“Idiot!” he heard Bohr call. And then, more clearly, “Blackstone!”
He ignored it. His feet flew.
The dragon roared, its head turning to look at him. It was already moving, he had limited time…
He ran, ducking down to grip the hilt of the sword. It was still warm, whether from Caldir’s hands or the dragon’s breath he didn’t know.
Caldir was still moving around the dragon, never stopping – she couldn’t afford to – but he saw her look at him. Then her eyes were back on the dragon.
It was still watching him. Fear crawled up his spine, and he saw it rear back in preparation – then it was sending a great plume of flame his way.
He rolled just in time, hitting the ground. The sword hilt smashed painfully into his fingers. He scrabbled to his feet one-handed, using the fine silver sword like some kind of strange walking cane. He realised as he ran towards Caldir – Caldir, he must get to Caldir – that he could smell singed hair, and the back of his neck stung. Ah.
He reached her, and she looked at him with a mixture of surprise and utter fury, silent. He passed her the sword and she took it with a nod, then jerked her head in the direction of the forest.
He fled towards the trees, and towards Bohr, who smacked him around the head. It stung perhaps even more than the burns.
“What – ?” Blackstone managed.
Bohr only glared at him. “You deserved that, and she won’t do it. She’d never raise a hand in anger.” He tilted his head, as if conceding some point. “But my thanks for the effort.”
“I – ”
“I shouldn’t have brought you here.”
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t have let her…”
Bohr sighed. “She would have survived. Probably. But you didn’t know that. Come on, we should return to – ”
“No.” Blackstone cleared his throat. “I mean… I mean that I’d prefer to wait until it’s dead.”
Bohr nodded. “On your head be it.”
That wasn’t a bother for Blackstone. He had come here searching for some sort of adventure, and he’d found it; risk rarely deterred him, or he wouldn’t travel as he did. He’d seen rainforests, climbed mountain faces, watched the flight of strange new birds, and now he stood before a dragon. A dragon.
He should have been thrilled and composing studies in his head, making notes to transfer to paper later. Part of him was. Yet that part felt distant, faint. It had fallen behind, his lead thought instead the strange, stoic swordswoman who was –
Mary and Joseph. Who was clambering up the dragon’s spine, holding valiantly onto knobbles of bone, which were larger than the dracolisk’s but similar.
The dragon rose up and thrashed, trying to throw her off. Still she clung, and Blackstone watched, his heart in his throat.
Her progress was slow, but she climbed, her hands white-knuckled, her sword sheathed at her hip and clanking slightly against the beast’s scales. She moved to the next bone protrusion, almost hugging it, her legs kicking as she fought to find purchase on those scales.
Another movement upwards, another, another – then she was clinging onto its head.
She reached down for her sword, hugging herself to the beast’s skull still, her legs wrapping around the back of its neck. She brought out her blade, raising her other hand to grip the hilt –
(Blackstone inhaled sharply, remembering accidents he’d seen in a circus, too aware of how long the fall would be.)
She leaned forwards, past the dragon’s ears –
– Blackstone took a step towards the scene, his hands twitching –
– she angled her blade, still sitting atop the creature’s crown –
– Blackstone winced –
– and she drove the sword through its eye socket. Then twisted.
Blackstone grimaced once again, this time in sudden sympathy for the dragon.
It let out a high, piercing screech – a scream, in fact – that made Blackstone shiver. Then it swayed and began to fall – and Caldir fell with it. To Blackstone, the world almost appeared to slow.
In the moments before it hit the ground, Caldir leapt from its head. By then the fall wasn’t long, but she rolled to save her legs the impact.
Blackstone could do nothing but blink as she rose, a picture of Saint George victorious. Her hair had come half-loose and brushed her face. Two fresh cuts were on her cheek, and another bled on her lip. She sheathed her sword and strode towards them, chin high and shoulders strong, her armour clanking with each step. Her face was pale and she was breathing heavily.
When she was approximately ten feet from them, Blackstone comprehended the expression on her face: it was that white-lipped, cold anger he’d seen before.
She eventually stopped in front of him and said, “You could have killed us both!” She fell silent, attempting to catch her breath. “I should – ” An inhale. “I should… do something. When I realise what that is.”
Blackstone raised his eyebrows, waiting.
The silence grew, and she rose on her toes, exhaling. Eventually, she said, “But… thank you. I appreciate your intention. I think.” She sighed, rubbing a hand across her face. The motion did away with much of the paint, and Blackstone suddenly noticed a long thin scar across her nose and cheeks – a claw mark, perhaps. It almost looked like a slim smear of paint, but it was pale and obviously old. She stifled a yawn and looked to Bohr. “Is Ginniver still available?”
Bohr nodded. “Come on and get cleaned up.”
She relaxed slightly, the tension seeming to leave her shoulders, and began to make her way towards the woods. Blackstone, unsure what to do, meekly followed.