Sylvar took the last watch before dawn, allowing her to be up when the sun rose. She heard rustling behind her; it was Nuvo, awake, stretching. Their eyes met.
Crawling out of her bedroll, Nuvo joined Sylvar at the log in front of the long-gone fire. She rested her head on her shoulder; Sylvar placed her hand on her knee. They sat in silence as the sun slowly inched upward in the sky.
“Today’s the day.” Sylvar spoke softly to avoid waking the other two.
Nuvo lifted her head, a solemn look.
“You ready?” Her tongue explored the grooves of her teeth.
“I never feel ready.” Nuvo glanced at their sleeping friends. She looked back to her girlfriend. “Think they are? Are you?”
“As ready as we can.” She licked her lips. “Hopefully with Archuletta and his crew, we have a fighting chance.”
She hesitated before speaking again. Their faulty maneuvers from last night. Surely, it was nothing. Qidan had healed them all before bed, and they’d had a special feast designed to give them extra power during the big fight today.
But the feeling tugged at her mind: the sight of Sylvar with a bandaged arm, Qidan’s weird interaction, Float’s depleted stamina, none of it felt right. Something felt off, but she didn’t know what.
“You okay?” Sylvar’s head tilted; her eyes scanned her face over and over.
Finally, Nuvo brought her eyes to hers. Would Sylvar dismiss her worry?
She swallowed and decided she had to try.
“Are you feeling okay? Last night we had some issues while practicing.” Nuvo’s eyes were locked on Sylvar, ready to take in any kind of strange reaction she had.
The only reaction Sylvar gave was confusion. Her brow furrowed; one eyebrow raised.
“I feel fine. We’ve been practicing for such long hours for a month straight. I was distracted, because I was happy you were back. Maybe they were, too.” She shrugged, also eyeing her for any sign of irregularity.
She shook her head. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m nervous about today.”
Scooping Nuvo’s hands into her own, she shifted on the log to face her. “We’re going to be okay. Speaking of today, we haven’t discussed how we’re going to get the dragon away from the people of Gorros.”
“Oh. Right.” Nuvo decided to drop the worry and focus on the task at hand; whatever was maybe happening to her friends, she couldn’t let it ruin her ability to concentrate today.
Once Qidan and Float were awake, they discussed the plan over breakfast, agreeing on what might be the safest way to avoid unnecessary deaths. Once they’d eaten and packed up their belongings, they collected Captain Archuletta and his crew, explaining the plan on their way.
“This sounds like a great plan, don’t get me wrong,” Captain Archuletta said, keeping pace with Sylvar. “But couldn’t they stay and help?”
“Are you kidding? They’ve been living in fear of this dude for however long, and you think they’re suddenly, without any amount of preparation or training, going to stay and fight? Maybe you are crazier than I thought.” She laughed. “There’s no way I’d expect that. You shouldn’t either.”
He sighed. “Makes sense.”
They walked on in silence for a few moments. Sylvar sensed there was something else on the captain’s mind. She narrowed her eyes, ready for something else outlandish to come out of his mouth.
He cleared his throat, and she braced herself for whatever he was about to say.
“You know, we all get along so spectacularly, have you and your friends considered joining us on the open seas for a bit?” His question sounded casual but purposefully so. He flicked a piece of dirt from his overcoat.
She shrugged, matching his indifference. “We’re heading in the other direction after this. Have you considered staying on land for a while or do you have another treasure to find?”
She hoped he would give away a small detail she hadn’t been able to find an answer to, not without directly probing. This was the closest she’d dared getting to the curiosity she held for this man and his deal with the fiend.
“Ah, we’ll head back to sea. I miss waking with mist and salt in my hair instead of all this sand and dirt.” He chuckled. “My sincere hope is this treasure will be the last one we have to find for some time.”
“Fair.” Sylvar made sure to pivot far from her interest in their future whereabouts. She didn’t sense he’d felt the real question she’d tried to ask, but she knew it was time to move on to a different topic.
“When we were in the volcano, trying to get to the lair, it was incredibly hot. We’re going to need a plan just to get into that treasure trove.” She adjusted her belt and then scanned the road they were on for any signs of threats in the forested areas lining the path ahead.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” He laughed. “A dragon. We’re going to fight a dragon.”
Sylvar nodded, her lips a tight line. “Yep.”
He took his hat off and flipped around in his hands several times. “Should I tuck my hat away somewhere safe?”
She eyed him. “Maybe. If you think the hat won’t make it through some powerful heat.”
Frowning, he stuffed it into an inside jacket pocket. He ran his hand through his hair, more sand shook out of it. He sighed.
Qidan and Float walked ahead of Nuvo. They chattered while she watched them. The pirate crew followed behind them, talking amongst themselves. She stayed focus on her friends and their conversations. All three seemed fine so far. Maybe last night had just been an off evening. She tried to dismiss her fear as paranoia and pre-battle nerves.
Hopefully, the lux-ball would be worth this. She knew she needed to get that back to its maker as soon as she could. She wanted her former research partner, Omar Vessiram, to be okay. She’d watched him slowly decline for months before deciding she had to do something to get it back for him. Now all they had to do was defeat a dragon! Her first red dragon.
She was glad she’d stayed with these three adventurers. She’d been part of so many groups before them. Her eyes settled on Sylvar, fondness swelling her chest, glad the other elf had decided to track her down the night she’d wandered off shortly after meeting them.
The offering field outside the town of Gorros was in sight now. A large crowd gathered, some bickering broke out in a few corners, but for the most part, everyone was quiet. Offerings ranged from small items like candlesticks made of silver and gold to larger items such as full chairs, tables, or carts lined with golden trim. Several people had goats, horses, and cows.
When they saw the motley crew of pirates and the adventurers they recognized, whispers began. When a collective hush fell over the large crowd, the party of four stepped forward.
“Hello, people of Gorros.” Qidan, taking center stage, projected his voice so all could hear. “We’ve spent the last month training. We tried to fight this beast in its lair with no success. We sent one of ours to learn about the customs of this dragon’s agreement with your town.”
He paused; he knew he had their attention. “While she was with you, we trained with these helpful men of the sea. Today we ask for one last favor of all of you.”
Sylvar watched as he explained the plan to them, still feeling good about the concept.
Instead of waiting in a line to give their items individually to the dragon, they’d stack all their offerings in piles, making mounds for the pirates and adventurers to hide behind and use as cover during the fight. They would return to the town and take cover in case the fight went poorly. If the fight was successful, they’d come to the town and let the people know they could collect whatever was left in the field.
She held her breath, hoping they’d be all right with the idea.
“And let me stress, one more time, anyone’s offerings that make it through the fight, we will gladly make sure you get it back. We will know if anyone is being dishonest and tries to take something that belongs rightly to another.” He paused and looked around at the crowd. They were nodding, murmurs rippled through the group quickly. “What do you say?”
A man stepped forward slightly. “I’ve given this damn dragon everything except my wife and children at this point. We’ve got nothing to lose by letting you try this. I’m in.”
Qidan clapped and stepped aside. Nuvo spotted Gemma and headed over to her, while Qidan, Float, and Sylvar began making rounds to help get the plan into motion. Captain Archuletta and his crew helped wherever it was needed.
They made short work of the plan; if nothing else worked out for them today, Sylvar admired the plan’s easy start. She felt a warm hand slip into hers; Nuvo was standing beside her.
“Hey, lovely.” Nuvo tried to keep the nerves out of her voice. “I just wanted to come say good luck and I love you before the fight. Spend a couple moments together.” She swallowed.
“We’ll make it out of this alive. We always do.” She didn’t know why she said it; she knew Sylvar believed they were all incapable of staying dead, but Nuvo wasn’t so sure.
Qidan and Float joined them. They stood together in a small circle. Float held out his hands; quickly, everyone was linked hand-to-hand. Float bowed his head, and the others followed suit.
“Oh, ancient divine one.” Float began a prayer. Slowly, each of them felt some slight tingling in their hands, waiting for Float to finish. “Thank you for guiding us in our quest. Let our glory be your glory.”
They all murmured a small thank you and lifted their heads.
Captain Archuletta tapped Float on the shoulder and pointed up to the sky. “Time!”
At the same time, Qidan spotted a shadow hurling through the sky from the direction of the volcano.
“May the gods be with you!” Captain Archuletta ran to find a hiding spot.
Everyone else scurried to do the same, and by the time, they were ready, the ground shook with the landing of a heavy beast.
Nuvo swallowed from her spot behind a nearby tree outside of the field. Her bow and arrow were ready; all she had to do was get a good shot. She was going to aim for its eyes first, and she intended to use her exploding arrows in hopes of not only taking his eyes out of the picture but also deafening him in the process.
“Interesting.” Each footfall Kelvon shook the ground, making the offerings quake. Several of the animals tied on makeshift stakes were huddled together, cowering before the red scaly creature.
Sylvar felt the air grow warmer as he passed her hiding spot. She wondered if his skin would burn if she made contact with him. She decided that the moment he was far enough away she’d slip her gloves on before doing anything else.
Kelvon’s thunderous steps came to a stop; he sniffed the air. His eyes closed.
Nuvo took her shot. Her first arrow landed in one eye, piercing through the eyelid with more ease than she’d expected. Tearing through the arrow pinning his eyelid to his eye, both of his eyes popped open at the same time her second shot flew through the air. It got lodged directly into his other eye.
He growled. “Show yourself!”
Before she could shout that his request was pointless now that his eyes had arrows in them, the arrowheads exploded. His eyeballs shot in every direction, reduced to jelly substance.
He roared, shaking his head in all directions, flinging the remains of the arrows from his eyes, shaking more fluids and blood along with them. Two bloody sockets stared in Nuvo’s direction.
Nuvo slipped from her spot in the tree, running to another tree in the other direction. His neck was longer than she’d imagined, his feet were bigger, his wings wider. Everything about this monster was larger than she’d ever dreamed possible.
With Nuvo blinding him so quickly, the entire dragon fighting brigade felt more confidence surge through them. Sylvar, gloves securely protecting her hands, ran up from behind him and stabbed at his feet. She dodged his foot when he tried to step on her, rolling out of the way of his second attempt, she ran out of range before he could try using his tail.
Blinded, he was much more desperate. Yet he hadn’t used his fire breath. His tail knocked over several of the pirates. Captain Archuletta ran circles around him, firing shots from his special blaster gun that Sylvar had taken care to stay clear of in any training scenarios.
Finally, after what felt like many rounds of slashing, dodging, listening to him scream out in frustration. He reared back, opening his mouth wide. He let loose a wide and unforgiving stream of fire.
Once the fire had spilled across the field, setting most grass on fire, burning the livestock to crisps, and melting most offerings brought for him, his mouth hung over in a loud roar as the fire died down. Float managed to get a giant globule of water past his teeth before he shut his mouth.
It took many more rounds, but finally, Sylvar climbed a tree, leaped from it, and landed on the dragon’s back. Her daggers slipped into the flesh exposed from previous hits that had stripped some of his scales. She gripped her knives tightly, twisting them deep into his muscles.
He shook side to side, trying to throw her from his back, letting out a roar.
She twisted, and he cried out again. She deftly swapped one of her daggers for her rapier, lodging it deeper into the back of neck. She hit something hard and adjusted. He stopped moving, falling to the ground. He landed with a thud, and she hurried off of him to avoid getting crushed as he fell on to his side.
The remaining pirates and a banged-up Captain Archuletta rushed forward. Qidan, Float, and Nuvo hurried to do the same. Nuvo ran into Sylvar’s arms, spinning her around in a hug, before setting her back down and standing next to Qidan.
Float clapped, which led to the pirates joining in. Captain Archuletta nudged the dragon’s snout with his foot and looked at the blood spilling from his eyes and now his mouth. Sylvar and he locked eyes, both looked surprised.
The group dispersed as pirates and adventurers alike milled around, finding anyone who was down and able to be revived. After several hours of finding people, resting, and acquiring scales, teeth, and claws from the dragon’s body, everyone decided it was time to leave the field.
Captain Archuletta led the pirates back to the beach, while the four adventurers began the walk back to Gorros.
Nuvo tapped Sylvar on the shoulder. They fell into step, letting the guys take the lead. Nuvo was smiling at the other elf.
“What?” Sylvar couldn’t help but smile back. “What are we smiling for?”
“We did it.” She laughed a little, the words bubbling out of her mouth with disbelief. “My first red dragon!”
“Yes!” Sylvar’s smile got even wider. “I’m proud of you! I was worried about your whereabouts when he let that fire breath out, but I’m glad you look mostly all right!”
She nodded. “Same about you. I was nervous you’d wind up in the thick of it.”
Sylvar shuddered at the idea. “Burnt to the crisp wouldn’t have been a good look.”
She giggled a little. “No, it wouldn’t.”
They fell into a comfortable quiet. Nuvo took her hand and swung their arms back and forth; she was feeling especially jolly at the moment.
“Hey, would you wanna stay in town? There’s a cute little inn; it overlooks a lovely little lake. Maybe we could get in for free since we got rid of a dragon for them,” Nuvo said. “Just you and me. Qi and Float could go back and make sure the pirates don’t try to make their way into the lair without us.”
“Oh, sure.” Sylvar’s face flushed.
Once they got to the town, Nuvo and Sylvar headed off on their own. Nuvo led the way to the small inn. It was nicer than most places they usually stayed. The room was spacious, with a private bath. The bed looked extra comfortable compared to the camping bedrolls. She dropped her bag in the room; her eyes moved to Nuvo.
“This is wonderful.”
Nuvo nodded and set her bag beside her girlfriend’s. “Want to bathe and then we’ll get settled in after we’re clean. Oh, and we could even clean all our clothes while we’re here!”
Hours later, Sylvar fell into the bed. The sun had long since set. Her lids were slowly drooping. She didn’t fight it as her breath evened out, and her long blinks became shut eyes.
Nuvo was finishing with the reorganization of her bag. The sounds of items clinging, clanging, and clinking became a strange melody for Sylvar, lulling her to sleep.
When Nuvo was finished, instead of waking her, she slipped out of the room and went to the lake a few feet from the inn’s back door. She found a nice spot in the dark grass and sat.
Silver light gleamed off the black surface; she could see tiny ripples breaking the glasslike appearance of the water. She listened to the night creatures, croaking, chirping, singing. She shut her eyes and breathed in deeply.