A Dragon’s Quest
“The king believes you have kidnapped the princess,” says Sir Sacramore.
A dragon’s eyes are not really meant to be rolled, but you do your best. You may have been spending too much time with humans.
“I know, I know,” your old friend says. “Look at it from his perspective. The castle walls were demolished, scorch marks everywhere. Other than a dragon, what exactly could do such a thing?”
You stare at him for a moment trying not to growl. Sir Sacramore hates it when you growl. After you’ve collected yourself, you rise from your haunches and look down at him. Your friend always looks so very small.
The human language always feels strange on your forked tongue, but you manage.
“I suppose we must go find out.”
Sir Sacramore frowns, but after a moment, he nods. “I had best go with you instead of on horse, if you don’t mind.” He steps forward and you cradle him gently in your front claw.
As your powerful wings propel you through the sky, you think about your friend. Sacramore was sent to kill you, and unlike most of the humans, he might have been able to manage it. More importantly, though, he didn’t actually try. He came into your lair with sword still in his scabbard and asked politely if you could find another source of food than the sheep being raised in the next valley.
Sacramore is certainly different than most of the little ones. High above the ground, his life literally in your hands, he is not frightened in the least.
The castle looms large — even by your standards — over the landscape. You’re well out of range of any crossbow, and you can see the damage done to the western wall. It was no easy thing to do.
Sir Sacramore calls out to you: “Am I being overly optimistic, or did you have a plan in mind for how you wanted to approach this?”
Chosen: Use the magic of your people to assume a human guise. Demeaning, but effective.
You land within an easy walk of the castle and set Sir Sacramore down. He looks at you questioningly, but you need a moment to brace yourself for what’s coming.
There is no pain to using the magic, but you nevertheless feel like you’re going to be sick. Reducing yourself to the size and shape of these humans is not only disorienting, it’s a little disgusting. You fashion a simple, nondescript robe from the ether and turn to face your friend.
“Ah, I see. This was your plan.” Sir Sacramore stares at you, and it takes you a moment to realize he’s cringing.
“What is it?”
“Is this how you see us? Your face is . . . Well, deformed isn’t the right word, but I don’t imagine anyone would really believe you were actually a human. And which gender were you . . . Never mind. Not really the point.”
“Let’s just get this over with.”
You walk to the castle, trying not to be frustrated with the shortness of your legs. You come in through the hole in the wall, your sharp eyes darting to a thousand tiny clues. This was not the work of a dragon. Of that, you’re certain.
The king appears, as you reasoned he must. His eyes are bloodshot, and you can see the anger on his face.
“I know what you are, beast. Return my daughter to me this instant!”
You look to Sir Sacramore, who steps forward. “My liege, I have been to my friend’s lair. Your daughter is not a prisoner there.”
The king turns to the score of guards surrounding him. “Then take that creature and throw it into the dungeon until it tells us where she is!”
These men are trained warriors, not easily thrown. They move forward at a controlled pace, spears at the ready. They watch you carefully, ready for anything you could possibly do to them.
Except they’re really not expecting you to turn your back on them.
“This is flame, yes, but not from a dragon.” You point to the scorch marks on a nearby wall. “It is too diffuse. A dragon’s breath strikes suddenly and far hotter.”
Sir Sacramore is eyeing the men coming toward you very carefully. “Yes, I see. Quite so.”
“And no claws tore this piece of the wall down. It was shattered by brute force.”
A spear thrusts at Sir Sacramore, who evades it deftly. “I will take you at your word, my friend.”
“It is the tracks which confuse me, however. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen something like . . .” You stop as realization dawns. “Ah of course.”
“Go!” screams the king. “Take that creature!”
The first and bravest of the men approaches. His spear is level with where your heart should be. (Honestly, you’re not certain it made it to the right place when you changed form.)
“He does have a wife and child. ” Sir Sacramore eyes you. “Not that I’d dare tell you what to . . .”
“Understood.” You bare your teeth at the bold warrior. You worry it might be mistaken for the human’s smile, but one look at him shows you needn’t have been concerned. He hesitates for a second, and you pull the spear from his hands, shattering it to splinters against a far wall.
“Let’s go,” you say to Sir Sacramore. “I know what we’re looking for now.”
Chosen: The walls are crumbled out, not in. How the princess did this, you don’t know, but you’re looking for where she went.
Three of the king’s men move forward to intercept you, but you release the magic keeping you in a human form. Like a bag of coiled springs suddenly ripped open, your mass bursts forth in all directions. The sense of relief is overwhelming, and you can’t help but bugle out a joyous cry. The king’s men retreat pulling their sovereign away from the danger.
Sir Sacramore does the opposite, racing toward you so you may easily scoop him up In the span of a few breaths, you are yards away from the castle flying into the sun to discourage the archers from firing.
“So what did you learn?” asks Sir Sacramore.
“The princess was not kidnapped.” You dive steeply, then bank sharply, changing your direction to follow the path of destruction leading from the castle. “She escaped from the castle.”
Sir Sacramore does not respond for a moment, and you realize your unexpected changes in direction may have made him a bit queasy. Finally, he responds. “So your theory is that the princess has become strong enough to demolish a castle wall while at the same time being able to spread fire somehow?”
“I would argue the point, but I don’t have a counter theory. So you’re following the path she left behind.”
“Yes.” And you are. The destruction is plain. Despite recent rains, the land has been charred, and trees are knocked over in a bee-line from the castle. Quickly, though, you notice something else. The charring is growing fainter, the damage to the forest less pronounced the further you get from the castle.
“If you’re right, it appears that she was weakening as she left. I don’t think we can follow the trail from the air for much longer.”
He’s right. You swoop low and land where the charring ceases entirely. A few steps further, and you see the flattened grass and crushed leaves.
“She fell here.”
“Yes,” replies Sir Sacramore, “and perhaps she stayed down for a bit, but the tracks continue in this direction.”
You follow the trail, occasionally seeing a small bare footprint in the muddy ground. Unfortunately, it leads you to the one thing which could make tracking her so much more difficult.
A few roads lead into the forest, and her footsteps bring her out right on top of a crossroads.
Chosen: She left the castle for a reason and would take the path which leads the farthest away.
You look from side to side, trying to determine which direction the princess may have traveled. Your nostrils flare, but you are no bloodhound. Frankly, most humans smell exactly the same to you even when they’re right beside you.
“This way,” you finally say.
Sir Sacramore falls into step beside you, but he still asks. “And why this way?”
“She moved directly away from the castle. This road leads farther still.”
The two of you cover ground far faster than a shoeless girl could, so you’re hopeful that you can catch up to her. You watch the sides of the road to see if she might have left the road, but there are no signs that she did.
A coach approaches, coming the opposite way. You take to the air to let it pass beneath you as Sir Sacramore interview’s the coachman. Once the horses are well past, you land again.
“He saw her, or at least he thinks he did. A few miles ahead, she was hiding in the woods a ways off the road, but he spotted her. When he called out to her, she ran deeper into the brush, but he thought he saw her make her way back to the road after he’d passed by.”
“I saw a manor house not far from there. Let us see if that was her destination.”
Sir Sacramore frowns. “Let us hope it was not. That is the home of Baron Fellheart, and I fear he would not welcome the king’s daughter kindly.”
You waste no time taking to the air, and in mere moments you’re at the manor house. You arrive only a little after the princess herself, as she is partway up the hill heading to the door. Suddenly a man comes out from the house and, looking at the shabby appearance of the princess in her torn and tattered clothes, he laughs. He claps his hands together, and red lights like fire begin to dance out from his fingertips.
“Did you come all this way for this?” he howls.
“Quickly! We must help her!” Shouts Sir Sacramore.
“Wait?” Your friend is incredulous. “She could die!”
“I don’t think so.”
You circle a little lower in the air. Your instincts are telling you not to interfere, but you should stay close. The lights dancing around the Baron’s hands grow in intensity, and he sends a ball of energy straight at the princess who screams. Your heart sinks as you realize you’ve chosen poorly.
Until a moment later. Far from being consumed by the magic, the princess. seems to absorb the energy. She throws her head back and inhales like she’s breathing in the first breeze of spring. Despite her tattered clothing, she looks much healthier now
“I’m not surprised you were so hungry after the power you’ve expelled, princess.” Baron Fellheart ‘s tone is condescending. “And you know I have what you need.”
“That isn’t what I was expecting,” says Sir Sacramore. “What’s going on?”
“We’re in the wrong place.”
Sir Sacramore is nearly apoplectic. “What? The princess . . .!”
“That is not the princess.”
And with a blast of flame, you incinerate what appeared to be a human girl. Sir Sacramore screams, but his cries are drowned out by those of the Baron. The man wails like a banshee, making sounds you didn’t know could come from a human throat. He collapses suddenly, and the silence is eerie.
Humans fall to flames in predictable ways but whatever looked like the princess stands now like baked clay. Sir Sacramore quiets as he realizes what is standing below you. He says a quiet prayer.
After a moment to process what is happening, your friend echoes your sentiments. “We’re in the wrong place,” he agrees. “If that was not the princess, where could she be?”
You take to the skies, knowing your destination without a doubt. It was a clever ruse. Either the king would assume the culprit was you and bring his armies to slay you, or you would be forced to do as you’ve done and leave your lair to search for the culprit.
Sir Sacramore is no fool. “Back to your lair! You really think . . .?”
The closer you get, the more you can feel that someone has pierced the defenses of your lair, and you have your suspicions who that may be. As you come closer to your mountain, you see the footprints, but also the king’s army. He has mustered up his courage and moved against you.
Inside, there is no surprise. Grethnock the giant has always lusted after your horde, and he is clever enough to ally himself with the Baron to move against you and the king. He sees you and shouts in terror.
“Back! Stay back, beast!”
Sir Sacramore leaps down from your claw and draws his sword. Two ogres flank the giant, and he stands ready to strike them down.
“You and your little plaything do not frighten me!” This is a lie as his eyes are darting to the exits. Even with his henchmen, Grethnock cannot defeat you in battle and he knows it. “Gugon, show ’em.”
One of the ogres pulls the sack from behind his back. One meaty hand reaches in and pulls out the princess. She is much the worse for wear, but definitely alive.
“I kept her alive in case you got here before we could clean out your horde. Stay back, or I’ll have Gugon squeeze the little thing till she pops.”
The roar which escapes your throat could be mistaken for a wail of anguish or defeat. Grethnock certainly seems to make that mistake, but you weren’t talking to him. You were calling on the very stones of your home. When they respond, Grethnock’s smile vanishes quickly.
Gugon screams in agony, clutching his wrist. “Brother, help me! The cave, it has closed on my hand.”
Sir Sacramore furrows his brow as it is clear that such as the ogre describes did not happen. When the pain of it causes the brute to drop the princess, however, your friend leaps forward. He sheathes his sword and cradles the young woman, pulling her away from the two ogres who are comically pulling at each other, straining their great muscles against nothing at all, yet unable to move.
As for Grethnock, the giant has turned to flee, but thanks to your magic, he runs in circles, imagining himself to be running through a labyrinth of stone and lava.
“What, in heavens name, is happening?” Sir Sacramore holds the girl close to him, but the question is addressed to you.
“He invaded my home. My home is fighting back.”
“What will you do with them?”
You shake your head. “Nothing has been taken from me. Another is coming who may dispense justice as he sees fit.”
It’s only a moment later when the King bursts into the main entrance, at the head of his forces. When Sir Sacramore meets him with his daughter, alive and mostly unhurt, the proud man drops to his knees, grateful to have her back.
For a creature of your age, it is no time at all before they have all departed. Grethnock and his minions are prisoners of the king. What will become of them, you do not know, nor do you care. A force has been sent to find the Baron as well, but you know the mystical bond that shattered when his construct fell means he may never awake, and certainly no time soon.
And so it ends as it began, with Sir Sacramore in your lair.
“I am sorry to have intruded on you, old friend. I shall try not to let it happen again.”
“You will fail at that.” You look to the entrance of your cave where the girl left . “The magic to make a construct of the princess has touched her in ways which will soon become apparent. She will need my guidance, and you must bring her to me when they do.”
Sir Sacramore winces, knowing what sort of trouble that will cause him. You chuckle deep in your throat.
“I will see you soon, dear friend.”