The mage from Sanfar arrived on a Sunday morning.
I have another story to share, and this one features a dragon! Compared to my two previous stories, this one probably has more in common with Oriana and the Magic Lines, than The Brightest Shade of Gray, as it takes place in the same universe and has an emphasis on magic. It features a new cast of characters though. Also, The Dragon Slayer’s Assistant is the most action focuses of the stories I’ve posted here. It’s about 5200 words (making it the longest story I’ve posted as well) and can be found below the cut. I hope you enjoy it.
The Dragon Slayer’s Assistant
By Nancy O’Toole
The mage from Sanfar arrived on a Sunday morning. His broad shoulders, impressive height, and straight spine were features of a healthy, even imposing man, but his face told another story. His eyes were lined with heavy shadows that indicated many nights of little sleep. His features was gaunt, his skin discolored. Kit supposed he was much younger than the forty or so odd years he appeared to be. As he entered Margie’s small cottage, he tripped over the raised doorway and cursed under his breath. Kit could not help but smile a little. She had been Margie’s assistant for almost seven years and the sight of a visitor tripping over the threshold was something she had grown used to.
She felt the amusement slip away as the mage took off his tattered leather gloves. His finger tips and palms were covered in inky black splotches.
“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.” The mage lowered himself onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table. “My name is Elias Comfrey. I believe I need your help.”
From the other side of the room, Margie raised an eyebrow. Without saying anything, she rested her cane against the wall and took a seat across the table. She winced as she moved herself into a more comfortable position.
“So…” Margie said. “What do the villagers of Astora need help with? If it’s about the cost of my wares you can throw the blame on the master merchant over there. She’s the one who sets the prices.”
Margie gestured towards Kit at the word “merchant.”
“Don’t be silly. My father and siblings are the accomplished merchants. I’m just a book keeper,” Kit could not help but comment.
Elias started at the young woman’s voice, as if he hadn’t realized that she was in the room. Kit found this strange. With her curly orange hair, pale skin, and slightly… curvy figure, she wasn’t one for fading into the background easily, especially in her current state, sitting on a bench, polishing a sword longer than the mage’s thigh.
“This is my assistant, Kit.”
Kit stood to shake the mage’s hand, but he had already turned back to the older woman.
“I did not come to discuss prices. It’s about your other abilities,” he said.
Margie’s expression darkened. She spoke to him in a slow, steady voice.
“I have no idea what it is you speak of, Elias Comfrey. I am just an herbalist, and Kit is my assistant. Nothing more.”
“An assistant who spends her time with swords instead of shovels?” Elias cast Kit a sideways glance. “Why don’t I start by explaining why the village has called for my help.”
He placed his hands on the table, spreading out his fingers.
“I am a mage and my specialty is the shaping of the earth. This puts me in a perfect position to help the people of Astora. As you know, they are located next to the cliffs of Mount Robina, who’s regular avalanches have come dangerously close to their borders. Two have been injured as a result, one near fatally. My task is to stop this from happening again.”
“To strengthen the cliff walls with magic?” Margie asked.
The mage waved her off with his hand.
“Not in the way that you’re thinking. If I were to merely cast strengthening spells on them, they would start to deteriorate over time. No, I have discovered a way to keep the magic from decomposing completely.”
“So you’ve amplified the spell?”
“Did I say that?” The mage hands curled into fists.
“What my mistress means is that mountains are worn down by nature,” Kit said in a calm voice, glancing at Margie before continuing. “By the wind, running water, the roots of trees, and other unpredictable forces. Even if you were to create a spell that powerful, you can’t control the weather.”
“I understand that,” the mage said. “And if I hadn’t seen it work myself, I would be skeptical as well. But I’ve discovered the secret to this spell’s success.”
The mage leaned forward, a confident grin spreading on his face.
“What do you know about mixing black and golden magic.”
Margie looked across the table at Elias with a stern gaze. It was not a look that Kit liked to have directed towards her and she wondered how Elias could stand it.
“I know that I an not a fool, mage,” Margie said. “Anyone with an ounce of magical knowledge knows that these two types of cannot be combined. Their natures work counter to one another.”
Her gaze drifted down towards Elias’s stained hands. The mage, upon noticing, dropped them beneath the table.
“You, with all due respect, do not understand these things as well as I. I have dedicated my life towards the mixing of these two elements.”
“And why?” Margie stood. “So you can somehow cancel out the weaknesses of each type of magic? The strengthening properties of golden magic with the longevity of black? Great power can not be manipulated like that.”
“I…” Elias stood up. His face was flushed. The black on his hands began to spread over his skin. The thin lines wrapped themselves around his fists, forming into complex symbols that Kit did not recognize.
Not that she needed to. While the two were talking, she had made her move. Before Elias could say another word, she had the point of her very shiny sword pressed against his back.
“Control your spells,” she said, shocked at how calm and steady her voice was.
“What do you…” Elias’s breath caught in his throat upon seeing his hands. Blushing, he closed his eyes. The moment of concentration was enough to shrink the magic back to its original form. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Kit withdrew her sword, but remained attentive.
“Anyway… what you think of my magic is unimportant. I need to be undisturbed for this to work, so I need you to get that dragon to leave the mountain for a couple days.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Margie said. “There have been no sightings of dragons in Tahear for twenty five years. There’s no way that I-”
Elias pounded his fist on the table. Kit’s hands tightened on the sword.
“Fine! Continue to pretend. I just wanted some help!”
With that, the mage left the room, slamming the door behind him. For a few seconds, neither woman spoke.
“I don’t know why you continue to pretend that you’re not who you really are,” Kit said with a smile. “Everyone from around here remembers how you killed off the last feral dragons. It’s not exactly a secret.”
Margie shot Kit an annoyed glance.
“Kit I would like to thank you for your assistance with the mage,” the older woman said.
“Oh yes, I’ve really improved my threatening glare. Good thing he didn’t try to call me on it.”
“Kit, I wish you wouldn’t belittle your own abilities. I’m not that incompetent of a teacher.”
Kit snapped her mouth shut. Obviously, her mentor was not in a joking mood. Margie’s lips were pressed into a straight line. She gazed out the window at the mountain.
“I need you to speak to Robin,” she said after a few seconds pause. “He will need to be warned of this.”
Margie often said she had taken in Kit because she had gotten too old to climb the mountain every day. She was stronger than most women in their sixties, but as someone who had hunted feral dragons from the age of fifteen through thirty-five, Margie had broken more bones then she could count, and frequent healing spells left behind painful side effects. This made physical exertion very difficult. Kit, after a sedentary life as a merchant’s daughter, hadn’t been able to climb Mt. Robina any better at fifteen than Margie at fifty-five, but after years of getting up at dawn to train with a sword, she found herself to be in better shape. Also, she was a lot happier than when she had spent her days balancing account books in a small, dusty room.
Well… most of the time. For some reason, Kit found her life to be a little unsatisfying as of late. After receiving a letter announcing that her younger sister, Sadie, had become engaged, Kit realized that every one of her siblings were either happily married or gainfully employed. And Kit… she was lonely. Margie was kind, but Kit had no other friends.
“Well… at least I still have you, dragon,” Kit said aloud.
Kit walked up to Robin’s cave, slowing her pace as she approached the entrance. It was never a good idea to sneak up on a dragon, even one you happened to be well acquainted with. She was met with an annoyed sniff. The puff of air was enough to push the loose strands of her hair away from her face.
She looked up to see a dragon with eyes the colors of robin’s eggs, and glossy blue-gray scales. The fifty-year-old beast was young by dragon standards, but even with his wings tucked in, he still dwarfed Margie’s four room house. Like most dragons his age, he had yet to go completely feral.
During their youth, all dragons possessed both a human and a dragon form. Once they reached the age of twenty-five, they had to pick one permanently. Those who chose the dragon form received strength, power, longevity, and either flight or fire. Those who chose the human form kept their humanity, language, and restraint. Younger dragons, like Robin, retrained traces of their humanity, but this would not last forever. Kit knew that Margie kept a special sword for the day when Robin forgot that the people of Astora were not appropriate snacks.
“Robin, things have gotten a little tricky. A mage is coming to your mountain.”
Since Robin only understood a little of human speech, Kit had to accent her words with hand movements, such as pretending to trace out magical characters in the air for the word “mage.” Robin expressed his understanding with a sniff of disgust. He was not a fan of mages.
“He wishes to do magic to your mountain. Margie thinks he may end up hurting the villagers in the process.”
A deep growl echoed off of the walls. Robin, like most dragons, was very territorial.
“We’d like you to stop him from performing the magic. We don’t want you to hurt him, just try to get in the way before he casts the spell. Hopefully, he’ll get frustrated and leave.”
Robin lowered his head in consent, or at least what Kit thought was consent. With a short bow, Kit slowly stepped backwards and out of the cave.
There was no way of knowing for sure if Robin would remember Kit’s request, so the next day, the two women took the road to Astora with hopes of warning Gwen, the village headmistress, off of accepting the mage’s help. Kit paused when she saw Margie strap a black box onto her back. It was long, rectangular, and obviously heavy. When Kit offered to help, the older woman shot her a look that clearly stated that she was not quite elderly and infirm yet, despite the presence of the cane.
They arrived at the headmistress’s small wooden house, and Margie knocked on the door. There was no response. She tried again.
“You lookin’ for Headlady Gwen?”
They turned around to see a young boy standing behind them. His dark skin indicated that he was of Basheurian decent, and he was missing a few teeth, which gave him a slight lisp. Kit recognized him as one of Gwen’s nephews.
“Yes,” Margie said. “Do you now where she is?”
“She’s wit the mage.” The boy said.
“The mage!” Margie’s eyes widened a little. “And where is the mage?”
In answer to her question, a thunderous crash echoed around the village. The earth quaked beneath their feet. An explosion? The three figures turned to stare at the source, the side of the mountain.
Only to find a large portion missing from the cliffs.
Nervous chatter rose from passersby. Kit heard the creek of wooden shutters opening, and then smacking against the sides of houses.
“What’s going on?” A man asked, sticking his head out of a nearby window.
Kit looked up the mountain. Normally from this distance, it would be difficult to recognize anyone on the cliffs, but Elias stood out. Golden and black magic encircled him in thick bands. Kit watched in horror as one of these bands spiked outwards. It slammed into the cliff side, triggering another massive explosion.
Rocks burst from the mountainside. The large ones only made it to the forest that separated the village from the cliffs. Smaller rocks, some the size of grapefruits, made it further, landing in Astora itself. Holes were punched in thin thatched roofs of the houses. Kit heard the screaming of women, and the cry of frightened horses.
“That magic will consume him if he doesn’t quell it.” Margie looked pale.
“I don’t think he can,” Kit replied.
Another tendril of black escaped from Elias’s control. The boy hugged Kit’s legs as tiny rock fragments rained around them.
The air was filled with a deafening roar. Kit looked up to see a dragon pass over the village, casting a long shadow over the houses. The villagers screamed at the sight.
Kit wanted to as well. Robin was defending the mountain as they had asked him to, but there was no way that even he could stand up against that much power.
Robin circled around the mage, almost close enough to touch. As Margie had suspected, they immediately began to see disruption in the spell, the black and gold bands stretching towards the dragon. Robin snatched at Elias with a screech, clearly forgetting Kit’s request not to kill the mage, only to have another explosion wrack the side of the mountain. Robin reared back, and Kit watched in horror as the black and golden spells stretched back with him. The dragon howled as the magic clung to him, causing him to lose control of his wings. He tumbled out of sight, crashing back over the mountain with a force that shook the earth.
Kit could no longer see the mage.
The village grew so quiet that Kit could hear the sounds of the young boy quietly weeping beside her. She turned to Margie, panic alive on her face.
“Oh gods… Robin!”
Kit ran ahead of Margie, climbing at a pace that left her short of breath and glistening with sweat. Halfway up the mountain, she found the spot where Robin had finally landed. Massive pines had been snapped to pieces and flattened against the earth, carving out a long trail where the dragon’s body had tumbled downwards. Branches and leaves were scattered everywhere. The only thing that was missing was Robin himself. After everything, could he have just flown away?
Something silvery blond caught her eye. It was hair! Someone was buried in this rubble! Wary of lay underneath, Kit took a deep breath and walked carefully to the body. She pushed the branches aside to find a young man in his mid twenties lying on the ground unconscious, maybe even dead. There were no visible injuries, not even bruises or cuts. Kit knelt down and felt for a pulse.
The arm she reached for sprang out and smacked her across the chest. Kit felt her feet leave the ground as she went flying though the air, stopping only when she hit a tree several feet away. Her body was alight with pain as she slid to the ground. With a groan, she lifted her head to find a young man standing above her, his face twisted in a snarl. His breath was labored as if under great stress. He reached down and picked her up by the collar of her shirt, forcing her face close to his.
His eyes were the color of robin’s eggs.
For a second, Kit wondered if he was going to throw her again, and how far her body would fly before she reached something solid. Then, the young man’s face began to soften. Kit caught a scrap of what looked like fear in his eyes before he rested her back on the ground and let go. He turned his head to the side.
“Kit,” he said, his voice slightly hoarse. He stepped away, showing his back to her. Kit watched him stare at his hands as they clenched into fists then relaxed, then clenched and relaxed again.
“Robin?” Kit finally asked.
“Apparently,” he replied, releasing a held breath.
“How did this happen? It must have been the magic… but that’s impossible. I don’t understand-”
“Of course it’s not possible, you ninny.” Robin’s voice was suddenly angry and loud. “Why do you even bother asking?”
Kit snapped her mouth shut in shock. Robin froze, as if realizing something, then turned around and began to walk down the mountain.
“Let’s find Margie,” Kit offered. “She should be able to lead us to the mage and help put things right.”
Robin did not answer. As they walked down the mountain, his face was stern and cold, but occasionally a flash of anger or uncertainty would appear. He almost reminded Kit of Thomas, the town drunk, the way he could jump from one extreme emotion to another with little warning.
Eventually, Margie came into view, her body bent over her cane for support. On her back was the big black case. At the sight of Robin, her eyes widened.
“Robin,” she said, voice whisper soft.
“Margie,” he replied.
“You haven’t aged, even as a dragon. Your human form remained untouched.”
“Yeah well… I was supposed to stay that way. Where’s that damn mage?”
”They brought him to the village, but Robin… he’s not going to be able to help you.”
“He’s going to have to.” He pushed past Margie. She spun around and called after him.
“The magic has begun to consume him! You stopped it somehow, drawing it into yourself, but his injuries are too much.
He’s dying, Robin! He wouldn’t be able to help you if he wanted to!”
Robin ignored her and continued to walk.
“He’s going to demand that Elias fix things and when he doesn’t… have you ever seen a dragon on a rampage, Kit?”
Margie placed the long black case on the ground and began to open the latches.
“I believe I saw something like that a few minutes ago,” Kit said, rubbing her sore back.
“Then you have an idea. There are only two things that can stop an enraged dragon, and I know that you can perform at least one.”
Margie opened the black case. Inside was a sword, which shined like a mirror. The gleaming golden pommel featured a snarling dragon. It was a beautiful piece of art that seemed to reflect the sunlight back ten fold.
The thought of picking it up made Kit’s blood run cold.
“But Margie that’s…”
“Mine,” Margie said, gazing at her reflection in the blade. “My arm is not as strong as it used to be, not since Robin shattered that wrist twenty five years ago. If anything happens, I need you to be able to defend yourself. This sword has taken down more dragons than I can modestly tell of.”
“But I can’t hurt him!”
“And hopefully you won’t have to, but just in case…”
Margie handed the sword to Kit. For a second, the younger woman hesitated. She took a deep breath, and accepted the sword.
“You be careful, Kit.”
The village looked as if it was about to collapse. Debris from the explosions littered the streets. What concerned Kit more were how many front doors had been torn from their hinges.
Robin had already begun looking for the mage.
With an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach, Kit walked back to Gwen’s house, figuring it was as good a place to start as any. The door creaked as Kit stepped inside. What she saw made her fragile confidence vanish.
The room was empty save for one. Lying on the table was Elias. She could clearly see where the magic had begun to consume him. On the side that faced her, Kit recognized his features. His eyes were still lined with shadows, his face haggard but smooth. The other side was decorated by a spider-like design of scorched skin, as if a fire had started on the inside then leaked out in thread-thin lines. The burnt skin had begun to curl up around the edges. And the smell…
No one understood how magic could burn someone like that.
The mage turned towards her and Kit’s stomach lurched. She forced herself to turn away so she wouldn’t have to see the mess where his right eye had once rested.
“Dragon slayer’s assistant…” Elias croaked.
Kit swallowed, and turned towards him, keeping her gaze on his undamaged side.
“Or are you the dragon slayer now?” He asked, his remaining eye on the sword.
“Robin’s not very happy with you,” Kit said. “I’m here to make sure he-”
Kit was cut off as the mage fell into a coughing fit. Blood stained his lips by the time he had finished.
“You have bigger problems to face… the magic is free.”
The door behind Kit was wrenched open, half torn off its hinges. Kit spun around to see Robin enter. The blue of his eyes were lined with a red circle. Not a good sign.
Kit placed a hand on the sword.
“Mage,” Robin said in a low voice that reminded Kit of a dragon’s growl.
Elias looked at Robin blankly. It took Kit a second to realize that he would have no way of recognizing Robin’s human form.
“Robin, wait. He doesn’t know what’s been done to you.”
“It doesn’t matter if he comprehends.” Robin made a move towards the mage.
Kit stepped between them and drew the Mirror Blade. She had meant to appear confident, but its weight was more than she was used to, and the draw was clumsy. She gripped the hilt with both hands and faced the dragon. With as much strength as she could muster, she spoke loud and clear:
“He’s injured from the magic. The best we can do is to wait for him to recover. Then we can see what we can do about putting you back to your natural state.”
“Dragons are not patient, kitten. That mage is not going to recover, and he’s going to fix me before he expires.”
“You’re not thinking straight, Robin! How is he going to do that?”
Robin moved forward. Kit’s hands seemed to move on their own and the sword struck. Robin stumbled back, a fresh wound appearing on his shoulder. His face twisted in anger.
“It’s back!” Elias cried out in horror. The sudden outburst made Kit jump.
The windows began to rattle as if shaken by a great wind. The candlelight flickered, and the three grew very still.
And a large black mass of something came crashing in the door, knocking Robin across the room and shoving Kit aside. The black mass descended on the mage. His screams filled the air, seeming to overwhelm every other noise in the village.
And then there was silence so sudden that even Kit’s own breathing seemed unnaturally loud.
“Not much left in him.”
It took Kit a second to realize that it was the creature who had spoken. It had a low, masculine voice like Elias’s had been, except it was deeper. Kit watched as it began to change its shape, taking on a form a lot like the mage’s, just smaller. Instead of flesh and clothing, the creature was made from thousands of tiny black dots packed closely together. Streaks of gold highlighted what would have been hair, rumples in clothing, and eyes.
Kit felt an uncomfortable pit form in her stomach when she realized she was looking at the magic that had been torn away from the mage when Robin had passed by. Only now… it was almost human.
“Do you find me interesting?”
Kit jumped. It was speaking to her!
“Dragons are strange things aren’t they? They draw in magic like a whirlpool. I’m not sure why he was able to pull so much of me away, or why what he did resulted in… this.”
The spell flexed its hands into fists, then relaxed them again. Streaks of gold jumped from finger to palm.
“It’s a strange thing to speak for yourself.”
It spread its lips into a golden toothed smiled.
“Unfortunately, the dragon took most of my life in separating himself like that. So, in order to continue this existence, I must ask you to make a sacrifice for me.”
The spell reached out a hand towards Kit’s face. By the time Kit realized what was going on, she could feel its cool fingers brush against her cheek. A painful jolt ran from her face to heart.
Robin hit the spell with the full force of his body weight. The spell flew across the room and into the wall, splintering the wood.
The spell left some remnants of black and gold on Robin’s wounded shoulder. The magic was quickly absorbed, like a plant taking in water. The dragon stumbled.
“I’m not good for you am I?” The spell said with a chuckle, standing up. “Dragons absorb magic, and black magic is deadly even to someone as strong as you. Since you seem to be a danger to me as well… I suggest you leave this girl and move on.”
Robin turned to look at Kit. She stared back, bewildered.
“Kit,” he said, “I need you to stay still.”
Before she could reply, the dragon had moved. Robin swung with his right, and the spell dodged backwards. Reforming back into a giant mass, it flew across the room, landing near the mage’s corpse. Robin chased after it, grabbing a wooden chair by the bed. Kit watched as the magic began to take on human shape once more, its form half crouched. The sound of splintering wood filled the air as Robin broke the chair across its back. The spell fell to stone floor, landing on its hands and knees. Robin reached down with his right hand, and wrenched it back to its feet. He reared back with his left as if to strike.
The spell chuckled as lines of black and gold latched onto Robin’s right hand.
“You will not be able to outlast me in your human form. You will be poisoned, and then I will take the dragon slayer’s life.”
Robin’s face lit up in alarm. He swung his left fist but the movement was sloppy. Blinking with dizziness, he attempted to pull away from the spell. It stuck to him as if made of glue.
The spell’s harsh laughter echoed around the tiny house. Robin was going to lose.
But Kit had not stayed still.
She struck the creature in a downward swinging arc from behind. The sword, forged to take down full grown dragons, split the spell from head to groin. The remaining pieces immediately began to wither and die away.
Robin stood still for a moment, then collapsed.
Dropping the sword to the ground, Kit stepped forward and caught the dragon. At first, her knees buckled slightly under the new weight. She straightened up and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. Robin leaned in close, taking in a long breath as if he was… sniffing her? Kit stiffened in confusion.
As she helped him walk from the house, the black magic, in its last moments, was still inching towards him.
Margie took her time cleaning the Mirror Blade of all traces of black magic, smiling at the sword as if it was an old friend. When she was done, she placed it back in the case.
“Well, I can’t say that I suspected that things would turn out quite like that, but I’m glad nevertheless.”
“Then why did you give me the sword?” Kit asked.
“To kill Robin, if necessary. Dragons have very little self control. I suspected that he would destroy the town to get to the mage.”
Kit looked down at her hands, thinking about torn open doors.
“After the fight,” she said, “Robin… I swore that he… smelled me?”
Margie gave her a sharp look.
“It’s a dragon habit,” she said. “One thing that can give dragons a sense of human-like control is the scent of a trusted one, usually a mate.”
“It just means that he trusts you Kit. He’s also standing outside of the house”
As if on cue, the front door swung open. Kit smiled as Robin tripped over the threshold.
“Manark cursed door… never got that fixed did you Margie?” Robin asked.
“Most people knock,” Margie said with a sniff. She didn’t like people insulting her home.
“I’m not human,” he replied, reaching for the sword case. “Do you want me to return that?”
“It usually stays in Robin’s cave,” Margie explained at Kit’s confused expression. “Conveniently placed, I would say. I’ve been keeping it down here until my legs were strong enough to climb up that damn mountain again. I think that today is one of those days.”
She slipped the case over her shoulder and nodded at Kit and Robin.
“You two don’t destroy the house when I’m gone!” She waved over her shoulder as she left, cane tucked beneath her arm.
“Haven’t seen her that happy since that gladiator tournament came to Auranant Academy last year. Is it safe for a woman of her age to take that much happiness from violence?” Kit wondered aloud.
“She’s not that old. Why did I bother coming down if she was going to bring that cursed thing to the cave herself?” Robin said with a scowl.
“So… the fact that you didn’t fly down here, does that mean that you’re…”
“Stuck as far as I know. Couldn’t even change if I wanted to. You won’t have to worry about sticking that damn sword in my side any time soon.”
“Good to know,” Kit said. “I would hate to have to skewer a friend.”
Robin’s face seemed to go through a hundred emotions at once, confusing Kit. Before she could speak, he turned around and began to walk out of the house.
“I guess I’ll be seeing you later then!” Kit said with a laugh. “Glad to see that you haven’t lost your complete lack of manners in the transformation! Feel free to visit again when the mood strikes.”
Kit turned around after Robin had left the house and shut the door. Robin whispered something under his breath. She wasn’t sure, but it sounded like “I will.”