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To Catch a Dragon (Part 2)
Ndrek watched the rolling hills of the Tamarian countryside slide past. The scent of green growing things and manure filled the air, and the afternoon sun was warm on his back.
Not much more exciting than tending his bar.
And he couldn’t practice any spells as it would spook his horse and probably his companions’ mounts as well.
Magic users were uncommon everywhere, but even more so in Tamryn. The few that did exhibit both desire and potential were trained at the lackluster University of Magical Arts where the Dragon Church could keep a close watch on them.
Ndrek was uncertain why so many Tamarians feared magic, but it did explain why he hadn’t been able to find a horse that magic didn’t bother. The beasts were too much like their owners.
He’d have to pay Mara handsomely to find him one, but he doubted she’d accept such an offer. No, she’d want a favor in return. That’s how her kind worked. Gold was too easy for her to come by on her own.
But that would have to wait for his return to Aerius.
In the meantime, Ndrek whispered a tiny spell to make the saddle more comfortable, and his horse stamped a foot and snorted.
“Told you not to cast any spells,” Knight Kailis said.
Yes, he would trade Mara a favor for a real horse.
Glancing across the idyllic farmsteads with their grazing animals, rich crops, and tended barns, Ndrek had to admit it was better than the last time he’d traveled with a Knight. The roads were tended, riding was easy, and there were plenty of inns along the way. There were also no undead wondering around, a blessing in itself.
“We’ll stop in the next town,” Knight Kailis said.
Ndrek glanced at the sun still well above the horizon. “We could make it to the town after that without difficulty.”
Ndrek sighed loud enough to silence her. “Very well. We stop in the next town.”
Kailis glared at him, but said nothing the rest of the way to town.
As they rode into the village, Ndrek groaned when he saw that it looked exactly like the last five they’d stayed in. Sure, the houses were painted different colors, and there were different flowers in the planters, but the same Dragon Church surrounded by massive oak trees dominated the center of town. Merchant shops lined the main street, and an inn was tucked in the center of them.
As they entered the inn, it was clean and furnished with the same practical heavy wooden tables and chairs that were well-worn from use. A smattering of locals were already comfortably seated, mostly the elderly and very young.
Ndrek could smell a thick stew simmering that would be served with fresh bread for dinner. How he longed for a bowl of spiced meat stew so hot his eyes would water. Something to make his taste buds work again.
He settled for sitting down at the bar and listening to the hum of conversation.
Just as she had at the last five inns, Kailis showed the innkeeper her credentials and secured them a room, a meal, and fresh traveling supplies. And just like in the last five inns, the young Knight was soon surrounded by locals, all wanting news of the happenings in the capital city and stories of her adventures.
While Kalis obliged them with the same boring news she had in the past five towns, Priestess Vaiya tended to the sick or injured of the town.
He should be happy, relieved even, after everything he’d seen. No ghouls. No vampires. No zombies. Another perfectly normal, perfectly quiet Tamarian town.
It was enough to make Ndrek want to vomit.
He watched Knight Kailis talk to the locals as he drained his mug of ale. Decent stuff, but nothing like a Fire and Brimstone. After five days on the road with her, he needed something a lot stronger than ale.
Even after a day of riding, her strawberry-blonde hair was in the same tight braided bun so many female Knights wore. He wondered if they took a course in it so they all did it just right.
Ndrek snorted into his empty glass.
Of course they did. They all had to be the perfect protégés of Dracor.
Knight Kailis wasn’t awful, but she was everything that was wrong with the Knighthood.
He’d seen a glimpse of fire in her, a spark, back in her early days as a Knight. He’d thought she’d be different. Had expected her to shake up the place, but now, she was just like all the rest.
Perfect braids, the blue eyes so common in Tamryn, and pristine armor. She looked like a Knight, and she had the same polite but commanding tone they all used. Must’ve had classes in that, too.
The barkeep stopped over and offered to refill Ndrek’s glass, but he waved the man away. He’d had enough. Enough of beautiful Knights, following orders, and basking in boredom.
He was going to find this dragon.
Making sure Kailis was occupied with the locals, Ndrek flipped up the hood of his traveling cloak and walked out of the inn.
The night was cool, and the songs of frogs mixed with the chirping of crickets. He smiled as he realized some might consider the summer night hot, but they’d never suffered through the Qumarefi desert. Boredom was better than some things.
Still, he couldn’t imagine much that would be a challenge for him anymore. Especially not after his travels with Sir Marcus. But better to be safe than dead, and once Ndrek was at the edge of town, he cast an invisibility and silence spell on himself.
Time to see what the local smugglers knew about dragons.
Of course there were smugglers out here. They had to be more careful in Tamryn than in other places Ndrek had been, but that just made the rewards richer. And there were plenty of goods Tamryn outlawed that would be well worth the risk.
Following the road south, he looked for telltale signs when he felt a prickle on his skin.
Magic. Strong magic.
Stronger than anything he’d ever felt.
He stopped and strengthened his wards.
The magic increased from a whisper to a grinding pulse, pounding against him and driving into his chest. Into his heart. Into his head.
He tried to scream, but he could make no sound.
Ndrek fell to his knees as blood gushed from his nose and soaked the ground in front of him.
The magic intensified until spots danced in front on his eyes. Clutching his chest, he glanced towards the heavens, a prayer Sir Marcus had taught him on his lips, when a shadow glided over the trees.
As it drew closer, the darkness closed in on Ndrek and unconsciousness took him.