“Okay. How do we fix this?” Saber asked, pulling back from Riley and quickly wiping away the tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I don’t know. How did this happen?” Riley asked. She pulled back, but her hand stayed on the large snout. She kept her eyes locked on his.
“How did you know?” the dragon asked, its voice cracking. Riley smiled as she saw the wetness of tears welling up around those large eyes.
“It was a bunch of little things. I think what finally made me stop and think about it was how weak your flame was.”
The dragon pulled back. “Oh really? I’ll have you know, I toasted plenty of knights before you showed up.”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t even have to struggle to block your flame. It wasn’t even hot. Not like the stuff I’d torched the goblins with.”
“Goblins?” the dragon said. It was almost comical to see an expression of awe and excitement on such a menacing beast.
“Yes. Now, stay focused,” Riley said. She heard Saber snicker behind her.
“But come on! Dragons, goblins, an underground lair. This is so cool,” the dragon gushed.
“Not when they nearly kill you and take off part of your foot. Now, focus. What happened?” Riley said, her tone losing some of the cheerfulness.
The pain that had torn through her when one had bitten into her foot was still fresh in her mind. She didn’t understand how she had healed so quickly but feared it could be just as temporary as the wound itself if she dwelled on it.
“Okay, so you figured it out just because my flame was weak?”
“No. When you went by the door the first time… You are shackled to the lair, aren’t you? You can’t escape.”
The large head of the dragon shook back and forth, looking ashamed. “No.”
“I think the wraith wanted us to kill you,” Saber said, coming up beside Riley.
“I’m not sure.” Riley thought a minute. “Remember, it seemed legitimately surprised when we came back down to the dungeon.”
“True, but why else would the king send us down here?”
“I don’t know. I mean, there is the creature, but I don’t think it has full control here. At least not yet.”
“It did.” The dragon pulled back so they could see its whole body. With its large, wing-clawed appendage, it motioned up and down.
“Was that why you were trying to kill us? You thought it had complete control, even of us?” Saber asked.
“I didn’t see you. I mean, I did, but I couldn’t tell it was you. You looked like the other knights to me. Then when Riley did…whatever she did, I could see you. I don’t know how. It was weird.”
Saber turned to look at Riley, then Raz, who were still trying to wrap their heads around him being the dragon before them.
“That was why it kept sending its knights at you. It wanted you ready to fight. Just like it kept sending goblins and rock monsters at us.”
“Rock monsters?” Saber asked.
Riley glanced over her shoulder. “Stay focused.”
She turned back to Raz. “We need to fix this and get out of here. I’m surprised it hasn’t come at us yet. It has to know we’re not fighting.”
“It probably does. Just doesn’t know what to do about it yet. I mean, Riley, you realize how you’ve completely disrupted it at every turn.” Saber smiled.
“Well, let’s not waste time then. Let’s get the chain off you and get you back to yourself. Then we’ll worry about it.” Riley ran into the room and toward the hind legs of the dragon.
“How do you plan on doing that?” the dragon asked.
Riley approached the chain shackled around his ankle. She was about to use her axe and cut through the large links of chain, but stopped, frowning.
Slowly, she reached out and touched the chain. Her whole body shivered at the raw power coursing through it.
Riley recoiled from it. “This isn’t just holding you to the lair. It’s what’s trapping you in this nightmare and keeping you a dragon.”
“Okay, so how do we break it?” Saber asked as she walked into the lair.
“You can’t, but I have two more just like it, all ready for you.”
The voice boomed around them and shook the walls. Saber fell as the room grew unsteady, and Riley held her arms out, struggling to stay on her feet.
The room around them started to crumble. Rocks fell and dirt rained down. Across the room, one wall exploded. Riley flung her hand out, deviating the chunks away from them.
The shaking stopped. When the dust settled, everyone looked at the huge hole in the wall. Another dragon stood there. This one was much like the one they had fought before, with its lizard-like, orange eyes. But this one stood twice the size of Raz.
Smoke poured from the nostrils, its chest heaving. It was obviously angry, its hate-filled glare aimed directly at them.
It didn’t keep them waiting long. Within seconds, twin blasts of fire burst from its nostrils and flared toward them.
Saber jumped out of the way, but Riley held up her hand and extended out her protective shield. The fire slammed into it. She winced as the power behind this blast was much stronger than what had hit her before.
The second flame flew toward Saber, who quickly jumped behind a pile of gold. Riley barely saw her get out of sight before the two flames merged and turned toward her.
Sweat beaded on her forehead as the flame continuously hit her shield. She felt her feet slipping, so she dropped her axe to raise her other hand, reinforcing the shield. It took all her strength, but she knew it wasn’t enough. Her shield was weakening, and the flame inched toward her.
Then a flame burst from behind her. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as the torrent left Raz and slammed into the larger dragon.
Riley had a brief second to feel some relief, hopeful this would weaken the beast. The hope quickly died away when the new dragon didn’t even flinch. The flame shooting toward her only intensified.
This wasn’t going to work. She had to do something else, but what? Maybe Saber had some ideas, but really, what would she be able to do? If the fire from Raz had no effect, what could Saber’s little sword do?
Riley thought back to Saber using her sword on the first dragon they had fought together.
Wow, had that only been last night? It seems like a lifetime ago.
With that dragon, Saber had stabbed her sword through the beast’s open mouth. It was the only vulnerable spot. Everything else they tried hadn’t worked.
Riley struggled to look at the beast, frustrated to see it refused to open its mouth this time. It had learned. What could they do now?
When her focus slipped, the flame moved faster. Crap. She needed to stay on top of this. She couldn’t get distracted.
She looked at Raz’s fire. It was obvious he struggled to put as much force behind it as he could. Riley knew it would never be enough. Not against a creature that was not of this dream but was creating it.
No, the only flame that would hurt this thing was its own.
In one giant push, Riley put all her effort in redirecting the torrent rushing at her, shifting it toward Raz. Well, not directly at Raz, but right in front of him to connect with his own flame.
She saw a brief flash of fear in his eyes, quickly changing to trust. She took a deep breath as the flame she directed drew close to Raz’s.
The room around them got hotter, making breathing more difficult. The air she pulled in was blistering, most of the moisture in the room having been pulled from it.
At first, her plan didn’t work. Once the flame hit Raz’s, it just deviated it from its course. That wouldn’t help them, and if the new dragon figured out what she was doing…
When she pushed a little harder, the flame shifted into Raz’s fire, strengthening it so the torrent flying toward the beast was over twice as strong.
Riley was surprised the beast hadn’t noticed. It had let her shift the flame without changing tactics. Then Riley saw why.
Saber stood in front of the dragon, slicing down at its clawed feet. She must have been looking for some kind of weakness. It lifted the clawed appendage and shook it, trying to swat at her at the same time he tried to keep the fire aimed at them.
That had been all the distraction they needed. When the flame struck the beast, it let out a wail of pain. The dragon’s flame quickly cut out, then Raz’s fire disappeared.
There was a flash of light. Screams. The room shook. Riley thought she heard a voice she recognized scream out in agony.
Then everything went black.