“This should be it,” I mumbled as I stopped my horse. Aldrynte settled next to me. “The luxurious country-side. Only the noblest of families can afford or own a house here. Well, can’t see much because of the dark, but the sky is nice,” I said, jokingly.
Aldrynte sighed. “You know that you’ll probably get home around here as well?”
“I’m not sure I want to. I'd like more excluded place.”
I got myself off the horse, Aldrynte following my lead. We tied the horses down to the nearby trees and continued going forward on foot. The idea was that it was too risky to go on with a horse.
“Maybe I should go alone?” I mumbled.
“Not a chance.”
I sighed. “But she knows that you’re a dragon. It’s a dead give-away,” I said.
Aldrynte slowly turned to look at me. “She shouldn’t,” she said. “Only the five, and those you have told know.”
“But she’s the king’s advisor. Isn’t it obvious that the king would tell her?”
Aldrynte sighed. “It is. But even so, she shouldn’t share that knowledge with anyone. Not even you. What happens in the meeting, stays in the meetings. And that includes all the personnel. What if someone faked to be you, and they' are told the information that could be a huge deal? They have ways to confirm that it's you first.” Then there was a moment of silence. “Then again, it’s you who we are talking about. And if she was sure that it was you, she might've told you that just because it was you.”
I frowned. “Okay, this is a problem. Why the hell is a hero allowed to know everything? What if I’m actually an evil guy? What if I’m greedy?”
“Then you wouldn’t be a hero,” Aldrynte said. I was surprised, confused even.
Aldrynte sighed. “Do you really think that we’ll just make every person who kills the Demon King into a hero?”
“Yes? That’s the law?” I mumbled.
Aldrynte giggled. “That’s funny. You said it yourself. People are corrupt. Many might do it just to gain the title, and abuse it. So, having something simple like the law would never be enough.
"Do you really think that the five would trust you as easily as they have? You’re very naive if you do. Have you ever wondered why all the heroes in our history have been competent? Why they're all known as someone good? And why do we have one hero every hundred years or so? Why do we have only one hero at the same time?
“So, to answer your question; no, you don’t know everything. You do know more, but not even nearly enough. We don’t tell you everything for a reason. But we know that you can be trusted. And you do have a chance to learn almost everything in time. Most heroes have.”
I stopped for a moment, looking at Aldrynte. “I have never thought about it. Not really. Just the information I've been given is overwhelming alone. I think I've probably had my doubts... but how do you know that I’m good?” I asked.
Aldrynte smiled, raising her hand, and touching where my heart was. But before I could say anything, she gave a sharp knock, making my hero’s emblem give away a quiet metallic sound. “Before the ceremony, what was the one thing that happened?”
I looked at her, reminding myself of that day. “I was presented the hero’s badge.”
“And you took it. The moment you took it, you became a trustworthy hero. This emblem” — she pushed her hand against my hero’s badge that was inside my leather armor’s pocket — “is an ancient heirloom. It’s a piece that every single hero has owned. Nobody knows how it works. But if you could take it, you deserved it, and it also proves that somehow you did slay that Demon King.” She gave me a smirk and continued walking.
“So, is there a way to see my ancient previous heroes, and gain their powers? Or maybe communicate and ask their advice?” I asked.
“What? Nothing like that.”
I sighed. “I got my hopes up.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but there you have it.” She then turned to face me one last moment. “It goes without saying that it’s a huge secret. Don’t tell anyone.”
“So, you’re saying that there are those who haven’t been able to take it?”
Aldrynte grinned. “Many. More than you can count for. More than there have been heroes. Thus, be happy, you’re the chosen one.”
“Or I just slew the Demon King,” I murmured. Even though it was by accident.
“Many others who couldn’t take it also slew a demon king,” Aldrynte said, stopping. “But here we are.” She crouched. I followed her lead.
"Here we are..." I agreed.
"No. I mean literally. We are here." As I was about to ask if she was serious, she smiled.
“Fuck, it’s dark. I can’t see much,” I mumbled.
“Qildor chose the moonless night for a reason. Elves can see in the dark very well, after all,” Aldrynte whispered. She then stopped, closed her eyes for a moment. She finally sighed.
“What’s up?” I said.
“I know where she is. I can feel her presence. She’s recovering from the battle,” Aldrynte whispered, taking hold of my hand. “Come.” She led me towards one particular house, separated from others. And as we got closer, even I saw them.
There were bodies. Mostly Elven. None of them moved. Many were dried up.
“Aldrynte… They are all dead,” I mumbled.
“Thank you, I couldn't see," Aldrynte said sarcastically. "You were right, Hiro. Alwine did win this battle. I have no idea how much essence she has left, but seeing the battle and how recent this was, we could probably try to kill her right now,” Aldrynte mumbled.
“Relax. I know. No killing. But I can’t guarantee some wounds.”
As we reached the house, we began to circle it, until we reached the front door. I stopped, making her stop as well. “I’ll enter alone. Get ready to run in. But only if you must! You can probably feel her magical essence anyway, right?”
Aldrynte looked at me for a moment. Slowly, her head got closer to mine, giving me a kiss. “Be careful. Please.” I felt a slight blush.
I nodded, resting my hand on my new sword’s handle and pulling the broken door open with the other. As I entered the room, it was a mess. Everything was in chaos. Except for the one table and chair where Alwine was sitting. She was staring at a mirror in front of her. But she looked straight past herself. I was her target. However, neither of us did anything harsh. Not yet.
“Alwine,” I said softly.
“I heard you died,” she said, finally continuing bandaging her hand.
“Someone tried to kill me. But I escaped just in time. Then I heard that they were going to attack you. I tried to get here as soon as I could. But as I can see, I was too late,” I said.
Alwine sighed, turning herself around and looking directly at me. “Well, I'm the lucky one. Apparently, I’m stronger than them. They didn't have even a chance.”
Alwine shook her head. “If you look carefully around outside, I’m sure you can find his body,” she said, lamenting. “But you can stop your bullshit, Hero. We both know that you’re here for other reasons. For example, I know that you have an ally straight behind the door. I don’t know who, but someone who can use fire magic. My bet would be Aldrynte.”
Aldrynte entered the room, hands crossed. “Is it the air?”
“You have no idea,” Alwine said. She also crossed her hands. “So, why are you here, Hero? Are you here to kill me as well? If yes, I’m a bit disappointed. We got along so well. We even kissed,” she said, sending another kiss on my way.
Aldrynte sighed. “Is that your way to provoke me? It’s hardly working. I can only assume that you forced yourself on him, not the other way around.”
“I did,” Alwine said. “But that’s because I love him. And I wanted a memory.”
“You know, that’s the biggest bullshit I’ve heard in a long time,” Aldrynte said.
"That's funny, coming from you," Alwine said, giggling. “But I’ve already accepted the fact that it's unrequited love. So that’s why I’m going to kill you, Hero.”
“You say what?” I couldn’t help but mumble. “You lost me there. I never knew that love means killing them...”
“Aren’t you reading lots and lots of romance novels, Hero?” Alwine asked.
“You are?” Aldrynte whispered, looking at me.
I faked a smile. “I am,” I whispered. “I needed some help with all that bullshit that’s been happening around me, alright?”
“And you decided to seek help from romance books?” Aldrynte mumbled.
Alwine coughed, getting our attention once again, rolling her eyes in the process. “There’s often an act where the bad guy says: ‘If I can't have you no one else can have you.’ Have you forgotten?”
“Oh. Right. Now that I think about, there is one. Aldrynte. I think she might be actually right. She might actually love me,” I said.
Aldrynte leaned slightly closer to me. “Or I think she’s being controlled and under the love potion!” she whispered. “What’s our plan?”
“We have to deplete her magical essence, and then capture her! If she has no essence, she's powerless,” I responded.
“I have no idea how much essence she has left, so let's hope for the best!”
I frowned. “At least, we have to buy some time. For the others!”
Alwine stood up. “Your whispers bore me. Time’s up. Time to die!” she said, raising her left hand, which went into a fist. I hastily grasped my sword's handle, ready to pull the sword out. But I hesitated, immediately. I didn’t know much about this power I was holding. I haven't even had a chance to test it — not really. Maybe I could kill her in one shot. Or maybe it was absolutely nothing. Either way, I didn’t want to risk it. “Aldrynte. I’m counting on you!”
Aldrynte sighed. She had her hand already raised as well. “I have one question,” she said, as her hands burst into flames.
At the same time, Alwine’s hands were surrounded by liquid, obtained from the very air around us. “Yes, Aly?”
“How did you know that I’m a dragon?”
A wide smile appeared on Alwine’s face. “You’re a half-dragon. Of course, you wouldn’t understand." She hesitated for a moment, but then her smile widened even more. "Hell with it. I could smell you out the first time we met and shook our hands.” And as she finished her last line, her sclera began to turn blue, almost like blue water filling a bottle. Her pupils grew, overtaking irises. And then they began to sharpen, while width became thin. I gasped for air, placing my hand on Aldrynte’s shoulder. I could feel her shaking. She was as terrified as I was.
“You're a... water dragon?” she murmured. I could see Aldrynte’s eyes doing the same. Except her eyes were dominated by fiery red. It was as her pupils were releasing the heat around her burning sclera.
Alwine looked at us, raising her head slightly, just to show-off her glorious self. "Surprise."
“So here’s the good news. There’s no need to hold back against you,” Aldrynte said, trying to smile as well. "And you've already used a lot of your essence." She threw a gaze at me. "Get behind me,” she hissed. I did as she told me.
Two watery sharp thorns emerged in front of Alwine and were thrust towards Aldrynte.
Aldrynte immediately raised her hands forward, creating two large fire blasts, pushing herself back with high speed, together with me. But no water reached us. Instead, they evaporated. The next thing, both me and Aldrynte were outside, standing up.
"Sorry, I had to!" Aldrynte didn’t wait. She raised her hands towards the house, creating a volley of fire, setting the house on fire, and also spreading light everywhere. The house was already engulfed in flames.
Alwine walked casually outside of the building, while we took some steps back. I could sound of fire extinguishing around her. But Alwine’s face had a twisted smile on her. And as she stopped, we could see water droplets coming from the air, and from the ground, beginning to circle around her.
“This is much worse than I anticipated,” I moaned.
“You think so?” Aldrynte responded. “We better hope that our friends are coming soon and before she decides to transform.”
Alwine's fueled her as she raised her hands forward once more, going into a fist. Immediately even more water raised from the ground. But not just around her, but from all sides. looking like glass shards, they began to race towards us, wanting to slice us up.
But Aldrynte lowered her hands. Her teeth were pushed against each other. And then she lifted her hands, fingers as separated from each other as possible. A circle of fire began to burn around us, raising immediately at least ten feet above us with a small inclination at the very end, hiding every possible attack angle around us.
All I could hear were the sounds of water hitting the hot fire and turning into steam. It was as the water was thrown on top of a liquid metal.
With a sharp gasp of air, Aldrynte lowered her hands, releasing the fire. There were still batches of fire burning around us, but mostly it was all steam, flying up. Alwine still stood where she was seen last time. But even her breathing was slightly fastened.
“What’s the matter, Aldrynte? You’ve only been on the defensive. Is that the difference between half-dragon and a real dragon? Are you really that weak?” She began to walk circles around us, while we were still, looking at her. But I always tried to look at the surroundings as well. We didn't need a sneak attack.
“Yet, here I stand,” Aldrynte said, smiling, and pushing a bang behind her hair.
Alwine stopped, starting to laugh. “You’re lucky that I had to use a lot of my power on the others. Qildor really did gather the best. But even they were more trouble than you.”
“Yet they are dead, and I’m still standing,” Aldrynte responded.
Seeing the battle, I felt really weak. There was nothing I could do. Or at least those few things I could do wasn’t an option.
"You don't have to do this, Alwine. Just give up!" I threw out my few useless words.
Alwine chuckled. “Well, if you’re not attacking. I am,” she said. More water than before was circle her. It felt stupid to give her a chance to rest and gather the water. But I trusted Aldrynte. And if she didn't do anything, there was a reason. Perhaps she also needed to gather her strength.
Alwine raised her hand. But not in a way to cast a spell, but to catch something. A staff flew into her hand, inside a thin layer of water. The staff and her body were immediately covered by a larger layer of highly compressed water. “Normally, I would just win you by pure power. But since I can't risk it, I guess I have to use some martial arts,” she said. She began to run a circle around us. “But I’m wondering, why aren’t you doing anything, Hero?”
I chuckled, letting go of my main sword and taking hold of my another one,p out my other sword. “I don't want it to end too fast,” I said. That made even Alwine laugh. I was lucky to think that I should swap out my other simple sword as well. Not that it's something super strong.
I rushed at her, and slashed the swords towards her. Immediately the staff and the sword met each other. But as expected, it barely touched the staff itself.
It was back and worth until we had a moment of stalemate moment — me pushing my sword against her staff, while our faces were pretty close.
"That's it?" Alwine asked. "Sweety. I must show you how to use a sword," she whispered, leaning towards me, and giving me a quick kiss on a cheek.
“Can you please keep your mouth away from my boyfriend?!” Aldrynte shouted as a long fiery whip burst out from her hand.
It was my turn. I pulled my sword away, which was already engulfed with water, and crouched. Without waiting for a second, Aldrynte slashed her whip towards Alwine, who immediately tried blocking it with her staff. But the whip burnt through the compressed water immediately, tying itself around the staff. With one sharp pull, she tore the staff away from Alwine’s, catching it in the process. Immediately fire began to spread around the staff, removing the water completely.
“Fuck. Curse you,” Alwine roared. “Or that’s what you’d expect from me, right?” she continued with her calm voice, slight smirk at the edge of her face.
I realized why she was like that. Immediately, I turned to face Aldrynte, to tell her to let go of it. But I was too late. With a snap of fingers, water forcefully pushing itself out from the staff, extinguishing all the fire around itself, and surrounding Aldrynte quickly. There was no fire around her, not anymore. Only water.
Aldrynte got her hands into fists, grinding her teeth together, groaning. With a roar, a burst of fire was released from her body, immediately destroying every bit of water around her. But almost immediately, she lost her balance. I was already rushing to her, catching her just in time. Aldrynte leaned against the staff as well, keeping herself up. I could hear her heavy breathing.
Alwiwne burst into laughter. “Ouch. I can’t imagine how much energy you must’ve converted to turn your body back to normal and then release that blast,” Alwine said, crouching slightly, looking at us. Her tongue went over her lips quickly. It was as if we were her prey, and she was thinking about how to season us. "You're falling for my traps too easily. Are you really that silly?"
“Fuck. She got me there,” Aldrynte whispered, coughing out some blood. Two sharp water thorns flew towards her. Of course, she immediately raised her hand, creating another blast of fire, reducing the thorns into mere steam. “This is pretty bad. I have only that much essence left,” she added.
“Honestly, I’m impressed by your skill, Aldrynte. You’ve calculated perfectly how much energy I’ve added into each shot, nullifying it. And I’ve been adding a lot into every single blast.”
Aldrynte snorted. “I see that the stories are true. You, water dragons, truly are our natural enemies. Talk about luck,” she said.
“You’re still young and inexperienced. Maybe if you had another century under your belt, things could be different,” Alwine said, reaching out her hand. A water orb began to gather on top of her hand, pushing itself together as much as it could.
Aldrynte got herself straightened, raising a hand of her own. A fiery orb began to gather itself on her hand, every second turning even darker red, but also brighter. I couldn’t even imagine how much energy those orbs must have in them.
“Yes. I’m impressed. You could be a prodigy. But your biggest mistake is fighting not just any water dragon, but soon-to-be ancient water dragon. For your age, any normal dragon would be only a child. But you're already that good. I guess human genes are helping you.”
Aldrynte almost bit her finger, managing to stop herself last second. She couldn’t risk with any wounds. That’s one thing she has managed to avoid until now. But a smile appeared on Aldrynte’s face. “It seems they are almost here, Hiro,” she said, gazing at me for once.
“Tck,” Alwine said, looking into the sky. “Backup?” Without waiting any further, she suddenly pushed her hand forward, making the water burst out from the orb insanely fast. Aldrynte did the same thing, exactly at the same time, except there were only flames that burst out. There was only the sound of steam bursting everywhere, mostly into the sky.
“Hiro!” Aldrynte hissed, as she tried to keep her ground. “I don’t have enough magic left after this. You need to get out of here!”
I walked behind Aldrynte, putting my hands around her waist, hugging her. “What. You idiot! It’s really not the time. I might burn you!”
“It’s fine,” I whispered into her ear, giving a kiss. “You’ve done more than enough. It’s now my turn.” I let her go and walked next to her, sheathing my useless sword, and taking hold of my real sword’s handle.
It was a huge gamble. But perhaps Alwine was the perfect candidate to test it out. She was a dragon, after all.
It ended at the same time. The steam was rising into the sky, while some of it stayed around. Alwine began to laugh where she had been last time. But we didn't see each other — too much steam. "It's over. I know it."
"So are you, aren't you?" I shouted, looking at Aldrynte, who was now kneeling, gasping for some air. "You forgot something. I’m still here. Sometimes I’m amazed at how people forget about me. Almost as I don’t exist. But it never was a fight between dragons.”
“Tck. Your existence feels so puny that I forgot about you. But honestly, I don’t-”
"Tactics. First, we weaken the enemy. Then we finish them off."
There was a moment of silence.
"We'll meet again, Hero."
Steam burst away, as a massive water dragon looked down on us. But I had expected her to be more massive. The books did say that they were smallest, yet strongest elemental dragons. She was also visibly injured. A lot more injured than I had expected.
Was she going to fight with me in a dragon form? I thought.
She spread out her wings, taking off, forcing me to take a few steps back. "She's going to escape?" I murmured.
It was bad. If she escaped, our plan was fruitless.
Yet I was smiling. It was either do or die time.
Alwine threw one sharp look at me, as I saw some new water thorns making their way towards me.
"It’s time to bring light to this darkness," I whispered, closing my eyes for a moment.
The blade was easy as ever to pull out. It was almost as it was talking to me, being part of me. The moment even a tiny bit of blade was out, a blinding light spread everywhere. Aldrynte immediately covered her eyes, but still trying to look at me. Alwine flew in place; roaring, and looking away from me, blinded.
I couldn’t help but keep up the grin. It didn’t affect me at all. I could see everything clearly... everything. From the single glance I got, the blade was yellow like the sun. But I didn’t have time to inspect. The moment it was out of the sheath, I slashed with it in front of me, almost like trying to cut the air itself.
But the light element inside my sword was bursting forward, leaving the sword behind. It happened instantly. The two water shards evaporated instantly by the light.
Like a sharp knife, it hit the dragon's stomach, disappearing an instant later.
And then it was over. The light disappeared, and the night got its darkness back. It was truly over.
When the light was disappearing, I had already pushed my sword back inside its sheath, not being out longer than it has to.
There was a very small moment of silence. And then there was a loud sound, coming from the water dragon hitting the ground.
I quickly began to rush towards her, already taking two potions from my backpack. One was red liquid, known as a healing potion, while the other was watery liquid — sleeping potion.
And as I rushed forward, I saw the dragon change shape back to a human.
“H… H… Hiro? W-what was that?” Aldrynte shouted. I could bearly hear her.
I was terrified. Terrified of something very specific. But as I reached her, rotating her on her back, I could see that she was still breathing. She also seemed fine. There weren’t even any scars on her stomach. I released a sigh of relief. As expected, she probably converted all her magical essence into a shield of some kind. But it seemed to be enough. I opened both bottles, ready to pour them into her mouth.
Alwine's hand grabbed my hand, as she eyed me, breathing heavily. I looked at her back. "Do it fast," she mumbled. I nodded, pouring them into her mouth, which she had opened. Almost instantly, her eyes closed, and she was in a deep sleep.
I released a heavy sigh, standing up. I picked Alwine up, carrying her to Aldrynte, and finally placing her down next to her.
“What was that?” Aldrynte asked once again, while I stood in front of him.
I chuckled. “I told you. I’m a hero. I will protect you. And I’m now stronger than before.” And for the first time, I did feel stronger. My plan had worked out. And the sword was exactly the sword I needed.
“Hiro!” Aldrynte mumbled, pushing herself up. “You’re bleeding!” I looked at my waist and back, where she was pointing. Blood was slowly streaming down under my leather armor. “I’m fine,” I said. But as I said that, I could feel my strength leaving. “She must’ve secretly attacked from a different angle as well,” I mumbled, falling on my knees. Aldrynte took hold of me, letting my head rest on her breasts.
A large eagle landed close-by. But it was too blurry to make anything else out of it. "Damn. I'm so tired!"
“Hang in there, Hiro! Don't be such a pussy. It's barely a cut.”
“Listen to me, Aldry… Aldryn… Aly!” — I took hold of her hand, pulling her head closer to my mouth — “If nothing works, she…” — I couldn’t remember her name. What was it again? Right! I remember! — “...Aurora has to use her power on Alwine,” I murmured. “Also…”
But that’s all I could say, as everything turned even darker than the night. And first, there was cold. And then there was a burning sensation. And then there was cold once more.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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