To Catch a Dragon (Part 3)
He awoke to the warmth of a healing spell followed by a most un-Knightly curse.
Ndrek smiled up at Vaiya. “Thank you, though I think Knight Kailis would have preferred you to let me die.”
Knight Kailis balled her fists as she turned on her heel to face him. “What in the seven hells were you doing out here alone?”
A bit of the fire he’d seen in her once was peeking through her paladin veneer, and Ndrek couldn’t help but smile. “Looking for dragons. Alas, I fear they prefer beautiful young virgins. As I am none of those, I might have been more successful if you had joined me.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“I was not laughing.” Ndrek stood and waved his hand across his robes. The mud, sticks, and grass vanished. Though Vaiya’s healing spell had repaired the worst of his injuries, he still felt as if he’d spent the night drinking hellfires and black phoenixes.
“Who attacked you?” Vaiya asked.
He looked at the petite woman with russet hair and jade eyes who seemed all the smaller compared to the Valkyrie beside her. But Ndrek had learned long ago never to judge a person by their stature, especially when they channeled the power of the gods.
“I was not attacked. Not exactly,” Ndrek said.
“Then how’d you end up face down in the dirt?” Kailis asked.
“Some sort of magic force.” Ndrek waved his hand as he stumbled with the words. “Whatever it was, it knocked me aside.”
Kailis tightened a hand over the hilt of her sword. “Magic. But we didn’t feel anything, and none of the townspeople complained of it.”
“How many of them are wizards?” Vaiya said.
“You think it’s targeting magic users?”
“I do not think it cares about magic users,” Ndrek said. “If it did, it would have killed me. It had ample opportunity.”
“Then why attack you?” Kailis said.
“I believe I was an accidental casualty. If you had felt the power…” Ndrek shook his head. “I am not a threat to it. Not even a lich is a threat to it. I have never felt such immense power.”
Kailis frowned. “Do you think it was a dragon?”
“Perhaps. Or an elven arch mage.”
“Those don’t exist either,” Kailis said.
Ndrek shrugged, hiding his curiosity under a bland expression. For the first time since he’d joined Sir Marcus, he felt a prick of excitement. Danger, yes, but finally here was something unknown. Something new.
“What do we do now?” Viaya looked at the Knight.
Kailis fidgeted then looked down at the dragon on her shield. “We follow orders. We go to Kelleran and see if we can find evidence of a dragon.”
“And whatever it was that attacked Ndrek?”
“If it’s after magic users, he’s the only one in the area. It’ll be back, and we’ll be ready.”
Ndrek only smiled. The being may come back, but they would most assuredly not be ready.
Ndrek was rather disappointed when they arrived in Kelleran without coming across the source of the immense magic.
Unlike the other villages, Kelleran was quite crowded as people from the surrounding areas and as far away as Aerius had descended on the town in hopes of seeing a dragon. Kailis’s presence confirmed to those gathered that the dragon was, indeed, real.
Still, her popularity meant everyone was telling her what they knew. While the stories varied from improbable to impossible, the trio quickly learned that none of the stories matched. The only thing any of them could agree on was the dragon footprint they’d found near Lake Meade.
“Is the footprint still there?” Ndrek asked.
“Gone,” Kailis said. “Wiped away by rains.”
“Did you see it before it was destroyed?”
Kailis thought for a moment too long.
“You saw something. What was it?”
“Faint outline at best, and the locals had to point it out to us. If it was a footprint, the creature that left it had to be as big as the royal palace.”
“Hard for villagers to forge such a thing, yes?”
“Not saying they made it up, but they might have been seeing what they wanted to see.”
“The sun is still high. Let us investigate this lake.”
“Can’t take another night of weak ale and local gossip?” Vaiya asked.
“I would rather have hot coals placed on my back.”
“You might like that a little too much,” Vaiya said.
Ndrek grinned at her, and Kailis frowned at them both.
After packing a lunch of fresh bread, dried meat, and cheese, the trio followed a cow path to Lake Meade.
Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the massive expanse of water. Lake did not convey the immensity of the body water that extended beyond the horizon. It reminded him of the ocean, but rather than the tang of salt and fish, it smelled like the morning after a rainstorm.
Watching the waves lap the shore and the sun illuminate the water, Ndrek eased his horse to the edge of the lake.
“How deep is this lake?”
Kailis shrugged. “Deeper than most. Mountains further south feed it with spring run-off, and there are several underground springs that empty into it as well.”
“Deep enough for a dragon the size of the royal palace to dive into for a snack?”
Kailis paused. “Yeah. I suppose it is.”
Ndrek nodded. “We should proceed with caution.”