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.


4. Kaishen, Bane of Dragons

Kathanhiel, in her shiny and pleasantly body-fitting armour, looks out of this world. Killisan stumbles twice in the first hour because my eyes are never on the road. Haylis is nowhere near as breathtaking in comparison, especially when she casually reaches under her cuirass to scratch her armpit, then pulls out her hand to smell it.

Setting off on a grand quest in the company of two beautiful women would be a dream come true, if not for the torrential rain. The grassland is greyer than a century-old painting, and the bitter cold pommels all potential outbursts of heroic poetry into silence – not that there is any.  

If only my folks could see me now, a proper knight decked out in full armour…plus six bulky bags. Those are Kathanhiel’s inventory, important stuff that her esquire gladly carries in her stead. Kathanhiel carries only weapons: full plates, Kaishen slung across her back, a folded shield tied to her left thigh, a short-handled pick to her right – for climbing, probably. Two more swords and an obsidian bow sits upon her saddle. Woe to those who would do her harm.

At noon we stop at a cattle ranch, and there Kathanhiel buys what looks like half a cow’s worth of meat, which, after a week of watching her devour whole steaks in three minutes, is only normal. Somehow she does this while looking as refined as a lady at court.

‘Should – should I bring out the wine my lady?’ I ask.

‘In the middle of the day? How old do you think I am Kastor?

‘Um…I don’t…’

‘Not old enough to be your mother, who surely does not yet partake in alcohols at lunch.’

Well this might come as a shock but…

‘I wouldn’t mind some wine.’ Haylis says.

I look at Kathanhiel. ‘Tonight,’ she says.

‘It’s not the same when Lyan will have everything.’

‘Uh…pardon me?’ I ask idiotically.

‘Haylis had him set up camp ahead of us,’ Kathanhiel explains, ‘warm beds and such, to ease us into the long journey ahead.’

I’ve never said it before and I’ll say it again: Haylis is a genius and I’m glad she is coming with us.

‘Should we not be more discreet? Aren’t there cultists out here?’ I try half-heartedly to argue.

Haylis laughs. ‘A day from the winter palace? Quit whining, I can see you like it.’

After that pleasant meal there is more riding. The rain eases up late in the afternoon, and with the wind dying down and storm clouds fleeing every which way, the day ends perfectly: under a fiery sunset, in a sea of green, and with pleasant company, Haylis included.

Best day of my life.

Kastor, esquire to Kathanhiel, on a quest to slay the Rutherford Dragon. That just rolls of the tongue. Not really.


There are a few trees scattered about now, tall ones that must have stood there for hundreds of years. As the night falls they appear as huge scarecrows in the distance, watching over the fields. The wind has picked up again, sending ripples over the rustling grass.   

We slow down; it’s gotten too dark for running. Haylis’ silhouette is barely visible as she points north. ‘The campfire, see it? Between those two trees.’

I see it, the orange glow – a beacon of hope. The horses eagerly pick up speed. Getting closer reveals the outline of a carriage, the four-wheeled kind that features soft leather seats and sealed cabins. Maybe Killisan can pull it tomorrow.

Haylis is laughing. ‘You are thinking we could take the carriage with us.’

‘No I’m not.’

‘It’s too slow and flashy. Not good if we want to be discreet.’

‘Are-are we being discreet now?’

‘Please, it’s been a day. What could possibly – ’

Without warning Kathanhiel cuts in front of us. Killisan reels in surprise and slips on the grass.

‘What –’

‘Follow me, and don’t fall behind.’

‘But the camp –’

‘Follow. They’ve seen us.’

With a crack of the whip Bobby breaks into a full gallop away from the campfire. I exchange a confused look with Haylis – or would have, if the night hasn’t gotten so dark.


Killisan takes charge as one hesitant shake of the reins spurs him into a run.

I look back and see nothing of line. The campfire is still only a distant dot, and through the dark and the howling wind it’s impossible to see or hear whatever threat that Kathanhiel had sensed.

Killisan stumbles over a hidden ditch, almost falls, then pulls himself back with the forward momentum at the last possible moment. Even in the prairies galloping in the dark is dangerous.

I look back again and see the campfire suddenly snuffed out.

There’s movement in the grass.

Under the waning moon, shadows are rising all over the ground.

A yell. I turn around just in time to catch Kaishen being sheathed. Two silhouettes had appeared up in front of us and were instantly cut down. Two shiny strips of metal zoom by somewhere below along with the gurgling of slit throats. Dead, whoever they are.

More shapes rise. They close in a second too late to intercept the horses, and the pair that had the ill luck of being in Kathanhiel’s way are struck down before they could raise their weapons.

Then the inevitable happens.

About time too; been too lucky lately, getting to be an esquire and all that.

A shallow pit catches Killisan’s leg and throws him off-balance. For one brave moment the animal struggles, lunging forward with the intensity of a fencer, neighing and straining his neck, but it is in vain, because his rider is an idiot who pulls in the reins just as he with all his might is trying to lean forward.

The world flips over. Two square boxes fall out of the saddlebag and scatter tea leaves from the Islands into the grass like dull firework. Poof.

The ground hits, square in the back. Pain blocks out everything except for the looming silhouette of a man under a hooded cloak. The way he moves, the speed, it makes the King’s knights look like a gang of crippled children. One blink and the line of silver is already at my throat. 


How am I supposed to pick out the tea from the grass?

A clang. Flashing red light. A snake…made of fire? Where does it come from?

Oh it’s raining again. Wait, it’s hot and sticky. Blood. That fire snake, it ran through the cloaked man from gut to shoulder. A hand grabs mine, a supple yet incredible powerful hand that had been carefully moisturised. It could only belong to Kathanhiel.

‘Quickly,’ she says, pulling me up like I’m made of straw, ‘go to Haylis.’

Dizzy…must have taken a knock to the head. Where’s Haylis? Ah, by that tree, just over there. When did that tree get there? Has it always been there? Oh look, she’s waving at me – got to run.

Wait, where’s Killisan? Is he alright? Sorry my friend I’m such a useless –

Kathanhiel shoves me in the back. ‘Hurry!’

Stumbling, stumbling in the dark, towards that thicker shade of dark over there. A blade swings in from the right, but before it could land the hand that held it falls to the ground. Screams, horrible screams. Rain – no, blood – splashes up, hot, dripping.

Someone grabs me by the shoulder. That scent, those soft round things pressing into my back…Haylis?

‘It’s me. Snap out of it!’ She slaps me hard. That one’s been a long time coming. ‘Put your back against the tree!’

Getting slapped clears the mind like nothing else. I look around…

…and see a small army of cloaked assassins all around us. They’ve brought out torches, no longer hiding. Ten steps in front of us stands Kathanhiel, Kaishen in her right hand and the pick in her left. Red streaks are painted upon her armour, the first of many.

‘W-what do we do?’

‘Draw your sword idiot!’

I obediently do so.

The assassins surround the lone tree from all sides, all of them with identical hooded cloaks and hook-swords – scimitars, those are called scimitars, and their blades all have a weird blue sheen – some sort of poison, must be.

There’s fifty of them.

One speaks, her tone comically sinister as if she has heard too many tall tales. ‘Weapons down, Kathanhiel, and your esquires will live.’

Kathanhiel says nothing. She stands statue-still with Kaishen on low guard and the pick pointing at the ground.

‘Don’t be foolish. The odds are against you,’ says another.

A stupid impulse suddenly takes over. Nothing and no one, not even I, can explain why I’m taking a step forward, or why I’m puffing out my chest as if to spit hot fire. What am I doing? What am I doing?

‘You stand against Kathanhiel, slayer of the Elisaad Dragon! Odds won’t save you!’


By the Maker how dumb are you what are you thinking what goes on in that thick skull –

Hooded faces turn in my direction. They start laughing. They’re all laughing. Their voices reverberate like clamouring bells, loud and humourless.

Then Kathanhiel speaks, deadly calm.

‘That is Kastor, my esquire. You will not insult him.’

A flash of crimson lightning.

She must’ve moved…or was that just a torching flaring up? For a moment I thought she had dashed forward and…and…


A hooded head rolls free of its shoulders with a frozen sneer. Those glazing eyes are still full of malicious humour; surprise hadn’t had a chance to register.  

‘Come. Let us not waste time.’ Kathanhiel declares.

They move on her, a wave of human-shaped wraiths so fast they must be gliding on the grass. The first one to reach Kathanhiel falls to the ground in two pieces, parted from neck to waist. The second finds the sharp end of the pick waiting under his chin, as if he has voluntarily shoved his jowls onto it; a squishy thud, and he crumples.

No one survives the first hit.

Six bodies pile up in five seconds, but still they come. One blue-tinged scimitar flies by Kathanhiel’s left ear, cutting loose three strands of hair. Then comes a brief squeal, like the quack of a duck, as its wielder splits from shoulder to shoulder. Two cloaks fly at her face in an attempt to blind. A flash of red, and they burst into flames in mid-air and turn to ash.

The sword. It’s on fire.

Kaishen is glowing red hot like it just came out of the forge. A snake of fire, it runs through two more bodies as if their bones were butter.

At a signal the assailants extinguish their torches, and the sudden darkness blinds the eye. Kaishen dims immediately, but a moment too late, the target bright and clear. Grunts and shouts come out of the darkness, sparks flying as crossing steel clamour like a rain of glass. They’re piling in, intending to crush her with sheer numbers.

Haylis slams an arm across my chest. ‘Don’t even think about it.’

My feet have taken three steps forward, somehow.

‘I wasn’t going to –’

A massive wave of heat explodes from the melee and the world turns red. The tree creaks dangerously as the blast rips from it all but the thickest branches. Objects sail through the air: bits of metal, cloth, limbs, all in pieces and all burning.

In the chaos a ring of fire rises from the grass. As the assassins fall away, half of them human torches, Kathanhiel lunges from its centre with Kaishen twice its original length and burning the crimson of sunset. It cuts through three at once; they part bloodlessly, their body-length wounds cauterised in an instant.

Still they fight, rising from the fire and yelling each other on despite their decimated ranks. These assassins are no cowards.  

But cowards get to live.

They won’t.

Kathanhiel is on the offensive, dancing in and out of the flames and mowing down everything in her path. Those scimitars, they break into two curled-up pieces of scrap the moment Kaishen touches them, and offer as much protection as bare arms. Two, four, eight, sixteen – they fall in droves and in bits.

Not a single sound escapes her lips throughout; no panting for air, no cry of bloodlust or jeering taunt, only silence. Meanwhile, Kaishen paints red ribbons upon the night canvas, so blindingly fast it looks like one continuous stroke of a luminous brush.

The assassins suddenly find themselves a third of their original number. There’s no more hiding, not before the inferno now sweeping across the field under the whip of the wind. Instead of scattering and saying ‘til we meet again!’ as befit petty villains, they group up…and turn to me.

In my hand, the little stinger of a sword suddenly turns slippery.

Oh, hi there.

They come, a dozen of them, their cloaks singed and hoods long discarded. Ordinary faces, pleasant, even handsome faces, belonging to men and women that could’ve shaken my hand and asked how my day was if we’d met on the street, stare at me with bloodlust.

Hi, how are you?

Haylis is overpowered off-handedly, the sword falling from her hand and kicked aside by a stray foot. The person in front, a middle-aged man with a neat goatee and trimmed sideburns, deflects my lunge with a casual wave and grabs my neck like a butcher would a fat chicken.

His hand is shaking badly, worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps he should consider seeing a physician.

‘Pull them up!’ the man yells before realising that most of his remaining crew had been cut down in the few seconds it took to reach the tree. There’s only six of them now, huddling behind Haylis and I.

Kathanhiel is right there, not three steps away.

‘You move, they die!’ the man yells, the voice of utter panic.

She stops.

There’s absolutely no expression on her face. The blankness makes her look bored, as if cutting down fifty people wasn’t worth paying attention to.

‘Will you not fight?’

Her voice is strange, like she’s…disappointed?

That bluish scimitar is shaking dangerously, and dangerously close to my skin. ‘One prick and he dies! Stay back!’

These next few minutes I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Kathanhiel moves her sword to honour guard position: chest level, vertically up. The glowing edge divides her face into two solemn halves. She starts speaking to it – no, whispering, pleading, as if to a lover.

‘Help me. Though I deserve not your strength, there are those who need me to protect them as you did me. Please, one more time.’

The man laughs in an exemplary show of stupidity. ‘It’s just a sword! Can’t do you any favours!’

She glares at him.

‘Be consumed.’

Kaishen splits. The blade breaks into six strands along its length, each thin as a needle. Sparks fall as their tips branch out into hair-thin threads and entwine into triangle-shaped heads: dragon heads, complete with brilliant white eyes and slithering tongues. They begin swaying side to side in hypnotizing motion, as if a snake enchanter is playing a flute and making them dance, except…I can’t look away. Impossible to look away.

Don’t want to blink. My eyes are drying out from the heat and it’s painful but if I blink the little dragons might disappear. Can’t turn away either. I don’t want to. You can kill me but you can’t make me look away. Just look at those things, look at them! The way they dance – the way they snarl and bare their pointy little teeth! So…so pretty…

The scimitar falls away from my neck but that’s not important. The assassins are whispering soft ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s but I couldn’t care less. Those little dragons though…

Why’re they walking forward and leaving me behind? That man with the goatee doesn’t deserve to get close – his dirty eyes will ruin their beautiful necks! Just…just look at that swaying, left and right, side by side, up and down like riding a wave. Those little mouths open, close, clattering, so chatty, so wonderful…I should be going to them. Why aren’t I?

Then a cloaked back blocks my view and it’s like getting doused with a bucket of ice during the most wonderful dream of my life. I look over at Haylis and see the same dazed look.

What…what was…?

The six remaining assassins are gathered around Kathanhiel now, each staring at a little dragon, mouths hanging open and drooling, their necks straining up and down, left and right. One by one they fall to the ground, smoking issuing from their ears and noses as if a fire had cooked their brains from the inside.

I blink, and the six little dragons are not really there at all. It’s just Kaishen, dimming to a dull red in Kathanhiel’s hand, a singular piece of metal.

Her enemies lay dead.


Thunder roils overhead. Rain is coming back to put out the fire…but not yet.

‘Stay where you are,’ Kathanhiel says as she hooks the pick onto the Kaishen’s crossguard. Only then do I notice that the sword’s glow doesn’t stop at the grip but halfway up her arm; somehow it has fused into her hand.

She pulls, gingerly at first, then with enough strength to tear a leg off a horse. The pick, made out of a dull black metal, doesn’t glow at all despite the heat.

The ensuing noise sounds like strips of steel violently twisted in a vise. The crossguard inches away from her grip with extraordinary slowness as sparks shower from her fingertips. Not a single sound had come out of her mouth during the fight, but she's groaning now, with painful effort.

Then it’s pried free. The moment Kaishen leaves her hand it plops onto the ground as a regular piece of steel, its glow fading in seconds. Kathanhiel screams, falling to her knees as if it was her heart that just got pulled out.

Steam is bellowing from her body.

I go to her, my head filled with nonsensical buzzing and my hands shaking all over the place, but I go to her anyway, because I’m her esquire.

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