That One Time I Went On A Quest

Kastor applied for a job he wasn't qualified for and got it. His employer? A woman known throughout the Realms as the greatest dragon slayer in the world.

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44. Rutherford's Wish (5)

Breathe! Breathe!

Never have I talked so much, ever, let alone to a dragon!

Rutherford is completely still. Its eyes are half-shut, its breathing shallow and fast…yet its body is refusing to die. Emaciated limbs, shredded wings, bone-thin tail, unable to stand on its own legs – by all rights such a creature shouldn’t be able to survive no matter how much food is delivered into its mouth.

But it is hanging on with such resilience. Its body is demonstrating what its ancient mind has long chosen to repress – that at its core, the Apex wants to live.

‘I accept.’

Did – did it just say –

‘A pact is made, Kastor, herald of fire. Now, grant me rest.’

 

Kathanhiel and I bury Kaishen between Rutherford’s eyes, all the way to the hilt. The Apex offers no resistance. The blade is turned like a key, and its eyes begin to glow an ardent white. The fire that had poured forth returns to the head of its master with lethal glee, and with one final sigh, a wordless speech to welcome the endless bliss it has ever yearned for, Rutherford becomes still.

That sickly breathing rises feebly, one last time, then fades into silence.

Did it really take my rambling to heart, or did it agree merely to get this over with? For now, there is no way to know; sooner or later, a year or ten or a hundred from now, an Apex candidate will be chosen to become the next host and that tortured mind will return to the Realms. Will it remember what I said, or will this quest play out all over again, ending in the same place?

No. I won’t let it. I will keep reminding that stubborn dragon until it sees the light.

 

Sunset.

The gateway of the Kalarinth Citadel is bathed in a sea of gold, and its forest of spires are shimmering once again like rainbows trapped in pyres of glass.

By the waning light, those red cracks on Kathanhiel’s skin look several inches deep. She is crumbling, and this time it appears to be her entire body. I set her at the feet of the broken statue, and attempt to say something funny. Nothing but a gaggling yelp comes out.

‘Thank you, Kastor. You did better than I ever could.’

She’s smiling again. How can she smile like that when I’m bawling my eyes out? It’s unfair. Unfair.

‘Keep holding onto Kaishen, my lady. It’ll…keep you…’

But the sword looks dim now. It is slipping from her grasp and I have to keep my hand wrapped around hers so she can hold it still. Her skin feels dry and jagged, drained of moisture.

‘Kathanhiel,’ she says.

‘W-what?’

‘You called me Kathanhiel.’

My tears paint clear little circles on her cheeks, but only for a moment, for the instant they spill onto the red lines all over her skin they turn to vapour.

Why? Why does it have to end this way?

‘You can go now,’ I hear myself say words I don’t want to say. ‘Kaishen is waiting for you at your hearth in the evergreen, the cabin with the red door. He’s waiting…waiting for you to come home.’

But I don’t want you to! But I don’t want you to! But I don’t want –

‘You don’t want me to, do you?’ she says softly. ‘I can see it in your face.’

I shake my head until the world is a blur. ‘I’ve…I’ve no right...it was your wish all this time, and now…and now…’

‘You remember what I told you, the last thing Kaishen had said to me?’

I remember. ‘He wants to you to want to live.’

Kathanhiel gazes out at the sunset, her eyes shining gold. That smile on her face – it looks…different. No more flawless pleasantness. Her lips are split ear to ear in a wide grin, same as the one that young woman had, the one with the long hair who stood next to me in the Scouring and called me a weakling. The expressions looks more than a little bit scary, but it suits her – the grin of a lion.

Quietly she says: ‘I think I will give that a try.’

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