A Short Story
Saphris screamed and ducked as her door was blown in.
It splintered against the back wall behind her head; its remains clattering onto the desk below. Beakers and vials aligned in neat little rows shattered as they hit the floor. She watched, horrified, as colorful plumes of smoke mushroomed in the air. Her potions…!
“No!” Saphris cried.
Hours of hard work gone in an instant…. Her gray eyes hardened. She turned slowly towards the entrance of her modest, wooden home, her left palm engulfed in a raging ball of fire. “You…”
“Yikes! Take it easy, Saph,” her childhood friend cheerfully said.
He was a youth with an absurdly plain face, limp brown hair
and dark eyes; dressed in a leather jerkin and pants that had certainly seen
better days. Two belts crossed idly at his waist, holding an assortment of
small pouches and a plainly sheathed sword. Although she wasn’t too sure why he
carried the weapon.
He only ever used it for digging holes. Terrible, shallow holes at that.
Saphris watched sharply as he stepped through the doorway, eyes twinkling bright in what she knew could only be the coming of dreadful news.
“Oh no. No, no, no,” she adamantly shook her head. The flame in her left hand withered and died. “Turn around and leave, Ean. I’m not getting dragged into any of your wild schemes today.”
Ean gawked, offended. Schemes? Sure they had their fair share of…mishaps,
but they could hardly be called schemes and were certainly nothing too serious.
Ignoring the whole 'criminals-living-in-exile' business.
Still, they were out of jail, alive, and in one piece, weren’t
they? He folded his arms across his chest, following Saphris with a mild glare as she went to tidy her desk. But she was an awfully boring person to watch, so his attention waned and diverted.
His eyes fell onto the small table off to the side of the foyer, before an unlit stone fireplace.
An assortment of sandwiches, meats, and cheeses decorated a large, oval platter. Ean licked his lips, suddenly aware of his rumbling stomach. How best to take some without Saphris noticing…?
Truth be told, Saphris had already noticed the slightly
psychotic way her friend was eyeballing her lunch. She inwardly sighed, focusing on
the issue at hand.
Her poor, poor workspace.
With a wave of her hand and muttered spell, the mess of wood and glass vanished. She sighed, brushing down her apprentice robes in light irritation.
She’d been an apprentice to the Mystic Circle for five years now. She was supposed to have graduated to a full fledged mage a long time ago but had been banished. Thanks to Ean.
Oh well. That’s what
happens when your friend is a terrible thief and tries to steal a staff from
the Circle’s Chamber of Glory.
Saphris wasn’t too mad about it. They were a pompous lot anyway. At least in the solitude of the forest she could study in peace without their snooty laughter and flashy spells.
“Bleugh!” Ean suddenly exclaimed, features twisted in disgust. He stood by the small table and its platter of food. In his hands was a half-eaten sandwich. “This is gross! Can’t you cook?”
Saphris glared at him from beneath blonde bangs, lips pressed tight. “No one told you to eat it. More importantly— this is the fourth time this week you’ve broken my door. Haven’t you heard of knocking?” she crossly asked.
Ean scoffed. “I did knock. Right Adowen?” He glanced over his shoulder.
Standing beside Ean was a tall, brooding elf, with dark hair, violet eyes, and unusually large ears. The elf nodded at Ean’s words, delicately picking at a sandwich. He dressed in light gear just as worn as Ean's, a woodcraft necklace strung carefully around his neck. Twins blades were stored securely in sheaths around his waist.
Saphris' brows furrowed. She could’ve sworn he wasn’t there a second ago…
“Why are you here?” she cautiously asked. Ean being here alone meant he was bored and seeking trouble. But when Adowen tagged along usually something slightly more serious was at hand.
“We're running low funds,” Ean answered, deciding to try eating his sandwich again. “We can’t keep roasting bark, you know. Eventually we'll run out of trees."
"How much bark are you eating?" Saphris incredulously asked.
"It's either bark or berries," Ean shrugged. "And those berries we found last week were poisonous.”
Saphris frowned. "Are you guys okay?"
"Adowen's the one who tried them," Ean replied. "Don't worry. He was only out for a couple days. He woke up before I even had half his body buried, so it's all good."
Saphris worriedly studied her elven friend. "Are you sure you're alright? You should've paid me a visit. I could've cooked you up an antidote."
Ean snorted loudly. "Please. He would've died for real if we fed him anything you 'cooked'.
Saphris wanted to point out that both Ean and Adowen were currently eating food she made. She wanted to but knew it was pointless. Her friends had very selective hearing.
Perhaps sensing her souring mood, Adowen cleared his throat and garnered her attention with a pleasant smile. "It's alright, Saphris," he soothingly said. "The whole experience was very therapeutic. I felt so great afterwards I dared to sneak into town and see if there were any interesting rumors circling around."
Saphris raised her brows. “How’d you get inside?”
“I have my ways,” Adowen cryptically replied.
“Was it legal?”
“What's important is that it worked.”
Ean obnoxiously sighed. “It’d be so much easier if we could just walk in without being arrested! They make things so difficult down there,” he whined.
“You remember the reason why we were exiled from Bodwik, right?” Saphris flatly asked.
“Yeah, but it’s a stupid reason so I don’t like to dwell on it,” Ean scoffed.
“Setting the town elder’s head on fire isn’t a stupid reason. Next time you have a disagreement use words not giant fireballs.”
Ean scowled “Hey. Who tripped who down that well? ”
Saphris rolled her eyes. “You tripped yourself.” He opened his mouth to protest. She quickly raised a hand and cut him off. “Why are you here?” she asked again.
All signs of irritation vanished from Ean’s face, replaced
by a grin so wide and bright it had her cringing. “Oh, right. So Adowen went into town looking for news and foooound....this! Check it out!”
Ean reached into his belt and yanked out a crumpled, torn flyer. He opened it and flipped it so she could see. “They’re giving 100, 000 gold crowns to the person who gets rid of the dragon on Gildakan’s Hill!”
Saphris tore her eyes from the poorly drawn sketch on the flyer in alarm. “There’s a dragon nearby?!”
Ean frowned. “Weren’t you listening? It says so on the flyer. Geez…” he shook his head, stuffing the paper back into his belt. “At any rate, grab your gear and saddle up. We’re gonna hunt down this beast if it’s the last thing we do!”
“It will be the last thing we do!” Saphris snapped. “Are you insane?! We can’t fight a dragon! You can barely stop yourself from getting mugged every day.”
“It’s true,” Adowen agreed. “I usually stand by and watch. It’s a sad sight.”
“No,” Saphris refused. “I’m not going; you’re not going. End of story.”
Ean squared his shoulders. “You can’t stop me!” he defiantly challenged.
Saphris raised a
hand, a binding spell already rolling on her tongue.
Adowen glanced in between them, calculating Ean's odds of survival. They were abysmal at best.
Thankfully they were interrupted by a shrill, cheerful call.
“Yoohoo~! Anybody home?”
The trio turned as one towards the door. A young girl with dark skin and a broad smile stuck her head inside. She dressed as a hunter, laden in wolf pelts; a longbow made of oak slung comfortably over her back. Her black hair was short, falling just past her chin.
“Finally someone sane!” Saphris cried. “Thank the stars you’re here, Rook, I—”
“Nice to see you too, Saph, but we’ve got no time to chat!” the young girl interrupted. “We’ve gotta skedaddle and fast.”
Saphris tensed, already thinking of the many escape tunnels they dug in the woods. “Why? What’s going on?”
Rook’s gaze wandered guiltily elsewhere. “I may or may not have tried to kill someone. And they may or may not be forming an angry mob to chase me down with.”
Saphris wanted to ask why on earth her friend had tried to kill someone. She wanted to but at the moment words failed to escape her baffled mind. Luckily Ean was curious enough to ask in her place.
“He was actin’ reeaaal suspicious,” Rook answered, stroking her chin. “Askin’ questions like ‘How was your day?’ and ‘Isn’t the weather nice?’. Lemme tell you, I barely got away.”
Saphris stared in disbelief. “Are you kidding?”
Rook scoffed. “I don’t kid around, schelzla.”
“I’m not a schelzla.”
“You act like one,” Ean obnoxiously cut in. He grabbed four sandwiches and a handful of cheese before hurrying towards the door where Rook stood. He looked behind him, beaming brightly at Saphris.
“Well you heard the little lady. Unless you want your house torched by some angry mob, I say we head for Gildakan’s Hill and slay ourselves a dragon.”
“We’re gonna slay a dragon?” Rook excitedly asked as she and
Ean left the house. “Cool!”
Saphris watched them go, suddenly feeling as if she’d aged fifty years. Adowen stepped behind her and placed a calm hand on her shoulder.
“Your sandwiches are really gross. You should learn how to cook, schelzla” he advised. Then he walked around her to join their chattering companions outside.
Saphris gaped after him, highly insulted. "I can too cook! ...And I'm not a stick in the mud," she grumbled, having heard the insult for the third time.
“Saph!” Ean’s blaring voice drifted through the walls. “Hurry up! I wanna get there before anyone else does!”
“Don’t worry,” Rook’s voice chimed in. “I’ll slaughter anyone who gets in our way!”
Merry laughter rang out.
Saphris brought a
weary hand to her head. “Someone stop us.”
The walk to Gildakan’s Hill went about as well as Saphris thought.
Meaning the two hour journey quickly became a six hour debacle in which they spent half of it competing over who could climb a tree the highest. It was a competition cut short after Ean fell. And though he insisted it was the work of conniving, evil squirrels, it was clear to everyone below watching he missed a branch.
They had just exited the dark, twisting trees of the forest south of Bodwik, and waded through the gentle but wide Adis River, when they came across a long stretch of flat open plains.It was littered in a multitude of farms and wooden fences, full of cows, pigs, and horses. Beyond the plains they could see three rising shadows, marking the beginning of the tumultuous cliffs of Gildakan’s Hill.
Gildakan's Hill...treacherous territory for such a mild name, but appropriately named for anyone who knew the history of the violent brute Gildakan.
Ean admired the cliffs with a grin, planting his hands on his waist. “We’ve made good progress. That thing won’t even know what hit ‘im!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah!” Rook cheered. “I’m gonna pummel that dragon into the ground!”
“That’s physically impossible,” Adowen stated.
Ean shook his head. “Always the pessimist.”
Adowen stared. “You’re going to die.”
Saphris frowned as they traveled along, an odd thought occurring not even a moment later. “Hold on,” she said. Her friends glanced back at her. She frowned even deeper. “What did this dragon even do? Is it harmful? Threatening to destroy the town?”
Ean looked to Adowen for an answer. The elf lightly shrugged.
“Uk rahl iin das therr das.”
Saphris stared. “What does that mean?”
“Those who do nothing, get nothing,” Ean helpfully supplied.
“Wow,” Saphris blankly said. She directed her gaze towards Adowen. “Thanks for that completely pointless proverb.”
He bowed his head in thanks. Saphris rolled her eyes. Rook fell back to walk alongside her.
“Look Saph, it’s as simple as this. There’s a dragon close by and everyone knows the best way to fame and glory is to kill one.”
“But if that’s true how come no one else is around?” Saphris questioned.
It was a fair enough question. In all their hours of traveling, not once had they encountered another person aiming for Gildakan’s Hill.
A sinking feeling pulled at Saphris' stomach. Something wasn’t right… Something told her they would regret bothering this dragon.
The sounds of oinks and moos broke obnoxiously into her dismal worries.
“Man these things are really annoying,” Ean commented, scowling at a pig pen to his left.
"Yes. They are. We should-" Adowen abruptly halted, causing everyone else to stop. One of his ears twitched. A curious look flitted across his eyes before they hardened into dangerous steel. He grabbed Ean and slowly spun him to the right, pointing with a hand towards a wooden fence half a mile away.
“Look,” he ordered in a low voice. “There’s an extremely healthy cow resting on the ground inside.”
“I don’t have your keen sight but I believe you,” Ean replied in an equally low voice. His face turned grim. “Grab the cow, Adowen.”
Saphris snagged the elf's arm before he could dash off. “Not happening!" She peered around him to give Ean a stern look. "We don’t need a cow,” she told him.
"Yes we do," he argued.
"What would you even do with it?"
Ean rolled his eyes. "Oh I don't know. Love it, nurse it, dress it up in gold," he sarcastically replied. "I'm gonna slaughter it, duh! After milking it dry of course."
Saphris scowled. "You're not slaughtering anything."
Ean glowered at her, stubbornly sticking out his chin. “You wouldn’t understand— living in your fancy cabin home,” he sneered. “I’m not going another night without milk!”
“Are you serious? We’re not taking a cow with us while we fight a
dragon!” Saphris snapped.
Ean lanced her with his glare. “Fine. But we’re
picking it up on the way back.”
The rest of the journey was quite uneventful. Or about as uneventful of a journey the group could make it.
They finished crossing the plains, tackling the deadly cliffs of Gildakan’s Hill with a tenacity only the most desperate of men possessed. It was mostly due to the horde of pixies at their heels.
Saphir warned her friends not to touch anything but the footholds and jutting stone above their heads, but of course they wouldn’t listen. Of course Rook would try and steal a pixie for herself. Of course Adowen would become entranced by a design in the cliff face that looked like an elven goddess. Of course.
Saphris gasped for
air as she reached the top of the tenacious cliffs. Ean, who had somehow made
it there before her, grasped her hand and hauled her up.
She gratefully nodded her thanks. He snickered and called her weak. She struck him with a bolt of lightning. He rose, considerably charred, and sent her a beaming grin. She rolled her eyes.
Life went on.
Together they turned to gaze upon the sight splayed before their eyes. Flaring nostrils, rows and rows of sharp, glistening teeth, and gleaming onyx scales like black stones that had been doused in water…
“This thing is huge!” Ean yelped.
Saphris clapped both hands over his mouth and dragged him behind a small gathering of boulders conveniently nearby. She worriedly peered over them immediately after. Thank the heavens… the dragon was still asleep.
Ean was right though. This thing was huge. It could’ve been a mountain all on its own. Her eyes wandered down the dragon’s colossal haunches. She swallowed hard at the sight of its blood-stained talons. A large spiked tail curled around its body, occasionally thumping against the ground. The tremors sent the cliffs shaking. How had it not collapsed by now?
“I knew this was a bad idea,” Saphris muttered, ducking back down behind the boulders. “You guys are so—” she cut herself off, struck by a dreadful fear. Ean noticed and glanced over in concern.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Where’s Adowen…? And where’s…?” Saphris looked around her, baffled and worried. “Where’s Rook? Where did they go?” she frantically asked.
Ean smiled. “Oh them? They left ages ago. Rook said somethin’ about taking care of the pixies and Adowen went to investigate the girl in the cliff face.”
“What?! Why didn't you say something?!” Saphris shrieked.
Ean shushed her with a glare. “Whatever happened to not waking the dragon?”
“We’re going to die,” Saphris said. “You realize this, right? Let’s just go home. It’s asleep and it’s not hurting anyone so—”
“No. We’ve come too far,” Ean gravely said. "There's no going back now."
"Yes there is. Right down the cliff."
Ean gave her a confident smirk. “We can do this, Saphris. Without them. Just like in the old days. We’ve taken on bigger foes.”
“Probably. Now focus, Saph. You’re good at strategies. Sort of.”
Saphris took in a deep breath. “Fine…. Fine.” She couldn’t believe she was doing this.
Reluctantly she peeked past the boulders again. What should they do? No. What could they do? A plan of distraction perhaps? Dragons were notoriously weak at the flesh of their belly. If they could manage to hit there…
“Alright,” she breathed, her voice a mere hush. “We can do this if we try. But we’ll need to be very, very careful. We can both use magic and I’m an able fighter… Well, you can’t fight at all but your spells should be useful from a distance…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ean intervened, shaking his head. He looked at her wide-eyed. “Who said anything about me fightin’ the dragon?”
Saphris pierced him with a look that could smite a horde of demon orcs. “You brought me here. You’re fighting too.”
“I can’t!” Ean cried. “I’ll lose!”
“Then what was the point in coming?!”
“I thought YOU would kill it and then I could take the credit!”
“IN YOUR DREAMS, DUNKAFF!” Saphris yelled. She got to her feet, livid. “I’m going home! Have fun getting eaten!”
Ean said nothing, staring with impossibly large eyes somewhere past her shoulder. Saphris froze.
“…I woke it. Didn’t I?” she whispered.
“You always were a loudmouth,” Ean sadly whispered back.
Saphris growled, arms cackling in a violent, thunderous energy. Any attempts to cook her friend were ruined, however, by a mighty roar.
The cliffs violently shook.
Saphris tumbled to the ground—and just in time! Searing blue flames blasted over the rounded tops of the boulders, scorching them black. Angry shrieks shattered the air.
Saphris and Ean screamed, curling together, arms pressed painfully against their ears. It felt like their heads were being ripped in two.
“We are going to die!” Ean frightfully wailed. It sounded like a murmur to Saphris' poor, damaged ears.
The black dragon shot into the sky, unfurling its wings like
the arms of death. More blue fire burst furiously from its unhinged jaws.
Ean screamed and kept screaming until Saphris punched him in the arm. A mighty howl drew her attention back above where she stared in complete awe and terror.... Mostly terror.
But to their utter surprise, the dragon swooped overhead,
ignoring them and heading for the open plains below.
Saphris scrambled to her feet, racing to the cliff edge. The dragon dove towards the ground, its wild roars still shaking the cliffs even from the far distance.
“It’s going to destroy the farms!” Saphris cried, dismayed. A sea of black and blue flames spewed forth violently from the dragon’s mouth, setting the farms and fields alight in a terrifying blaze of destruction.
“Oh no… It’ll go for the town next. Bodwik’s in danger! Everything’s in danger!” Saphris exclaimed, terror flooding her body. “Get up, Ean. We have to move. We have to do— do something!”
But Ean was unresponsive, gazing wistfully over the cliff at the chaos below. “Say Saphris…” he began.
“What?” she barked.
Ean woefully met her gaze. “This is awful. How can we ever be friends now?”
Saphris sharply inhaled, taken aback by the raw emotion in his eyes. “Oh Ean…”
She had never seen such remorse on his face before. He probably felt horrible enough as it was—what with waking a massive dragon from its slumber and sending an innocent town and hundreds of people to its doom.
She put on the best smile she could. “Don’t be silly. No matter what happens we are friends,” she assured him.
Ean’s face twisted. “What? No.” He waved a dismissive hand. “I meant the dragon, not you.”
Saphris stared for the longest time. In the background
screaming, roaring, and sounds of complete havoc could be heard rising from the
fields. She turned, slowly, and walked to the cliff edge.
“Right. That’s it.
I’m going home.”
It took mere seconds for her to begin the dangerous descent back down.
“Don’t forget to get that cow we saw earlier,” Ean absently called down.
Saphris released a long, suffering sigh. “May the stars
shoot down from the sky and strike me…” She listened to the dragon’s ferocious
roars, then muttered.
“If that thing doesn’t first.”