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12.3 Dracaena

# 2136 11 - 14 mins. 8

People were beginning to see the destruction that a dragon could cause. It was devastating. With every flame, there were more ruined buildings. With each swipe of its claws was the loss of another life. And despite the threat that people faced, there was still a reluctance to work together. A group of Beastfolk protected themselves from the monster to their front as well as from the Dwarves to their left. The Gnomes hid behind their illusions, largely ignoring the others on the battlefield unless additional illusions proved useful for them.

Our colony burned while we refused to do what was needed to stop it.

I struggled to even finish a thought as I took in the scene. Some people began to run, while others took turns taking shots at the monster, but it wasn't enough. All I could do was try and do my part.

The rain poured down around us and steam rose off of the freshly burned buildings. I watched the dragon as I worked on some more plants. I set down my spear so I could use both hands and grow things quicker. Thicker vines sprouted from beneath the monster and began to slowly wrap around its legs. I focused on one leg, in particular, that wasn't moving much, hoping I could at least pin it somewhere.

It tried to move the foot, and I tightened the vines around it. A couple snapped, but the others held firm. The dragon snorted and then screamed. It looked back at its bindings and sent a torrent of fire at them, setting a new part of the palisade behind it on fire. The fire burned through my plants in a split second and all of my work was lost.

This wasn't going to work. We needed to stop the fire breath. The dragon was big and powerful, but the fire was the most destructive part. I tried to think of a solution while I watched from behind one of the Dwarven bunkers.

Tigala had already transformed into a wyvern. She flew out behind it and landed on it's back, stabbing her barbed tail into the creature's back before the dragon shook her off and clipped her with its own tail. It knocked her off course but she managed to right herself and get out of the way before the dragon could strike again. Lolan found a perch along the palisade and was firing arrows at the beast whenever he had a clear shot. And Zef was behind a nearby bunker creating false targets for the creature to strike at.

There were others nearby too, but they were beginning to see the hopelessness in the situation. I spotted Dunnel behind a nearby bunker. He looked back at me with worry in his eyes. Raffa was up closer to the dragon going in for a charge along with several other Beastfolk. Sungura led the charge with multiple arms stabbing swords at the creature, but the dragon swatted them away like flies.

A claw hit Raffa, launching him into the ruined lodge and out of sight. Another foot stomped down on a gorilla Beastfolk, crushing him. And then with a blast of fire, Sungura and a fox Beastfolk were gone. Just like that, they were turned to ash.

I gasped. This isn't working, I thought. Each race was attacking it on its own. We needed to work together or we were all going to be wiped out.

People were beginning to flee, but it was no use. The dragon was catching them like a cat on mice and dispatching them quickly. It took to the sky and followed some toward the encampment below the hill where many of the other deserters had fled to.

I tried to think of a way out of this—a way to stop that thing from killing everyone in here. I watched it for a moment longer. The rain still poured down and slowly doused the smaller fires, but it had no effect on the fire breath. If we could just stop the fire breath...

Vines weren't going to work in this situation, but maybe I could do something else. I thought back to our training sessions. Zef said I was the most versatile at range. And he was right, but it wasn't how I was taught to use my magic. I had to get 'tricky'.

I looked to the others, "I think I have an idea. Help me get close," I said. I didn't, of course, but there had to be something I trusted that I'd think of something by the time I got close enough.

"That sounds like a bad idea," said Zef.

"Just trust me. We might be able to stop it," I said. I didn't wait for an answer. I knew he wouldn't be happy about this idea. He'd have to deal with it.

I looked at Dunnel. "Can you protect me from the fire? I need to get close."

"I'll do what I can," he said. That wasn't very comforting, but it would have to do.

I broke out from behind the rock bunker and darted after the creature. I needed to get close and I needed it to stand still for a moment before I could make my move. That was hard to do when it was flying. I looked around the warzone and saw Tallesia. Surprisingly, she and her small team were still in the fight. "We need to keep it grounded," I yelled. She nodded in response.

I descended the hill to where it hovered over the colorful Gnome tents. Each step was covered by the purple haze of illusion magic. I wasn't sure what Zef was disguising me as, but I didn't care either. I had bigger things to worry about. The dragon.

I reached the edge of the Gnome tents and looked up. The monster flapped its wings tossing dirt and tents around me. Then it drew another deep breath.

Oh no.

I watched its chest expand and then contract as fire spewed from the creature's mouth. In those last moments where the heat grew and I expected it to end me, I stared at the flames. Thousands of firey fingers beckoned me into its scorching embrace. I closed my eyes and the heat washed over me. Then everything went dark.

I opened my eyes and could hardly see. Red lines of molten something formed along the edges of whatever kind of structure I was in. It was still hot, but I was alive. I put my hand out and it hit something solid, a burning hot surface. I pulled my hand back and nursed it with the other. I struggled to breathe while the heat built up in the dark room where I stood. I collapsed to my knees. What happened? I thought.

Then, the sound of rushing wind all around me stopped. I looked at the glowing red line to my side and noticed the light fading from it. In another moment, I heard a shifting of stone as my eyes adjusted to the light of the day outside. I crawled out, gasping for the slightly cooler fresh air and the rain fell on me and the burning grass all around me. I looked back at the room I had left. It was a crude stone tent pushed up from the earth. I found Dunnel standing near Cairn and several other Dwarves at the base of the hill and wished I had the breath to thank them.

In the air above, the heavy beating of wings drew my attention again. A lightning bolt struck and I looked up to see the dragon falter in its wake.

Right.

I gathered my breath and yelled out to the Dwarves. "We need to keep it on the ground."

I heard muffled voices and saw the troop of Dwarves run forward. Another bolt of lightning struck the flying monster and it screamed as it searched for the source of the attacks. A third strike missed, striking a few distant tents, but with the fourth strike, one of the dragon's wings began to convulse. The creature fell and crashed into the Saurian tents toward the front of the colony.

I ran toward it.

All around me was ruin. Ash flew about like menacing eyes in a dark room. It seemed there was more smoke than breathable air. My throat burned and my eyes watered. Sweat poured down me and each movement was physically draining, but I had to push through it.

I was close now, closer than I had ever been to a creature that size, let alone a creature that was supposed to be a myth. The Dwarves had already begun trapping it. There were enough of them working together that they had two of its legs encased in pillars of stone. The dragon swung its tail and sent two of the Dwarves tumbling into the distant smoke, one of which was Cairn.

I gulped. Now was the time to do something. Now was the time to enact some clever plan and I barely had enough focus to keep my feet moving toward the thing. I had to start somewhere, so I began growing a plant beneath the dragon's neck. I needed to be tricky, but how?

The dragon was getting antsy and trying desperately to break free of the stone while the Dwarves try to reinforce it and tie down other parts of the creature at the same time. The dragon screamed. It was deafening so close to it. I could see each of its sharp teeth, easily longer than my fingers.

The plant was big enough now that I could do something, and a plan was starting to form in my head when I heard it again. It was the deep inhale that always preceded the fire. I looked to the Dwarves for help, but they were too busy trying to tie the creature down and protect themselves. There was no time to protect me as well.

I raised my arms and cowered when a hand threw me to the ground. I watched the dragon's mouth stretch open. Like a spark to dry tinder, something ignited and the flames poured over me. This time, I was surrounded by the blinding light. I landed on a rock that instantly turned red from the flames hitting it just past where I fell. I rolled off of it with a fresh burn on my arm. Then I looked up.

A Human stood above me with arms raised like he was trying to hold a mountain in place. The flames licked above him, into the air, as if bouncing off of an invisible wall. As the dragon turned its head toward the Dwarves, I saw several other Humans doing the same thing, redirecting the fire with their magic and protecting the Dwarves from the heat. Rodrigo reached down and grabbed my arm to pull me to my feet.

"You said you can stop it?" he asked with creased eyebrows. Streaks of soot marked his sweaty face.

I gulped again and nodded.

He nodded back and pulled a sword from his back as he charged at the monster.

I heard another scream from the monster and saw Tigala in wyvern-form pulling away from stabbing the creature in the neck. That's it, I thought.

I had to be quick. I had to time it right. I had to have perfect aim. I focused on my plant. It was still intact, safe under the dragon's neck. I built up the energy in the roots of the odd-looking vine-like plant, and then stretched the plant toward me. It reached out like an inchworm looking to find good footing. With a yank, it pulled the root ball from the ground and dragged it behind. It took another step forward and dragged the root ball once more.

The Humans now swarmed the monster attacking it with spears and swords. Archers fired arrows and the Dwarves fortified its trapped feet. The storm raged all around us, dousing the fires. The dragon raised its free claw to swing at the Humans, with me in its path, but an arrow pierced the hand. I'd bet that one was from Lolan. Then, the dragon took a deep breath once more. This was my chance.

As soon as it opened it's mouth I set the top of my plant on the ground and catapulted the root ball. There was no help this time. If I messed this up, I would be dead for sure.

The ball of dirt disconnected from the plant and sailed through the air. It flew straight into the dragon's mouth. And then, just before its breath ignited, I grew as many whipping thorned vines as I could in the back of the dragon's throat.

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