Reeling from the emptional pain of the Goddess Slata's revelation, Angela and her companions have to fight the enraged dragon.
The Knight and the Acolyte
Book Ten: The Flaming Woman
Chapter Ten: Lies
Thrak – Dominari's Lair, Despeir Mountains
The vision ended.
Rage exploded through me. The vision of my brother, Bruk, raping and murdering my first wife Serisia burned through my thoughts. My brother. My las-damned brother. My fists clenched as I fell to my knees. It built inside me. This dark, angry. Bloody storm. It howled in me.
He had to die.
I slammed my fist into the hard rock of the cave floor. Pain flared up my arm as I howled my fury. I seized my rage. The blood-dimmed tide swirled across my vision as I saw him! Bruk! I would kill him! I would find him and rip off every finger, every limb, I would peel off every ligament and sinew of his flesh. He would howl in agony for what he did to her.
He killed my beautiful Serisia.
He brutalized her.
A great bellow echoed through the room as I blinked in shock. The High Virgin had sent me to my death. She knew Angela would receive the Quest to kill Dominari. She set her up. Me up. She wanted to get rid of me. That useless, whining acolyte. The one she couldn't discipline out of fear of offending my powerful mother.
I groaned, the pain in my side burning. The milky potion coated the insides of my mouth. I shuddered, glancing at my bloody robes. The sword had almost cut me in half. I lay in a huge puddle of blood. My hand shook as I fished out another healing potion.
Despite the pain burning in my side, half-healed by the first potion, all I could think about was the betrayal to my Goddess. High Virgin Vivian was Saphique's temporal representative, the highest-ranked member of her church. And she had betrayed the Goddess for a tax break.
I downed the potion, the creamy, sweet taste of my breast milk electrifying through my body, settling into my side, healing my wound. Oh, Angela and I would set everything right. When she was High Queen, Vivian and—
A bloodcurdling roar echoed through the cave.
I shook my head as I came out of Slata's vision, confusion wracking my thoughts. Learning of Princess Adelaide's betrayal hardly stung at all. I had realized she didn't love me before, that I was just a possession to her, something to be claimed, to be jealously held onto.
So why had Slata shown it to me? I looked around at my companions. They were all staring in shock, weeping, shaking their heads, beating the ground in frustration. They were distracted. They were off-balanced. Affected. The Goddess had taken one last chance to weaken us, to stop Angela from embarrassing her destiny.
Even Lady Delilah looked enraged. A bloodcurdling scream burst from her lips, one of pure rage.
And then my eyes fell on my wife. Aurora stared at me in betrayed horror. There was so much pain in her eyes. She trembled, shaking her head in disbelief. My stomach twisted. What had Slata shown her to make her look at me that way?
“Aurora?” I asked, my voice cracking. I reached for her.
She flinched back.
“That Las-damned bitch,” I snarled, my hands gripping my daggers. The image of Spray comforting me after my sister's execution when she was responsible for Fox's death blazed in my mind. She was the one who betrayed us, sold us out. My sister was dead because of that cunt.
“I'll gut you,” I fumed, gaining my feet. I spun around, staring at the cave's entrance. Fox was the only family I had. She had watched out for me when we were kids. She taught me everything I knew about thievery. We had been partners. It was because of her that we escaped Baraconia before we were arrested.
And she was going to set us up for life, make us rich, get us out of the Spray's harem and away from the slums of Raratha. She gave me hope. Always so positive. Always so kind and loving. And Spray took her away from me all while professing that she loved her.
That she loved me.
Tears fell down my cheeks. I opened my mouth to scream when the ground shook and massive, snarling roar of anger echoed through the cave. I turned, my eyes widening.
Dominari towered over us, flames belching from her mouth and washing across the cave ceiling.
“Yeah,” I snarled. “Yeah, let's go kill Spray!”
I tried to shake off the vision from my thoughts. All these months thinking I had failed. That I had messed up the most basic spell a mage knows: how to preserve sexual fluids for later use. All lie. That cunt Saoria betrayed me.
But that wasn't important. I had to focus. I had to gather myself. I glanced at my companions. They were all shaken up. Thrak beat the cave floor, snarling in anger. He had raged, not caring about the blood falling from his torn knuckles. Angela stood stunned, Chaun stared in shock at his wife who recoiled from him, and Minx screamed at the cave entrance, clutching two knives.
And Lady Delilah...
Rage mottled her face. She stared at Angela with such anger. Her fingers clutched together, looking like sharp claws. She let out a bloodcurdling shout and then she changed. Her body swelled. Pale skin became hard scales, plated segments of dark reds. Her neck grew longer, stretching long and sinuous. Mighty wings sprouted from her shoulders. The ground shook as she fell forward onto all four of her legs, her sharp claws scratching at the dark stone of the cave floor. She lifted her head, snarling, flamings bursting from her gullet, splashing across the ceiling.
Drops of molten stone rained down around her, splashing on her hide and rolling off her scales as she poured out her anguish. The heat rippled from her. I swallowed, my stomach twisting. What had Slata shown Lady Delilah?
Her head lowered, yellow eyes fixed on Angela.
My stomach sank. We had to fight, and we were all distracted.
Tears fell down my cheeks as I stared at my husband in disbelief. I recoiled from his hand, clutching my totems in sweaty grips. I shook my head, my stomach twisting. I wanted to throw up. I couldn't get the images out of my head of him fucking my mother. Of putting on my father's flesh and cuckolding him.
He violated their marriage. He trampled all over their sacred bond.
Anger surged next. How could he do that to my parents? To my mother? He made her cum like a whore! He reveled in it. He plotted with Sophia to get me out of the way so he could satiate his terrible lusts.
“Aurora,” he said, his words low, hurt. “What did she—”
“You fucked her!” I screeched, launching myself at him. I raised my arms over my head. “You fucked my mother!”
He flinched. I saw it in his violet eyes. The truth. He had fucked my mother. The guilt burned across his obsidian face. His pointed ears twitched. The anger surged. I swung my arm down, cracking my totem into the side of his head. He grunted, his head snapping around. Skin torn. Blood poured down the side of his face.
“My mother, Chaun!” I screeched again. “How could you!”
The ground shook.
“How could you fuck my mother!” I raised my totem again.
Heat washed over me as Chaun flinched, raising his arms, such pain in his eyes. He looked away from me. He had nothing to say. No excuses to make. He fucked her. He violated her marriage. What if she conceived? What if she laid an egg and in fourteen years learned the truth—that a changeling had fucked her.
Had made her violate her sacred oaths.
I raised my totem to brain my husband again.
I clutched my belly, tears pouring down my face. For six months, I'd hoped and dreamed of coming home to my wife and meeting our daughter.
And she wasn't my child.
I fell forward, pressing my face into the cold stone of the cave, my entire body shaking. My wife cheated on me. She let my sister breed her. She let my sister fuck her pussy. No crime was greater for an elf. We could have all the fun we wanted, so long as no child could result from our couplings. I always thought she loved me. Why else had she married me? Why else had she parted her thighs and let me slid my cock into her pussy that night of drunken passion?
I could remember it so well. Coming back from my first successful hunt, the dangerous troll who had killed three elves was slain by my arrows. There was such a celebration. Elf-maids danced around me, all vying to marry the hunter who felled the troll single-handily. I was in heat that night, my cock throbbing so hard. I so wanted to make love to an elf properly. I was tired of jerking off, of using assholes and mouths. I wanted pussy.
And Atharilesia wanted me.
I had flirted with her in the past. I had wooed her, ached her, and that night she came to me... The world spun around us as we kissed and made love. How she had moaned when I slid into her pussy for the first time, marrying her, claiming her with my cum. I was so happy. She was always waiting for me at home when I headed out into danger.
And she regretted it. She hated me. She wanted me to die on this quest so she could marry my sister, the true mother of her child.
Heat washed over me. The ground shook. The dragon roared.
I stood stunned. My mind replayed over and over what I witnessed. Lady Delilah had arranged for my quest. She had suggested it to the man whose blood stained the High King's sword gripped in my hand. His corpse lay at my feet.
Lady Delilah never mentioned that. She said King Edward wanted to help me. Not kill me.
I felt like the floor had been kicked out from beneath me. Everything I thought I knew. Everything I thought I understood. It was wrong. I was manipulated from the start by Lady Delilah. She arranged everything, bringing me to this place so she could recreate her dead husband's empire. I just wanted to protect the world. I just wanted to be a knight. I would have had a normal Quest. I wouldn't be a fugitive. I wouldn't have been declared a knave.
“Why!” I demanded of Lady Delilah as she let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Her body changed, shifting, growing into the dragon form, her red hair vanishing, dark horns curling from her head. She swelled over me, towering. Heat radiated from her body. I didn't care. I wanted answers.
“Tell me! Why did you lie to me? Why did you manipulate me? Why couldn't you have been honest? Warned me? Sophia almost died because of King Edward. Fireeyes almost killed her. His spells and magics assaulted us because you conspired with King Edward. You knew he wanted me dead, and you gave him the means to watch over me. You sent us on a hopeless quest. Why? So the High Kingdom could be restored? Did you even care that I might die? That Sophia or my other friends my be killed?”
Fire breathed from the dragon.
“Why!” I screamed, pointing my sword at her.
It was all a lie. A thousand years devoted to my husband's dream. An impossible dream. I had kept myself in check. I had suppressed my desires for so long. I let the vermin scurry around when I could feast on them. When I could roast them alive, hear their blood boil, their flesh crackle. I could crunch on their bones and feast on their cooked entrails.
I denied myself for a millennia, holding back, only acting when it was necessary, living up to my sweet Peter's ideals for me. For what? So Rose's bastard descendant could usurp our husband's legacy? So this...false heir before me could pretend she was Peter's descendant.
How could Rose betray us? How could she cuckold my Lord and Husband with the Father of the Gods? I thought she loved us! All those times Peter and I had to leave to deal with problems in the empire, leaving her behind to mind the capitol, she was spreading her legs for a GOD!
Fire belched from my throat. A thousand years hoping for a lie. Working towards an impossibility. I should have died with Peter. I wished I had died with Peter.
Her voice penetrated my rage. That sniveling insect. That usurping bitch. I gave her a gift last night. I thought I could love again. That I would have another master to submit to, to keep me from being a monster.
But I was a monster. I always have been. I suffered for years for this bitch?
She pointed my Lord and Husband's sword at me. She dared brandished it as she demanded answers to her nuisance questions. She had no right to be here. She had no right to stand here and hold what was his!
I snarled my rage, my head snapping down at her head. I would FEAST! I would KILL! I would burn the WORLD!
Starting with HER!
“Gewin's cock,” I cursed, raising my shield, glowing pink with Sophia's enchantment, as Lady Delilah's head snapped down at me. Her horned head was huge, almost as big as a horse's body. Her jaw opened, fangs as long as my forearm dripping with saliva. A sulfurs reek washed over me.
And then her jaw crashed into the shield.
I grunted. Pink light flared, the enchantment keeping my shield whole. I stumbled back from the sheer mass of the dragon's attack, my feet moving. Gewin's blessing, received six months ago before I left Secare, kept me upright. My entire left arm ached from the force of her snapping lunge. My heart raced as the rage snarled from the dragon.
She wanted to kill me. Something had changed for her, too. Something shown to her by Slata.
“BETRAYED!” she roared before her jaws snapped down at me.
An itch tingled through my body. I had the briefest insight into the future, Sophia's divination spell in effect. I listened to it, swinging my sword at the right moment to drive back the dragon's attack. She flinched from the aura of white light about the blade. This blade was made to kill dragons. Or to tame them.
“Why?” I shouted as I slashed again, her heat twisting back.
My head tingled. I raised my shield, listening to the most profound form of intuition, one that reached so deep into me. Her claw raked down so fast, almost a blur of red. My normal reaction would never have been fast enough. The claws clashed against my enchanted shield. I braced my feet, leaning in and slid back across the stone floor, keeping my footing.
“Why did you lie?” I demanded. I would get my answers from her one way or the other.
Another claw hissed down. They were long and black. I raised my shield over my head, catching it, then lunged with my sword, trying to cut her foreleg, but she yanked it back before my blade could find her. She roared again, her jaw snapping down. She was so fast. I needed help.
Why wasn't I getting help?
The cavern shook as my wife raised her totem over her head to hit me again. My temple throbbed from her first blow. My stomach sank. I remembered sleeping with her mother. It was the day after her wedding dance, when our marriage was all so new to me. When I didn't understand avians and monogamy. I didn't give any thought to seducing her mother.
I just wanted to satiate my lust.
I wanted to let Aurora hit me, to punish me for the pain I caused her, but the dragon bellowed. Pink light flared as Angela blocked her first attack. The knight stood alone before the beast. Lady Delilah marauded, enraged. Whatever Slata had shown her had driven her to fury. She was trying to kill Angela. There was no pretense of Angela taming her.
The dragon was out for blood.
“Now's not the time, Aurora,” I said as she trembled, her arm raised up high, her face mottled red while tears poured down her face. “I'm sorry, I truly am. I shouldn't have done that. But the dragon—”
She let out a screech, swinging her totem at me.
I raised my arm holding my lyre, blocking the blow. I grunted, pain flaring up my forearm. She struck bone with the solid piece of wood. She drew back again, her sapphire eyes almost black with dilated pupils.
I struck a cord, a note of contriteness. “Please, Aurora, the dragon. This isn't the time. You can hate me later.” My fingers played faster, putting all my guilt and regret into the song. I stared at her, pleading with my eyes. “Angela's fighting. The dragon's trying to kill her. You have every right to despise me. But it has to wait. For Angela! Please.”
Aurora blinked her eyes and looked at Angela, fighting alone, stumbling, thrusting her sword. My wife lowered her totem. Her face grew tight. She nodded once and turned. She gripped her totems, her fingers dancing over the lines as she summoned her elementals.
My head throbbing, my stomach twisting with guilt, I stood and plucked notes on my lyre. Notes of alarm. Notes that would call my companions to action. They had to rise out of Slata's trap. She had shown us truths at this moment to weaken us, to have the dragon kill us and end any chance of Angela refounding her ancestor's empire.
I wouldn't let the goddess succeed.
Thrumming notes and Chaun's voice stirred me out of my grief. His music sounded the alarm. It reverberated almost like a trumpet in my thoughts. I sniffed, my ears wiggling, as I looked up and saw through bloodstained eyes.
She towered over us, a moving fortress. So immense, filling her cave. Her tail swung, battering through the piled wealth at the back as her claws and jaws tore at Angela. The knight looked so tiny before the dragon, holding up her shield to protect her, wreathed by Sophia's magic and love. But how long could it last without help?
I looked around at my friends, distracted by Slata's revelations. Minx snarled about killing Spray, Thrak bellowed incoherent orcish as he beat the stone before him, Faoril rushing to his side. Earth elementals burst from the ground, racing to Angela's aid.
“Minx!” I shouted at my lover. I knew she loved me. She didn't lie when she said those three words like my wife did.
No, no. Minx loved me. She wanted me to choose her over my wife. Over my daughter. And it hurt Minx so badly when I couldn't. That love couldn't be a lie.
I shook my head.
“Minx! The dragon.”
Minx whirled around, her eyes wild. “What?”
I raised my bow, drawing an arrow, the tip glowing pink, and fired. It hissed through the air and struck the dragon's hide. The arrow punched through the thick scales. The dragon roared in pain and Angela's sword swept, striking a glancing blow on a the beast's wrist.
“Minx, we need to fight!”
“We'll kill her later,” Minx hissed. “She killed my sister, Xera!”
“Later,” I agreed and drew another arrow.
She killed my sister.
It was so hard to let that go. Fox's face burned through my vision. The sight of her trembling at the gallows moments before the lever was pulled. Seeing her little feet twitch and kick as the rope strangled the life out of her—
Xera's arrow hissed through the air, trailing pink. The dragon roared again and her entire body moved. Her tail swung, scything through the air. It was long and sinuous, rows of spikes jutting down the top. It blurred red.
My heart leaped in my throat. I opened my mouth to shout a warning to Xera.
But the elf was already moving like she anticipated the tail swipe. She duked it. Her green hair whipped around her from the speed of the tail's attack. Then she rose, already drawing her next arrow, staring at the dragon with fierce anger.
She was an elvish hunter. They killed monster's.
And today, so did I.
I rushed forward, throwing the dagger in my left hand. It tumbled through the air and crashed into the dragon's rear thigh, burying deep. Scarlet blood welled as the dragon roared, her claws slashing hard at Angela. I had to do something about those claws.
I shoved my hand in my pouch and pulled out a sticky bomb, an idea bursting to life in my head..
“Thrak,” I shouted as he beat at the ground, wholly lost to his rage. Chaun's music stirred around me, focusing my thoughts, driving them away from Saoria and her betrayal. That would have to wait to be answered. Later. Not now. “Thrak!”
He ignored me. The ground shook. The dragon bellowed. Angela fought behind me. Thrak needed to help her. The knight was good, but Dominari was immense. Even with our magic, this fight would be a challenge.
It might be hopeless without Thrak.
“Thrak, you have to fight.”
He just shrieked in Orcish. I heard his brother's name muttered with such anger and his first wife's name with such anguish. What had Slata shown him? How his wife had died? My heart wanted to break. I waned to hug my husband, to hold him tight.
But now wasn't the time for that.
“Thrak!” I shouted again. My heart raced as I moved to his face. He was so lost to the rage he might hurt me. Even with the control I had given him. But I couldn't be afraid. I had to get him in this fight.
I darted in as he raised his hands up to beat the ground. One blow could kill me. He was so strong. I cupped his swarthy face with my hands, staring into his dark-red eyes. “It's me, Thrak.”
His hands froze.
“I know you're mad. I know you're angry. But he's not here.”
“Bruk!” He said the name like a curse. His brother must have killed his wife. Raped her and killed her.
“He's not here. But the dragon is. If you want to take out your rage, then do it on our enemy.” I pointed at the dragon. “Dominari is trying to kill us. She's gone mad, too. We have to stop her. Angela needs us. You promised to help her.”
He let out a snorting growl.
“So if you want to be mad. If you want to rage, then take it out on the damned dragon. Vent all your anger on her. Rip her to pieces, Thrak.”
He let out a bellow. His hand shot out, picking up his discarded ax. The double-headed, crescent-bladed greataxe glowed pink. With it, he would hew through Dominari's scales. He would help Angela vanquish the dragon.
“Go!” I shouted, rising and reaching into the magic inside of me as my husband charged forward.
I poured all my rage, all my pain, all my fury at the dragon. I stared at the hulking monster, the ground shaking as she moved, her claws slashing at Angela and a pair of earth elementals. Rocks flew as she ripped the stone figures to pieces, her tail swaying.
I would kill her. Then I would kill Bruk. There was nowhere my brother could hide from me. I could already feel his blood on my hand, hear his screams of pain. He would suffer like my wife suffered.
My ax slammed down, biting deep into the dragon's flank. I let out a bellow of triumph as my scalp itched. I ignored it, savoring the dragon's blood squirting from her wound, splashing hot across my face. Her roar of anguish was sweet to my—
Her tail crashed into my side.
Ribs cracked. The world spun around me. I crashed hard on the stone ground, rolling, clutching my ax. Faoril shouted my name in horror. Pain throbbed through my side. I didn't need to feel it. I didn't need to experience the agony of broken ribs and bruised organs.
I spat blood as I rose, the rage swallowing the agony.
I charged at the dragon.
I groaned, my wound healing. I drank a third potion, the pain finally fading, letting me focus on the battle. Angela fought Dominari, her sword left streaks of glowing white, tails of falling stars slashing at the dragon. My Queen ducked and blocked claw swipes and snapping jaws. Aurora's earth elementals fought at her side, blocking attacks. They would crumble to dust, smashed by the dragon as they shielded my Queen.
And then they would rise again.
I had to get into the fight. I had to be helpful. I had a dagger. I could do something. I drew it as I groaned, my side almost healed. My robe hung heavy with my blood. It clung to my thighs as I rose. I must have spilled every drop of blood in my body.
I should be dead.
Saphique saved me. And that bitch Vivian betrayed our...
I took a deep breath as the wound closed. The pain gone. It was time to fight with my Queen.
“You used me!” I shouted as I lunged in, stabbing at Lady Delilah's scaled muzzle as she snapped her jaw down. She flinched back and swiped with a claw.
An earth elemental surged forward, throwing its bulky body between me and the attack. It shattered into a dozen pieces, falling to the ground. The rocks beside it groaned, and another rose up in its place.
“Do you think my life is something you get to play with?” I demanded, so angry. “I didn't want to be queen of the world. I just wanted to be a knight. To protect it. And you sent me on this quest!”
“Ungrateful bitch!” the dragon hissed. “You're not even his heir. You're not even his descendant. She cuckolded him! That sow! She cuckolded him with Pater. And spawned YOU! You do not deserve to use his sword.”
“What?” I gaped, my anger momentarily fading. I wasn't the High King's heir. “What are you—”
Her jaw snapped down at me. My scalp tingled. I cursed, leaping back. Her muzzle crashed into the rocks. Her teeth crunched through stone. I regained my footing as her head rose and lunged at me, her neck uncoiling like a spring.
“Gewin's cock,” I cursed, bringing up my shield.
The impact threw me back in an explosion of pink light. I landed on my back with a grunt as her head drew back, her neck coiling for another strike. Burning, yellow eyes, the pupils slitted like a serpents, glared down at me.
“None of his blood survived.”
“Is that what she showed you?” I demanded.
“TRUTH! Rose betrayed us! All lies!”
An arrow hissed through the air. Lady Delilah's wing swept before her face, catching the arrow in the membrane stretched between long, finger-like bones. Then her head lunged down at me again. My heart thudding, I rolled to the side. Her jaw crashed into the ground, missing. But a claw swiped down at me.
Aimed right where I rolled.
I ducked the tail swipe, Thrak flying past me. He hadn't even tried to dodge it. He hit hard with a grunt, but the orc was tough. He was rolling onto his feet as I drew my arrow. Dominari coiled her head to strike at Angela lying on the ground.
My arrow hissed.
The wing blocked it.
A claw slashed down at Angela.
My stomach twisted. The knight had just come out of a roll right into the scything attack. The dragon had baited her to move to the right, to be in the exact position to be crushed by her slashing claw. My hand reached for an arrow.
Not fast enough.
Minx hurtled something from her hand. A clay sphere streaked dull gray through the air, one of her alchemical grenades. My heart beat faster as it crashed into the claw slamming down at Angela.
Brown foam exploded around the claw. A sticky bomb. The sudden weight and blossoming of the foam threw off the dragon's swing just enough for Angela to roll clear. The claw hit the ground, the foam spurting around the dragon's fingers, gluing them to cracks and crevasses of the cave floor.
“Yes,” I hissed and fired an arrow at the dragon's eyes.
The dragon's head ducked an arrow while she tried to rip her claw from the ground, stuck in place by Minx. All I cared was the distraction. The dragon wasn't focused on me. I snarled, leaping as I reached her body, landing on her side. I swung my ax, burying it into her flesh, using it to climb up her flank.
I would cut off her damn head.
The dragon's body heaved beneath me as I gained her ridged spine. I swung my ax again, burying it into her flesh, making my own handhold. Her blood burned hot as it spurted from her wounds, splashing across my chest. I grabbed her spiked ridged with my other hand, wrenching my ax out.
And buried it higher up her back, pulling me along her spine.
I would cut off her head. I would watch her stump spurt blood and bathe in the heat. I bellowed my challenge as—
Her tail crashed into my back. I pitched forward over her body, tumbling down the other side, the ax wrenched from my grip. I hit the ground hard beside her rear leg. I rolled out of the way as she stepped, trying to crush me as she wrenched at her claw stuck to the ground.
Music beat through my skull, demanding I fight, pounding in time with my rage.
I spat more blood. My battered body rose. I didn't care. I would kill this bitch. I leaped, grabbing the bony spur thrusting out of the back of her ankle, hauling myself upward.
My fingers danced on my life's strings, strumming chords, sending out inspiration to my companions and keeping them fighting. It was all I could do. I couldn't fight. I couldn't wield impressive magics that protected us or attacked the dragon. But I could keep our spirits up, keep us believing we could win against the monster. The beast's sheer argued for retreat, demoralizing us.
She bled from a dozen arrow wounds, her body pincushioned, the pricks of mosquitoes. More blood sheeted from her leg and back. Thrak threw himself on her again, grabbing her spines as he howled his rage. Angela regained her feet, trying to dash in and attack Dominari's claws stuck to the ground while the dragon snarled her fury, trying to wrench it free.
Angela darted around slashing death, racing in to weaken the dragon. Aurora's elementals blocked the dragon's slashing claws. Her talons crushed the stones. My wife gasped, smoke rising from her totem as the dragon disrupted another of her elementals.
With a roar, the dragon wenched her claw free, tearing up the rocks, leaving bits of sticky foam behind. She ignored Minx, the halfling slashing with her enchanted dagger, and swung her claw, a ball of sticky foam at the end, at Angela.
The knight stopped her charge, bracing herself and raising her shield. The claw slammed into her shield, the foam squeezing around it. Then the dragon roared in triumph and jerked back her claw, ripping the shield from Angela's grip.
The knight stumbled forward, thrown off-balanced. The dragon brought her claw and shield to her mouth and breathed fire. The flames rippled the air. I felt the heat on the other side of the cave. Flames spilled over Minx. Water splashed around her, warding her from the attack, Aurora's preparations working as the halfling jumped out of the gout unharmed.
And then Dominari slammed the brown, smoldering gunk on the ground. The foam shattered, freeing her claws. The heat baked it into brittle clay. It sprayed into a thousand pieces, debris knifing across the room.
A tingle ran across my scalp as Angela fought to regain her balance. She misstepped, planting her right foot into a cratered holes left behind by Aurora summoning her elemental. Rocks crumbled beneath the knight's boots while Dominari's claw drew back for another slicing attack. I saw the future, Sophia's spell warning me.
And an idea popped into my head. Something I could do.
I stared at Dominari. She had a white aura about her. She was married to a human male. Normally, I couldn't assume the form of a hermaphrodite's spouse or lover. They loved women or fellow their hermaphrodites, forms I couldn't assume. But not Dominari. I could become her husband and love.
My body shifted as I became the High King Peter.
Just like that night in Lesh-Ke when Lady Delilah had walked into the Maiden's Cherry common room where I performed, eking out a pathetic life playing in lowborn taverns, I became her husband. A larger physique stretched my clothing as the transformation finished. My limbs felt strong. A dominating impulse wreathed my thoughts.
Words that came from my innate changeling abilities, words her husband would have spoken, burst from my lips: “Stop, my queen. You are not a monster. You are not a killer.”
The dragon flinched, her head snapping around to look at me, her claw stopping in mid-swipe. Her yellow eyes grew wide. They softened for a moment as I stood before her. I kept my back straight, knowing not to flinch, not to be weak.
“Peter,” she said, her words oddly feminine as they rumbled from her throat.
And then her eyes flashed. She roared in fury. Fire gouted from her mouth. The scarlet flames soared at me, engulfing me in heat. I flinched, screaming out in fright as cool liquid sloshed around me, the water elemental protecting me from the heat. The stones cracked beneath my feet. I jumped away as they became molten, rolling on the ground, clutching my lyre protectively to my chest.
It didn't burn, the elemental protecting what I held and wore.
“LIAR!” snarled the dragon.
My scalp tingled. Death swept down at me.
“No!” I shouted despite the anger boiling in me. The dragon's tail swept down at my husband lying beside the molten rocks.
I was so mad at him. I was so angry. I wasn't even sure if I loved him right now. What he did... It was monstrous. But I couldn't let him die. My fingers danced on the second totem in my grip, the one I had ignored.
Wind swirled. The elemental pulled the air into whirling form then howled downwards towards my husband. My stomach twisted as the tail streaked down, a red blur that would crush my husband into pulp.
The elemental seized him.
The tail crashed into the ground.
Relief swept through me. My husband lived. He flashed me a look of thanks, wearing the regal face of King Peter.
I glared at him and turned back to the fight. Thrak crawled up the dragon's neck, pulling along her spikes. The hulking orc bellowed in triumph as he seized Dominari's black horn curling over her left eye.
What was he doing?
What was he doing?
I shook my head as my life magic sank into the dragon's body. Energy poured out of me as I fought against her muscles. She was like the Minotaur. She was almost a demigod, the last dragon left alive. An entire race birthed by a goddess reduced to a single being. And she was ancient. She resisted me as I tried to impede her muscles' movement. I slowed her, not much, but enough for my loved ones to dodge her attacks.
It was something.
I focused on her neck as Thrak climbed towards her head, fighting to keep her from snapping her head around too violently, from throwing my orc off. His body was so battered. He spat a constant stream of blood. His swarthy sides darkened by blossoming bruises. He needed healing.
But the rage gripped him.
I downed a second vial of Xera's cum. I had one more left. She was an elf, attuned to the element of life the same way Dominari was tuned to fire. Life magic worked better when I powered it with elf-cum. I sent my magic surging harder into Dominari, giving Angela a chance to regroup after her near fatal fall, letting Thrak do...whatever he was doing.
My husband seized the dragon's thick, black horn. His muscles bulged as he heaved on it. He twisted hard. Dominari thrashed her head, snarling in rage, turning her attention away from Chaun. I grit my teeth, warring with her as she fought to sweep her had back and forth in violent snaps, to throw Thrak off of her.
The horn snapped with a mighty crack.
My orc bellowed in bellicose triumph, twisting the horn in his grip, and driving it down into Dominari's left eye. Blood squirted from the socket along with oozing, black ichor. The dragon howled in pain as he twisted the horn, working it deeper, trying to stab it into her brain and kill her.
I didn't see her claw reaching up to bat Thrak from her head.
I gasped in shock as the blow struck Thrak. Three thick, long nails pierced my orc's body, thrust through his back and burst out his chest. His hands let go of the horn as she swept him from her head and threw him hard across the room. Blood trailed behind him as he tumbled, a bleeding star crashing to earth.
“No!” I screamed, abandoning my life magic on the dragon, letting her move normally, and sent wind sweeping out at Thrak as he hurtled towards the cave wall and a bone crunching impact. My stomach tensed.
My wind caught him.
Blood poured from his body. Three massive holes tore through his torso, destroying his lungs and other organs. He twitched as I held him in gentle air, blood bubbling from his mouth as he struggled to breathe. A waterfall of crimson fell from him, splashing on the stones below.
“No, no, no,” I yanked him towards me as my hand shot into my pouch and pulled out one of Sophia's healing potions.
Blood hissed from the dragon's wounded eye. She roared in pain, slamming her claws down hard on the ground. The earth shook beneath me. I stumbled, struggling to stay upright. I jammed the tip of the High King's sword into the stone. The magic let it bite into rock, providing me with a handle and—
My scalp tingled.
I tried to move, but the dragon swung her claw so fast. Something had been slowing her down, I realized, allowing me to have a chance. And it was gone. I let go of the sword, thrusting my arms out before me to brace myself against her impact.
She hit me.
I grunted as the claw slammed me onto my back, the weight pinning me. My arms pushed on the scaled palm of the dragon's paw. Her claws tore into the rocks around me as she bore her weight down upon me. I grunted, gritting my teeth.
Power surged through my body. My eyes widened. I recognized the source. For six months, Gewin's Blessing had given me more strength, more endurance, for my Quest. So I could defeat the dragon. And now that I was here, fighting the dragon, the Blessing kicked in fully. What I felt before had only been a taste of the God of War's power, something to sustain me to reach the end of my quest.
I felt the God strengthen my limbs.
It wasn't enough to push the hand off of me, but it kept her from crushing me. I groaned, straining, fighting, the muscles in my arms protesting as she put more of her weight on me, her head glaring down at me, blood raining hot on my face.
“FALSE!” she snarled.
My arms buckled. They trembled, weakened. I couldn't keep this up.
It was time to act.
I darted from the side where I had waited for my moment to strike. And seeing my Queen pinned beneath the claw, knew that now was the time. My dagger glowed so bright pink, the spells wreathing it would save my queen's life.
My sodden robes dragged at my legs as I scurried across the broken ground, single-minded focus wreathing me. My vision narrowed to a dark tunnel focused on my Queen.
A shadow fell over me.
“Matar's cock,” I swore, spotting the blood-sodden acolyte darting towards Angela while the dragon's tail swiped down to crush the girl.
I acted without thought. I fired my next arrow beneath the dragon's bulk. It shot across the ground, my ears twitching. Time moved so slow. The dragon's tail swung down, timed to Sophia's running. My arrow hissed beneath the dragon, moving so fast.
Would it be fast enough?
The arrow pierced through the bottom hem of Sophia's robe and impaled into the stone at her feet. The robe, pinned to the ground behind the acolyte, yanked her short. She squeaked in shock, jerked back by her clothing.
The tail slammed down before her, the cave shaking.
“Thanks,” Chaun said as my air elemental set him down beside me.
I tripled disdain and sent my earth elementals to attack the claw pinning Angela. Somehow, the knight held back the claws, struggling to avoid being crushed. I didn't know how she did it. But I was grateful. We still had a chance.
The dragon's tail boomed as it hit the ground.
And then Chaun strummed a taunting note. “What are you doing, my queen. I said you aren't a monster, so why in the donkey balls are you still acting like one.”
“Donkey balls?” I blinked in shock. What kind of curse was that?
The dragon's head snapped around.
“You heard me, Dominariath,” Chaun continued. “That is my descendant you are trying to kill what are—”
“Rose betrayed you!” the dragon snarled. Then she shook her head. “And you are a lie! Like HER!”
Fire exploded from her breath. I steeled myself from screaming in terror as the intense heat washed over Chaun and me. But my water elementals warded us, protected us, driving away the heat. I jumped out of the flames, sparing the elemental discomfort. The inferno followed Chaun as he ran in the other direction.
“Lies! All LIES!”
The dragon slammed her tail down again, the ground shaking. Her wings spread wide, several arrows buried in the membranes, and flapped hard. A great wind gusted past me as the dragon bellowed again, blood streaming down her face.
She flapped her wings harder. A gale exploded from her.
I threw a dagger, catching the dragon in the neck. She didn't feel it. My daggers were too short to matter much. Her fire chased Chaun, ignoring me. It was smart to look like her husband, but Angela was still pinned.
Maybe I should do something about that.
A wind gusted as her wings flapped, ruffling my hair. The dragon thrashed again, bellowed, and then her wings flapped even harder. I gasped as the wind slammed into me, throwing me off my feet. Grit and dust stung my face, whipped from her as she pumped her wings, generating a gale.
I tumbled across the cave floor.
Xera dove down, thrusting her arm at me, her hair whipping about my head. Our fingers touched for a moment. And then the next blast of wind churned from the dragon's wings.
“Cernere's black cunt!” I howled as the winds caught my tiny body and flung me through the air and away from Xera. The gale blew so hard, hurtling me towards the cave mouth. The world spun around me as I burst out of the cave into daylight and...
The ground fell away. The bottom of the pass was so far below me. The wind lessened. I began to drop.
I was dead. I had no way to stop myself from falling.
I screamed as the wind struck my light body. Chaun turned, reaching for me, the wind tearing at his clothing. And then I was tumbling out of control. I spun through the air. I spotted Minx behind me, thrown out of the cave.
Just like I was.
“Thrak,” I shouted, the wind howling past me. I ripped out the second healing potion. The first had hardly stopped the bleeding. He was so hurt. “Just hold on and—”
The wind slammed into me. The potion ripped from my hand, crashing against the stone wall, spilling Thrak's hope in milky rivulets across the dark stone. I screamed, thrown across Thrak's wounded body. I reached out instinct. Earth magic surged into the ground. Barriers exploded up between me and the hurricane, my eyes burning from grit.
“Aurora!” I screamed as my wife's frail body hurtled out of the cave.
The wind slammed into me, throwing me to the ground. I was heavier, especially in Peter's muscular form, but it still tumbled me across the ground. I crashed into a small shelf, my leg snapping. I screamed in pain. My lyre wrenched from my hands and hurtled into a stalagmite. The gold-inlaid wood splintered, the strings snapping.
I howled in agony, pinned against the small shelf of rock by the wind, my wife gone, my lyre broken.
The wind crashed into me, lifted me from my feet. I tried to scream, the grit and sand burning across my face and hands.
And then pain flared.
I struck the cave wall. Ribs snapped like dry reeds. My head cracked back into the stone and...
I crashed to the ground.
I flapped my wings a final time, the insects scattered, screaming in pain, lying slumped. Then I turned my attention to her. Angela struggled beneath my claws, somehow resisting my weight. She was strong. The God Pater's blood burned in her bastard veins.
Such pain scourged my heart. How could Rose betray us? Our husband?
I opened my jaws and snapped them down at Angela's head.