The dragon looked down its snout, black smoke trailing from its nostrils. It was beautiful like a knife drenched in blood, like a burning city sparkling in the dead of night. Ancient yellow eyes locked onto Rum, weighing him down with their years. Rum, for his part, tried his best not to yellow his trousers.
"H-hello?" he managed to squeak out. The dragon tilted its head slightly, as if studying him, finding him lacking in countless ways.
"You hold Foam-Cutter," the creature rasped. Rum braced himself, and tried to dig himself further down into the sand. The voice seemed to shake every organ inside him, rattle every tooth in his head. All he could manage in response was a frantic nod.
The dragon looked up, casting a glance back towards the burning tents. Secondary noises (all noises being secondary when in the presence of a dragon) could be heard- moans of pain, the crackle of burning wreckage. It turned back to look at Rum.
"I have slumbered, long years away in the jungle waiting. Why do you hold this sword?" it growled. "By what right? By whose authority?"
Rum's brain, sleep-deprived and terrified, went into overdrive. His eyes flicked to the cutlass in his hands, and back to the teeth of the dragon. "Oh? This? Uhm. Yes. Well- a ghost? There was a ghost who gave it to me? Yes. I'm pretty sure he gave it to me. Yes."
Yellow eyes narrowing, the dragon loomed over him. The rank smell of sulfur wafted across Rum. It smelled terrible- and he couldn't help but think of Molotov. I should have just left him all chained up! Now I'm as good as-
"You will serve then. As my new master," the dragon said. The words were a statement, not a question.
"Oh," Rum warbled. "Good. I'm glad that eating me is- uh- off the docket."
An awkward silence settled over the pair. Rum tapped his fingers against his cutlass, considering things. "What uh, happens now?" Rum asked. Hyper-sensitive to faces, of any shape and species, Rum instantly knew the question had annoyed the creature. He desperately wanted to stop doing that- but he'd never encountered a dragon before. A lizard people, yes. Snake people? One of them helped pilot his boat! But dragons? Actual, real dragons?
He had known they existed, of course. But dragons were exceedingly rare across the Foggy Ocean. They lived... somewhere, on an island that no mortal had ever reached. Their ways and the rules of their society were unknown, shadowed and mysterious. Was it a monarchy? Was there a Dragon King lurking about somewhere? The thought made Rum shudder. This dragon was scary enough.
"What happens now? Whatever you wish," the dragon snarled. "Burn your enemies, burn the seas. You hold the sword, and long ago I swore an oath of loyalty to its wielder and his... successors."
"Oh. So. It seems burning, that's uhm, a high priority item," Rum said. The silence dragged. Proper introductions were in order. "My name is Rum. Rumma von Adilstan. But you can just call me Rum. I'm a poet and an adventurer..."
"I am Zayldrieranth, Breaker of Bones. The Seething Flame."
"So I can call you Zayl or-?"
"You will call me Zayldrieranth, Breaker of Bones."
Rum decided that formality was the best course when it came to big scary dragons. Cautiously, slowly, he sat up from his sprawl on the beach, looking around. Despite the fact the dragon seemed clearly annoyed and unimpressed with him being... well... him, it was on his side. What stupid thing am I going to do to ruin that? No no, I can't think like that. Can't spoil it! I need to use this!
"So uhm. Zayldrier...anth... how do you feel about pirates?" Rum nodded with his head, over towards Annay's ship. It was docked at the beach, near the smouldering remains of the camp. The dragon looked at the ship and back to Rum. It was hard to tell, considering he hadn't spent extensive amounts of time among dragons- but Rum felt that a ghastly smile had danced across Zayl's face. Or maybe every smile is ghastly, on account of the uh, teeth?
"You name them as enemies?" Zayl rasped. Rum thought for a moment- and nodded his head.
The dragon was airborne, a cloud of sand errupting as its giant wings beat down upon the beach. Rum was swallowed momentarily by spinning whirlwind, eyes clogged with sand, thrown backwards and skittering around like a pebble. As he scrambled back to his feet, he caught Zayl high in the sky, circling above the pirate ship. On the deck, the skeleton crew left by Annay to hold it flitted about like anxious flies. One or two pirates tried their luck jumping overboard into the shallow waters below. Rum felt his heart begin to pound as the dragon descended.
A burst of fire came from the throat of the dragon. It rushed downward, enveloping the deck of the ship, wreathing it entirely in flames and smoke. The skittering pirates simply- vanished. Skin and flesh and bone vaporized in an instant, joined with the burning ship. Gunpowder inside the vessel went off, sympathetic explosions that seemed small in comparison to the unrelenting wave of heat and death. Even from such a distance Rum had to bring up his hands to shield his face from it. His heart was in his throat, his legs wobbled.
I... did that. I ordered that to happen! Oh my Gods. It really listens to me! The dragon LISTENS to me! I have a dragon bodyguard! Or the sword does? I have a-
There came a snapping noise, the sound of the wooden haul of Annay's ship breaking, exploding outward from the force of the dragon-flame. Bits of shrapnel, wooden shards, super-heated chunks of molten metal, cascaded sky-high as the sea bubbled and churned even more than usual around the rapidly sinking wreck.
The weight of what he'd done sunk in, dropping Rum's gut like it was filled with lead. Sure, the pirates were about to kill him... but the destruction he'd unleashed... it was horrific and perfect. The dragon had taken to its task quickly, as if it'd done the same thing hundreds, thousands of times before. It was a killing machine that delighted in it, that had taken the first opportunity it had found to slip its chains and murder an entire ship. Was it trying to impress him? Or show him, the new owner of a Sword of the Sea, what was expected?
I think... I want to go home now.
Annay's camp was in ruins- and now, the smouldering wreckage of her ship was sinking into the sea. Smoke, thick and choking, black and grey, snaked across the battlefield. It had taken minutes, and now little remained of the once ferocious Soggy-Bottom Pirates.
In the ruins of her command tent, really now just a vague outline of a tent from where the pegs had been placed to once hold down the tarp, a solitary bathtub sat untouched. Before it, a red-haired wizard continued to bob and weave in place, wrapped up in chains and oblivious to the burning world around him.
Ostentatious Mullins stuck her head up and clear of the bath water, eyes scanning the skies. A moment later, Annay's own head emerged from the soapy water beside her.
"Is it gone?" Annay whispered. Mullins shook her head nervously.
"Not quite, Captain. It's circling-"
There was another ferocious roar, as flames exploded downward, licking the ruined camp. A chorus of screams were abruptly silenced as the fire washed over them. Mullins ducked back below the lip of the tub.
"Captain?" Mullins ventured a whispered question. "If our ship is burned to a crisp, are we still technically employed by you?"
"I'm saying are we still pirates without a ship?"
Annay was furious she had to consider the question when, mere moments ago the sword had been within her grasp. With Foam-Cutter, dealing with such a beast would have been child's play. But now... Dragons. Bloody freakin' dragons. How was I supposed to know there was one of them here!? The dragons haven't been seen in what, fifty years or more! If I find Chalk, I'm going to strangle him and rip out his horns. Provided he's not already dead...
"Mullins, you're promoted."
The pirate blinked. "I am?"
"You're the new first mate. Now, it's time for a strategic retreat," Annay said through gritted teeth. She moved forward, feeling around on the bottom of the tub for the outline of the small hatch. Locating it, she pried the lip open with the point of her dagger, hitting the button inside.
There came a whirring of gears and a sudden gasp of exhaust from the side of the bathtub. Emerging out of the side, four thin metallic legs unspooled, finding their grip in the sand and lifting the tub a few inches off the beach. Slowly, the mechanical walking bathtub made an awkward exit, retreating back toward the water.
This isn't over. I'm going to get that sword, and I'm going to shish-kebab that stupid poet with it. Mark my words... I'm going to kill you one day, Rum!
In a fuzzy haze, still reeling from the taste of his own tongue, Molotov came around. The world was a tangled jumble before him, the flows of magic returning. He'd been hit with a dart, a magic suppressant. Painful, nasty things- they cluttered the mind, jumbled everything up. Things were already jumbled for him. How much of the world was real? Had a bathtub just grown legs and retreated into the ocean? Why was he all tied up? Had he committed war crimes again?
Shaking his head to clear the funk, Molotov looked around to see the smouldering wreckage of a beach-side camp and the burned corpse of a pirate ship. He blinked- before catching sight of a black shape in the sky, wheeling around far above. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, good thing that wasn't me!"
He blinked again, recognizing what exactly the shape was. WHO it was.