume reading through her paperwork. We got up and left.
That night, we let the tiny dragon out of the jar. He immediately curled up in between our pillows and fell asleep, his wings wrapped around him like a blanket. After he settled in, Vixia and I crawled into bed.
“Well, today was disappointing,” my wife began.
“I know that neither of us want to be here, but today was not what I expected.”
“Are you listening to me?” I rolled over to see Vixia looking at me.
“Yeah, I’m just really tired.”
“All right, I guess we can talk about it tomorrow. Love you, goodnight.”
“Love you too. Goodnight.”
Vixia rolled over and somehow managed to fall asleep long before I did. I wanted to sleep, but I was too busy thinking about the guild.
This has to be some sort of joke. Why would we be asked to join if we aren’t allowed to do anything?
I sighed, staring at the glimmer of moonlight coming off of the tiny dragon’s scales. I decided to let my frustration go and fell asleep.