I imagined what a shocking sight we were when the Guards and my maids found us. I whimpered and curled in Owen’s arms as he rocked me, the flagstones behind us scorched black by the Dragon’s flames. My maids glanced nervously at one another and I realized that they must have overheard my conversation with Tiran.
“It is headed towards the King’s Castle!” a Guard finally said, breaking the silence as he pointed towards the black shape in the sky.
He and the others muttered their plan of action. Contact the King? Send reinforcements? As they weighed their options, my maids rushed to my side and gently pried me away from Owen. They comforted me with kind words and took me inside to talk.
“What exactly happened, Mistress?” Yana asked.
“We were talking and then it flew towards us...” I did not have the strength to say more to them.
“You poor thing,” Blaire said, patting my back. “What should we do...about the Dragon?”
“What can we do?” Ayah retorted. “We would be burned to ashes if we dared to come any closer to it!”
“But doing nothing would be just as devastating,” Yana said. “Maybe we —I mean— you should talk about this with the Archduke and the Guards? You do have the right to know what action is being done.” I shook my head. I could not face that thing again. “You can do this,” she urged. “You have to.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, imagining the dragon before me. It was a terrifying sight, but I shook it away, feeling an odd sensation run down my spine. Be strong. I opened my eyes and forced a smile at the three of them. They smiled back weakly and helped me out the door.
From there, I headed towards Owen’s chamber, noticing then that he had just walked out. He immediately spotted me and rushed over.
“Are you sure you are all right?” His voice was filled with concern as he gripped a double-edged broadsword at his hip. He also wore a full-body armor, plated in viridian and silver.
My eyes grew wide. “You are...leaving?” He looked down at his armor then back at me.
“You know I must,” he answered. “The nobles are beyond fearful for their lives.”
“Then let me come with you,” I replied. I have to do this. “I want to—”
“No, Melanie,” he said, shaking his head. He let go of his sword to pull me in an embrace. “I cannot risk losing you to the Shadow Reaper.” I held my breath, closing my eyes briefly. “Stay here. You will be safe.”
But I pushed back from him. I am no coward. “I refuse to sit here and do nothing, so do not expect me to obey you.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Owen, I am ready for this.” He took a deep breath and nodded.
“If you accompany me, you must do exactly as I say when we arrive there. Do you understand?”
I nodded, and then considered leaving when he cupped his hand under my chin and lifted my face to look at him. My heart began to race.
“Should anything happen, you must know—” He was cut off by the sound of approaching footsteps. He dropped his hand and turned to face the approaching men.
“Your Highnesses,” a Guard said, bowing.
I suppressed the urge to gasp. It would take time to get adjusted to such formalities.
“On your order, we will send word to His Majesty of our assistance and dispatch the King’s Guard stationed here and in nearby towns.”
Owen nodded. “Ride your soldiers with the King’s Guard. I will leave now and await your arrival as my reinforcement.” They nodded and left.
Owen sighed once they had gone, rubbing the back of his neck. It made me think he was nothing but a child wondering what he got himself into.
“We can do this,” I said, putting my hand on his arm. He grabbed it and put it to his lips. It brought a smile to my face despite the grave situation we were in. “I shall meet you at the stables when I am ready.”
I turned away and walked back to my chamber to inform my maids I was going to battle.
“Mistress, I cannot comprehend why you would want to do such a thing!” Ayah said as she looked for riding boots.
“Ayah, I believe it is time we serve our kingdom, whether or not we like it,” I stated with confidence. I would show everyone my allegiance to Tenebris by aiding in the Shadow Reaper’s defeat.
“I would certainly sit it out!” Blaire said as she did my hair. “This war is magic against magic.” Her words hurt me, knowing that I did not have magic, but I did not let it hinder my determination.
To my fortune, Yana was the only one to side with me. “I would love to see the battle,” she had said as she looked for an appropriate dress for me to wear. “But I am far too afraid of getting caught up in the heat of it.”
A knock came at my door and Lady Yael entered. My maids froze at the sight of her and immediately stood side-by-side with their heads bowed. I stood up and greeted her, my words strained.
“Lady Yael, a pleasure as always, but I am a bit busy for another lesson.”
She looked over her shoulder and nodded. A maid walked in behind her, carrying a robe. She lifted the covering drape to reveal an armored dress. Its top half was a lightly plated armor with shoulder Guards. The rest was stitched leather, thick enough to dislodge an arrow from a fatal shot or the average sword from cutting deep into the skin. The front was split at the sides, allowing for quick movement.
Once her maids silently dressed me into it, I turned to face Lady Yael, feeling invigorated just by wearing it.
“You look absolutely lovely!” She cried, clasping her hands. I bit my lip, unable to fathom why Lady Yael was not stopping me from going to the battle.
“Thank you for this,” I said, using my hands to indicate the dress. “I would not have expected you to put your faith in me in this decision.”
She smiled. “I knew you were a fighter, Duchess. Nothing is going to stop you from doing what you need to do.”
Nodding, I said my farewells and made my way over to the stables, worried that Owen might have left without me. But after making it halfway there, I remembered that I had no weapon.
I took a quick turn to the armory by the battlements, only to find not a sword or blade of metal remaining. Frowning, I went back for the stables. We would have to pick one up along the way.
When I arrived, Owen had two horses geared up: Coal and a hefty shire that mirrored Coal’s dark colors. After I mounted her, Owen got onto his horse and we set off for the King’s Castle. The day had just begun but it would take us by near noon to get there.
In the distance, we saw smoke billowing into the blue skies and quickened our pace, fearing the worst.
It was mid-morning by the time our exhausted horses reached the King’s Castle. The solid blocks of rock that built the castle had blackened. Where towers once stood were now piles of discarded rubble. The faint smell of smoke lingered in the air.
Silently, we dismounted, tethered the horses to a fence post, and raced inside. There were no sentry guards or maids about.
When we reached the Throne Room, several Dark Mages were there. As soon as they had come into our view, we skidded to a halt and turned away before we could be spotted.
“Here,” Owen took a sword from one of the displays on the wall and gave it to me. It was heavy in my hand, but I did not complain.
“Where could Selenah and the others have gone?” I asked, surveying the empty halls and corridors of the King’s Castle.
“Perhaps by the forest,” Owen suggested. “It would be a much better place to find cover than in these halls.”
I nodded and we both headed outside, making sure to stay out of sight. We silently made our way to the back of the King’s Castle where a thick, lush forest was. It was the very same place I had first come face-to-face with the Dark Mages after running from Selenah.
The deeper and deeper we went, the more doubtful I became of my presence here. What if the Dragon is with the Shadow Reaper? How can I help defeat them with a single sword?
We came across a clearing that looked all too familiar. Approaching the scene slowly, Owen and I kept by the trees. There were Royal Guards in a tight formation around a single person, with dozens of Dark Mages surrounding them. Is that Tiran I saw beside Selenah? And rather than being accompanied by their large riding crows, the Dragon stood on all fours, gazing curiously at the person in the center.
Up close, I saw the tint of the Dragon’s scales, darker than black. Its massive body toppled down several trees and its claws shone silver. It bared its fangs, making me shudder at the size of its dagger-shaped teeth. I froze at the sight of it, fragments of my dreams returning.
Amidst all of this, there was no sight of the Shadow Reaper.
“Where is the Shadow Reaper?” I whispered to Owen, searching the hooded Dark Mages to see if he was among them.
“Right here,” a voice said behind me.
I whirled around, fumbling for my sword. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Owen surrounded by a sphere of black sparks. He couldn’t move.
The Shadow Reaper smiled. “I see that the Archduke still lives. But I shall deal with you first.”
He withdrew a sword from his side. The blade looked rusted and the gold-colored hilt was dull. The familiar crude markings on it made my heart skip a beat. He had my sword— the one that Father had given to me.
“You...you have my sword,” I said in disbelief. How?
The Shadow Reaper edged closer.
“It was mine, some thousand years ago. It is a fitting time I have it back, do you not agree? Although there are markings on it I had not noticed before.”
He toyed with the sword, stepping closer once more, forcing me to take a step back. When I did, the ground underneath me gave way and I stumbled down the rock face and into the clearing.
Once again, I found myself on my back with the Shadow Reaper towering above me.
“Mel!” I heard Selenah shout as she approached us, the Royal Guards following her.
The Shadow Reaper looked in her direction, then down back at me. He held out a helping hand, catching me by surprise.
“Here, let me help you up,” he said, his voice no longer sounding cold and heartless.
Hearing that, I heard Selenah stop short in her advance towards us.
I stared at him; he no longer resembled the fearsome Dark Mage that had kidnapped me. He looked as if he were an ordinary man, his green eyes looking down at me kindly. I found myself putting my hand in his. His hold tightened as he brought me up to my feet. At his firm touch, my heart beat loudly in my ears, but it was not frantic like before. I thought I heard Selenah gasp as he turned me to face her.
“Mel...” I heard her whisper. “How could you?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but the Shadow Reaper spoke instead.
“Well, Sellena, are you satisfied now?” The Shadow Reaper gave her a snide grin. “You now understand what it feels like to be abandoned by the last thing you call family. Now, prepare yourself for true retribution.” He dropped my hand.
Selenah scowled as black wings sprouted from his back and he charged at her, the sword Father had given me tight in his hands. Gold wings instantly appeared on Selenah’s back and she broke away from her protective ring, her glowing bow and arrow aimed at him.
As I stumbled back, I grabbed my fallen sword, my eyes still on the Shadow Reaper and Selenah. Each of her golden arrows were cut away from him, the sword in his hands beginning to glow black. Seeing it, a sudden pounding in my head began and I turned away, holding my head.
For several moments, I could barely move. Visions of things I had never done before flashed in my mind. I saw the Shadow Reaper, in a prince’s attire, holding a hand out for me, and smiling genuinely at a baby dragon in my arms. I saw myself handing him a sword, its hilt glinting gold in the sunlight, and its blade emanating a dark glow as he took it from me.
I shut my eyes, pressing my palms to my eyes. This is not me, I repeated. This is not me.
Suddenly, everything went still. The visions fled and I slowly opened my eyes to the scene before me.
The Dark Mages surrounded the Royal Guards, several of whom lay on the ground, motionless. My eyes sought Selenah and the Shadow Reaper. I felt a pulse resonate in my chest, and an instinct told me to look upwards.
There, I could see the Selenah, a bright spot in the blue sky, and the Shadow Reaper, a dark haze. Pulling my attention away from them, I turned back to Owen, still trapped in the black sphere.
I ran towards him, retaking the sword I dropped and steadying it in both hands. Taking a deep breath, I swung it at the black sphere. It shattered like glass. Owen sighed and his face softened before he hugged me tightly.
“You must leave, Melanie. I did not know the Shadow Reaper...” He paused, rubbing his thumb over my cheek. “Please, Melanie you must go.”
I was about to protest, but Owen had a stern expression on his face. I sighed in defeat, looking away.
“Thank you.” He kissed my forehead before running to join the Royal Guards.
I flexed the sword in my hand, hesitated just the slightest, and then ran behind him. I was not going to let my chance at re-writing history slip.
One of the Dark Mages came at me, his sword ready for a fatal blow. I jumped out of the way before it could touch me, but the blade dug into the right side of my armor, leaving a clear cut.
I swung at him, but he dodged more easier than I did. We circled each other for a moment, eying our possibilities. The longer we stared at one another, the angrier I became. The memory of what the Dark Mages had done to me in that dungeon cell resurfaced in my mind, churning the anger within me.
Running at him with renewed determination, our blades clashed for a while. For those moments, I was on the offensive, hacking at him with a fury I did not know I could possess.
But my luck ran short when my strength faltered, and he knocked my sword out of my hand. It flew some feet away, and its force drove me to the ground. I turned and crawled to it, expecting to feel the Dark Mage’s sword pierce through me, but it did not.
There was a grunt, and I turned around to see Owen pull his sword out of the Dark Mage’s chest, who disappeared once it was extracted.
“Thank you,” I said, breathlessly, grabbing my sword.
“What are you doing here?” he whispered harshly. “I told you to leave!”
He was either too irate or too worried to hear another Dark Mage coming towards him and I knew it would be too late if I warned him. I threw the sword in my hand like a dagger over his shoulder. It came in contact with the Dark Mage’s upper torso and he fell back, vanishing into the air.
“Melanie, you need to go,” Owen pleaded. “Now.”
“No ‘thank you’ for saving your life?” I asked, standing up. Owen let out a grunt and I took a step back. “Fine, I shall leave.”
Just as I turned to do so, I heard a loud crunch behind me. I looked back and saw the Dragon up on its hind legs, its long neck snaking its way towards Owen.
He slashed at it, perhaps to buy me time to run, but I could not. The mere sight of the Dragon so close to me paralyzed my muscles.
The Dragon snapped at him, its dagger-like teeth shattering the blade of the sword. It bit into his leg and raised him into the air. Owen cried out in pain.
Mustering up my courage, I grabbed my sword off the ground —where the Dark Mage had once been— and plunged the sword into the foot of the Dragon. It released Owen from its jaws, dropping him to the ground, and stared down at me with hateful eyes. I removed the sword from its foot and slowly took a step back, the blade dripping black blood, staining the grass.
“Run!” Owen shouted. “Run, Melanie!”
This time, I obeyed and blindly took off as fast as my feet could carry me.
As I made it out of the forest, a shadow flew across above me. I stopped mid-run, catching my breath. The Dragon swooped down and slammed its claws against the ground, sending gales in all directions. I raised my arms to block the dust from my face and lowered them down when the air had settled. It gazed at me with blazing green eyes. My heart raced as I took in its massive size.
Suddenly, I felt a pulse resonate through my chest, and I looked up at the sky. The black speck that was the Shadow Reaper and the gold one that was Selenah, had clashed, causing the vibration.
Just then, the two met once more. They stayed airborne for mere seconds before the two fell out of the sky.
The ground shook and I looked back at the Dragon. It had somehow lost its footing and its head lay inches from my feet. It stared mournfully at the bloody sword in my hand, as if begging for mercy.
As I looked at it, once more, memories of a different past emerged in my mind, causing my head to pound once more. I saw myself running through the woods with the young dragon playfully bounding after me, tongue hanging out. I saw us sleeping under the stars, a young man sitting cross-legged on the grass before us, playing a lullaby.
I fell to my knees, the sword clattering on the ground beside me. I could not bring myself to slay it.
There was a loud crash as I imagined Selenah and the Shadow Reaper fell to the ground. The Dragon suddenly stood up on its hind legs and I cringed, expecting it to burn me to cinders.
Instead, it let out a shrill cry, full of pain and agony. Its tail swished back and forth, smashing into the King’s Castle behind it. It clutched its heart and let out another cry full of torment.
I covered my ears at the Dragon’s cries and cringed, for some reason feeling its pain in my chest.
Abruptly, it stopped and its scales took the color of grit. I stared at it, and realized it had turned to stone. Without warning, it crumbled. I covered my eyes from the shower of rocks and debris and looked up.
All that was left of the Dragon was a pile of dust. I gawked at the sight of it. Such a massive creature...reduced to nothing.
I gasped, now feeling as if something had seared my chest. My vision blurred from the pain as I leaned over, saliva dripping from my mouth. The burning sensation only lasted moments before a group of men on horseback came rushing past me, the dust from the Dragon scattering.
The men wore the kingdom’s coat of arms on their armor: The King’s Guard. Following after them were a group of Guards who had the emblem of the Solstice Palace on their armor.
I knelt there in shock, and then realized that if the Dragon were now dead, would the Shadow Reaper be dead as well?
I turned and saw Owen helping Tiran walk out of the forest. Owen limped on his bad leg, but still managed to walk. As they neared, I saw that two black-shafted arrows pierced Tiran’s leg and side. Standing up, I rushed over to help support him.
“Mel,” Tiran whispered. He coughed. Hearing him in such pain made my eyes prick with tears. “My family...”
“Do not worry,” I said, trying to find some way to keep his mind at ease. “Just rest and everything will be taken care of.”
We laid him and all the other wounded Royal Guards down in the Throne Room that was now devoid of Dark Mages. Tiran lost consciousness moments after we had set him down.
“Where is Selenah?” I asked, looking about the wounded to see if she was one of them. She was not.
Owen sighed, wiping sweat off his brow. “She was taken away by the King’s Guard. She was badly injured. I believe she was struck in the abdomen by your— the Shadow Reaper’s sword.”
His last words echoed in my head. The sword is mine, but it belonged to the Shadow Reaper. I shuddered.
“She will be fine, Melanie. I promise you.” He stood up from Tiran’s side and made movement to come closer to me.
“Your leg,” I reminded him, forcing Owen to stay by Tiran’s side.
“I am fine,” he countered, but I ignored his words.
Walking over to him, I tore the bottom of his trousers, which made himgasp. The Dragon’s bite marks oozed out dark, poisoned blood. I lightly touched the wound’s surrounding area and he sucked in breath. From what I could see, it was in a far worse condition than I thought.
“Sorry,” I said. “I will have a nurse look at it.”
I called over one of the few nurses that had arrived with the King’s Guard.
Owen caught my arm. “Do not leave,” he said as the nurse walked over. I noticed how much this hurt him and I felt my throat close up.
“I have to,” I choked out.
The pain in Owen’s eyes was evident, and it hurt to leave him. But I owed it to Tiran that I would contact his family. “It is the least I can do for Tiran.”
Owen nodded and handed me his sword, not meeting my gaze. I took it and left the King’s Castle with a guilty heart.