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12.4 Dracaena

# 2540 13 - 17 mins. 9

I covered my face with my arms as I expected the worst. The dragon was a split second away from spitting fire all over me when I unleashed the mass of whipping thorns inside its mouth, but the fire didn't come.

I was afraid to look, fearing that it had just taken a moment longer and the fires would consume me as soon as I laid my eyes on the creature. But they still didn't come. There was a loud snort. It was hot, and the wind made me stumble backward. I looked through my arms at the dragon, and it coughed. Fire spilled out of it. It was more like lava than flames and not nearly as much as it had been spitting before. It coughed again, and this time only smoke billowed out of the creature, the pink glow on its temples barely shining through. It looked sick.

With another cough, something fell from its mouth. It was wet and slimy, like an organ or something. The dragon managed to compose itself and then took another deep breath. Rodrigo and his comrades prepared for the attack. The monster roared and unleashed on us, but all that came out was hot smokey breath.

It can't breathe fire? I thought. I broke its fire breath?

The Humans were frozen in place staring at the creature in confusion. The Dwarves did much the same.

"It lost its heat!" said a voice among the Dwarves. "We can win this!"

There was a rally cry from the others as they stirred from their shock and continued their attack. But the dragon wasn't going to let us win so easily. It looked just as stunned by its lack of fire breath and went into a frenzy. It began flapping its wings hard, lifting half of itself off of the ground. It used every muscle in its body to try and break free. It's tail whipped around at the Dwarves while it swung its head toward the Humans.

"Get back," yelled Rodrigo. "You've done your part."

He was right. I wasn't sure there was much I could do now. I was surprised I did as much as I had. So I ran back as the dragon fought for its life.

When I was a safe distance, I collapsed to the ground, drained of energy from the heat of the fight. I saw others who had been fleeing now joining the fight. More Saurians ran forward creating waves from the falling rain to douse the flames and improve their mobility. More Gnomish illusions appeared around the monster, making it hard for the dragon to know where its enemies stood. A few Avians took the skies with bow and arrow and called out battle commands to the others. It was working. They were actually working together.

But it wasn't over yet. The dragon struggled, trying it's best to break free of the bonds. After a few missed swings at the Dwarves fortifying its legs, it spotted one of them and slammed its tail down on top of them. When the smoke had cleared, only three Dwarves remained in the fight.

The dragon flapped its wings harder yet. It wretched, causing the stone to fracture. Saurians attacked it, trying to fortify stone with ice, but it wasn't enough. The dragon landed all four legs on the ground and then jumped with another flap of its wings. The stone broke freeing its front claw.

On the dragon's back was another Avian that looked like an owl with glowing white eyes. It held only a curved sword and somehow kept its footing despite all of the commotion. The Avian made quick strikes and moved in anticipation of each of the dragon's movements. But the dragon's focus was elsewhere.

It tried one more time to muster up its fire breath but only blew hot air once again. Then it rolled over on its back and used its front claws to tear at the last stone shackle from his foot.

The Avian ran with the roll as if balancing on a floating log. She stabbed her blade into the dragon's arms, trying to keep it from freeing itself, but it was too powerful. The dragon's tail swiped at the Avian despite its ineffectiveness, followed quickly by one of the claws after tearing through stone. It hit the Avian, and she disappeared behind pillars of smoke. And then, the dragon was free.

It righted itself and began flapping its wings once more. Dirt and ash pelted my skin as I watched from a safe distance. The dragon screamed as it rose into the air. It hovered there looking at us for a moment. Arrows didn't stop pelting it from all directions. A bolt of lightning struck down next to it, then another struck its leg. The dragon screamed again, gave one more look at the warriors below, and then turned back in the direction it had come from.

The dragon flew over the palisade and raised itself higher into the storm. It became a dark shadow barely visible through the clouds. More lightning struck, and the dragon screamed more as it continued its retreat.

When it was finally out of sight, I continued staring in disbelief. I was sure it would turn around and surprise us again at any moment, but it didn't.

A yell erupted from the silence and I flinched, afraid of what it might be. I looked and saw Rodrigo, shouting through a smile with a fist raised in the air. More cheers joined him from the Dwarves, Avians, Saurians, Gnomes, and Beastfolk. Even the Elves joined in with their fists in the air. We had done it. We had driven off the dragon. We had saved what we could of the colony.

Arms wrapped around me from behind and I flinched again. A furry arm stretched over my shoulder and I found Tigala staring back at me. "Are you okay?" she asked.

I was still in shock. I still couldn't believe we had made it this far. I looked back at her and nodded.

"Good," she said.

"You did it!" said a cheerful voice behind me. "You stopped it."

Zef came into view with a wide smile. I looked at him and then at the others who were cheering. I shook my head. "We did it," I said.

He smiled in response.

"Is Lolan okay?" I asked.

"I think so," said Zef. "He hung back on the palisade for most of it."

I looked around, still unsure how to react to the feeling of successfully fighting off a dragon. It was amazing that my blind attack actually crippled its fire breath. But that wasn't even the most shocking thing.

"The races, they worked together," I said.

Zef looked over his shoulder at them. The cheers still rang out through the colony. "They united because of you," he said.

"What?" I said. I looked at him confused.

"They were following your lead," said Zef. "I tried to get them to work together before you got here, but they wouldn't listen to an old Gnome." Zef smiled.

"But why me? Why would they follow a Treek?" I asked.

"Maybe because you have no reason to help any of them," said Lolan as he walked up, joining the conversation. He shrugged and then wrap us all in a hug. "I'm glad you guys are okay."

"Me too," I said.

It was odd to think about. A colony of races that hated each other uniting with their one common enemy. How did that make any sense?

I looked around at the cheering colonists. They were framed by destruction. Tents were burning, buildings crumbled, and the palisade had gaping holes in it, yet they cheered. They had won against an impossible enemy.

Rodrigo approached our group hug looking at me with his stern face.

"Thank you, for the help," I said.

"Thank you for stopping that thing," he responded. "That was impressive."

I pursed my lips and looked down. "Thanks. I had no clue what I was doing."

"What?" said Zef.

I shrugged. "I had to at least try."

"Regardless, your bravery made it possible to drive that thing off," said Rodrigo.

"Thanks," I said.

People were still cheering and staring at the darkened sky. The rain continued to pour and we were all dripping wet, but it felt good after the heat of the fight. The rain washed away the fires and put a stop to the destruction.

"You should speak," said Rodrigo.

"What?" I asked.

"You should address the colony," he said. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but if there was ever a time to bring these people together, now would be that time, and you are the only person who can do it."

"Why me?"

"Because you are a Treek," he said.

That was a loaded statement, especially from him. He was a Human, the race took away my parents, and he believed in me to unite these people? What am I supposed to do? I'm just a kid with no people of her own.

"Come on," said Zef. He tugged me toward the hill that overlooked the tent city. I didn't know what to say to a colony that just got attacked by a dragon. I didn't know how to draw different races together. Sure, I had my search party, but that was a happy accident. And even that made no sense to me. I didn't know why we all came together like we did.

Nonetheless, Zef pulled me toward the hill and I followed slower than he would have liked. I looked down at the encampment. The few tents that were still outside of the hill were in ruins. The Gnome tents were much the same, with a path of fire and ash running right down the middle of them. The Saurian tents were crushed and burning as well, and several others around the colony were in shambles.

Zef drew a long shape in front of his mouth that ended in a wider bell-like end. He held the illusionary purple object in his hands and blew into it. The bellow of a horn blasted out of the other side and sounded throughout the colony. The cheers slowly died down and people began to look my way. I gulped and looked back at them.

Some still yelled things out with hands cuffed around their mouths. Some shouted and pumped a fist in the air looking at me. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but I was scared of what it might be. I didn't like being in the center of attention. I was a Treek, used to spending my life hiding from people, and here I was, being looked to by all of them.

As I stood there, the rain slowed and the sun began to break above us in patches across the colony. "Now's your chance," said Rodrigo, and I was reminded of why they brought me up there.

I took a second to compose myself, and then I took a deep breath. "We did it," I said. Zef held his illusionary trumpet in front of me and broadcasted my quiet voice out over the sea of ruined tents. It was much louder than I expected it to be. After a moment, a chorus of cheers broke out again.

They were cheering me on.

"We drove out the dragon," I said, a little louder. More cheers followed.

"But it wasn't any one of us that did it," I said. My voice was shaky and the words came out as the thoughts formed in my head. "On our own we are weak. Each race has powerful magic and weapons, but we all lack in versatility. My plants are nearly hopeless against fire. And illusions do little against an enemy that can set a field on fire with a single breath. We all have our strengths weaknesses."

The cheers died down, but people were still watching and listening.

"We have an enemy out there that is powerful," I said, growing in volume. "It is the enemy that held the Dwarves hostage. It is the same enemy that took the rest of our people, and it is the same enemy that has been sending monstrous creatures to attack our colony. Against them, we are weak, as long as we work on our own.

"But today, we took one step toward defeating that enemy. We drove off their dragon," I raised a fist to the air as I said it, and many cheered as I did. Marv and Abigail were among them, standing by the opening of the Dwarven tunnels. "We tried fighting that monster on our own, and we lost many lives to it. It wasn't until we worked together and worked off of each race's strengths to finally stop that beast from ruining our colony. They wanted us to stop looking for our people, but together we showed them that we are not a force to be reckoned with."

People were starting to look around at the other races. It wasn't going to be easy to band them all together, but as far as I could tell, it was our only hope. Elves looked over at the Avians, Beastfolk looked at the Dwarves, and Saurians looked toward the Humans. I could relate. This wasn't easy for them. I had been there too not long ago.

"I know it seems wrong. We have all hated each other for so long that it's hard to know how not to. But it is the only way forward. I have run into the enemy more than once, and barely escaped. They have magic that can control the minds of others, and they seem to be able to use other forms of magic as well." There were several gasps in the crowd at the mention of that. "If we continue to do this the way we have been, if we continue to go our separate ways and only protect our own, we all lose. They are too powerful, and on our own, we can't take them.

"So I know its weird. I know it feels like you are betraying the ones you lost to these other races." I looked down. "I know what it's like to lose the ones you love and hold onto that hate. But revenge only breeds hate. It will grow if we feed it, and if we ever want our people back, we can't afford for this to go on any longer."

I looked back at Tigala and Zef and Lolan. They looked back at me. "So join me in stopping this disease that has stolen our people and plagues this land. Forget the hate that keeps us apart and choose to trust the people around you. Regardless of our appearance or the magic we wield, we all want safety for us and the ones we love. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to feel loved and accepted. And if you look at it that way, we're not that different after all. So set aside the hate, and work join me in taking down whoever it is that has stolen our people."

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