Everything had happened so fast. It had still been the dark hours of the morning when Lana had woken him at the first signs of the dragon activity within the cave. Hours had passed before either of them even remembered to send the dove back to the kingdom to alert Elan. He'd felt stupid for the simple mistake; it was their primary purpose for being there in the first place. But he'd truly not expected the dragons to already be emerging, and it threw him for a loop. It was not good slayer decorum at all.
He didn't even know how much more time had passed when Elsior and Deke showed up. He hadn't anticipated that, either. He was letting his guard down, and he was furious at himself for it. This was not the kind of slayer that he was.
But there the two sons of bitches were. And there was the first dragon. It was an ugly thing; it resembled the fully-grown version that he'd encountered in Dorre, but still bore the features of an underdeveloped, oversized salamander. Its head was stunted, its eyes weak; even its legs didn't seem quite ready to withhold the weight of its body. Its skin resembled a molding lemon and the smell of the thing was comparable to putrid meat.
He couldn't help but to think back to just less than a month and a half prior, when he and Birten had faced their first infant dragon in Baronne. But that infant had been around six years of age; this one was far younger. And far larger. And it was of a breed from which they still didn't know what to expect.
They hadn't had much time to prepare, either. And considering they'd been slow in getting the messenger dove to the castle, there was no telling how long it would be just him and Lana versus the monstrosity. There was also no telling how long it would be before the other eleven joined their sibling. To add more fuel to the fire, he also had no idea if Elsior could control the infants in the same way that he had control over the mother. He hoped that since the mancer had a direct involvement in creating the mother, and these ones were actually hatched, his power over them wouldn't be as strong. But luck hadn't been on his side thus far in their reunion.
Daegon watched in disgust as Elsior eyeballed the thing, looking at it with as much pride as if it was his own child. He ran his hand along its hide, petting it. Even Deke seemed slightly taken aback by the display. The man was insane.
"What's your plan, anyway, Elsior? Gonna have this dragon take care of us then send them all out to wreak havoc on the kingdom?" Daegon could feel Lana's eyes burning into his back. He knew that she was probably trying to figure out why he was engaging Elsior. But it's all he could think of. He knew it would only delay the process, but it could buy them some more time. If it helped prevent the attack until the rest of the slayers arrived, it would be better than nothing.
"Well," Elsior said, still gaga over the dragon, "I hadn't planned on having to take care of you two first. You're always full of surprises, aren't you? Then again, it's kind of nice. I think I'll quite enjoy watching you go individually, considering I was robbed of the chance before. How'd you manage it, anyway?"
It was working. Elsior was the curious type, always looking for new information. Normally, Daegon wouldn't have dreamt of revealing it. But if it kept the conversation alive, if it stalled the attack, he'd give it up. "A couple of Pyromancers learned of my situation. They sought me out, they freed me from my constraints. I must say, it's a good thing that dragon of yours is so well-trained. We walked out of there without her blinking an eye."
He knew insulting Elsior like that might be pushing it, but he couldn't resist. While he had always been the type to act on instinct, he'd certainly learned a thing or two from Birten. Sometimes words were just as effective. And just as much as he wanted to give the remaining slayers ample time to arrive, he also wanted to push every last button that Elsior had.
Elsior didn't bite, but Daegon knew he was getting to him. The mancer continued to pet the prepubescent creature before him, still looking at it lovingly. "Pyromancers, huh? Seems like a waste of an art to be spent helping those like you. Then again, Pyromancy isn't all that impressive compared to most."
Ouch. Downplaying Pyromancy. Right where it would hit Daegon the most. He had to force himself not to laugh out of reflex. Elsior's mindgames were weak, if they could even be called that. But it did trigger a question. He didn't expect Elsior to answer it, but it would certainly open up the opportunity for a few more buttons to be pushed.
"Speaking of impressive mancies, what was it exactly that you used on Birten? I'm not too proud to admit that I'm not sure. But I am curious," Daegon said. Truth was, he really wasn't all that upset that he didn't know what they'd done to brainwash the squire. He was mad about it, absolutely. Curious, sure. But it didn't rattle his cage that he wasn't sure what they'd done. Knowledge of magic was never a strong suit of his and so he didn't let it make him feel stupid. In any event, showing a weakness to Elsior might help lower his guard slightly.
Finally, Elsior looked away from the dragon and locked eyes with Daegon. "Birten's back in Jhirdyr?" The lovelorn look that had been in his eyes was replaced by agitation. Finally, a nerve was struck that he couldn't ignore.
"He is. And doing quite well. I'm not sure exactly what went on, but it didn't seem to take very well. He's quite utterly still on our side," Daegon lied. He had the general idea of what had happened, but he was still grasping at straws by insinuating that it hadn't worked. If it turned out that Elsior knew Birten was still perplexed and still lost in his own mind, Daegon would be blowing his cover.
"Impossible," Elsior said. He stared at Daegon with a furrowed brow, his eyes shooting daggers at the slayer. Shit. Cover blown.
But Lana jumped in. "It's true. I saw him, too. He couldn't remember exactly what had happened, but he's unfalteringly still against you." Her bullshit skills were impressive, Daegon had to admit. She knew far less about the situation than he did, but one wouldn't know it based on her delivery. Though her statement on paper might have been mediocre, the way she said it was beyond convincing. Plus, he was glad to see that she realized what he was doing and was joining the effort.
"I knew she didn't do an adequate job," Elsior mumbled. His clenched his fists tightly, any lingering focus on the dragon now replaced with annoyance regarding the topic at hand. They were finding chinks in his armor, something Daegon was all too familiar with using to his advantage.
He'd heard what Elsior said, but questioned it nonetheless. "Pardon?" If this weren't such a high stakes game, it would almost be fun. Seeing Elsior less high and mighty than normal was quite entertaining.
"Nothing," Elsior growled. He glared at Daegon and patted the dragon on its side without looking at it. "And I see what you're doing here. You think you can distract me to prevent what's destined to happen. Nice try, slayer, but I daresay your wits are no match against mine. Sic."
The dragon wasted no time in obeying Elsior's order. It lunged its long neck forward, its teeth narrowly missing Daegon's arm. Playtime with Elsior was over. He'd delayed it as much as he could. With or without the rest of the kingdom's slayers there, the battle had begun.
He jumped backward as the beast made to strike again. It was definitely not as tame as a Great Grey. This infant was already quick and limber. Though its legs looked weak, it didn't prevent it from moving easily. Its size wasn't appearing to slow it down, either. It was going to be hard to defeat, there was no doubt about that. Sure, he had Lana's assistance, and two against one was something. But he didn't know how capable she was in battle. Birten had always assisted where he could, but he wasn't extremely seasoned. Birten had no kills under his belt. Daegon had no idea if the same was true of Lana. It wasn't particularly customary for squires to be the ones doing the slaying, after all.
As the thoughts ran through his head, his question was answered. To his right, he saw her duck under the dragon's neck as it swung it toward her. She took the opportunity to dart forth and swing her blade. The beast was faster, however. It hefted its large body to the side, and her sword missed.
But it didn't stop her. She was smart; she jumped back into her original position before the dragon had an opportunity to make her pay for her courageousness. It was good to know that her instincts were sharp. She was looking to be a great ally.
The dragon took a step toward them, its large seven-toed foot scuffing up clumps of grass as it did so. It was only one step for the creature, but it diminished the gap that Daegon and Lana had built for themselves. The two of them moved backward again, but there wasn't much more room to do so. The woods were hilly, and another few steps would see them falling down a relatively steep slope.
It swung its neck toward them again. Both slayer and squire slashed their swords. Daegon's missed, but Lana's grazed across the thing's scaly face. It wasn't a hard hit, and it didn't draw blood, but it was enough to irritate the dragon. It snapped its jaws a few times in rapid succession, not aiming at either of them in particular. Its sharp teeth bit through a low tree limb, however, and it didn't appear to take much effort. Splinters of wood rained down on Daegon and Lana, but they stood their ground.
The falling woodchips seemed to distract the dragon somewhat – at least enough for Daegon to find his opportunity. He swung himself to the left, avoiding the giant foot as it moved to take another step forward, and found himself on the right side of the beast. He shoved his sword hard into the joint where the dragon's leg connected to its torso. He pulled the hilt toward the right as hard as he could, hoping to sever a tendon.
Without warning, the dragon began to fall to its side. He'd severed something. Daegon managed to pull his sword from its hide before it completely reached the ground, and barely managed to jump out of the way before it pinned him underneath its body. Unsurprisingly, the dragon let out a hearty cry. It flailed its tail in anguish, slapping it back and forth on the ground.
The scales had been rather tough to penetrate, but Daegon was glad to know that it could be done with standard weaponry. If not, they would be in for something far more complicated than they'd be able to imagine. And since he'd done it once, he knew he could do it again. Before the dragon had a chance to do anything else, he jumped forward and thrust his sword downward into the neck of the fallen beast. It squirmed for a few moments, an involuntary hiss escaping its throat. Daegon see-sawed the blade, quickening the job. Finally, its tail gave one more jolt before coming to a rest near Elsior's feet.
Daegon stood, removing a blood-soaked glove as he did so in order to wipe the sweat from his forehead. His face remained stoic, but he let out a defiant laugh. "Dragon hell just got a new breed," he said firmly, knowing it would make Elsior angrier than he undoubtedly already was.
Sure enough, Elsior's cheeks were becoming redder by the second. "You'll pay for this," he said. It was a weak statement, but there was a clear passion in Elsior's delivery. Daegon could tell that the slaying of the dragon really was as if Elsior's own child had been murdered in front of him. Every amount of disdain and disgust that the dragon's creator could possibly possess were written on his face.
"Shit," Lana said.
At first, Daegon thought she was reacting to Elsior. But with a quick glance at her, he noticed that she wasn't looking in that direction. She was once again looking toward the cave. Which could only mean one thing.
Steeling himself for what he was about to see, Daegon matched her gaze. Three more of the dragons were emerging, and from the flashes of dragonfire in the cave behind them, he could tell that the others weren't far behind.