There weren't always dragons in the Valley. I'll never forget the first night they appeared.
Moonlight pours over Arlie's body, her beautiful sunkissed skin glowing where the lavender-colored sheet wraps around her body.
I wish to crawl back onto the bed, pull her body near me, and press against hers. Yet there's a deep pang niggling inside of me, one I cannot manage to ignore. Instead of waking her, I sit stoking the fire outside our tent.
Other tents peak from above the tall grass, voices carrying across the field here and there, which generally bring me comfort.
Am I in turmoil from memories that haunt me from the West War? Or a potential danger looming over our people? Despite having a 'sixth sense, it never aided in alerting me of danger soon enough.
The latter was confirmed with echoes replacing the friendly chatter. The smell of smoke carried on the breeze. Jumping to my feet, I grabbed my spear and ran to the tent.
Gently, I graze Arlie's face with the back of my knuckles. Automatically, her body curls into mine, a slight mumble leaving her lips.
"Arlie?" I say.
"Again? Aren't you worn out yet?" She huffs, pulling the sheet up around her shoulders.
All I can do is chuckle. "Please wake," I say, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear, revealing her pointed ears.
"Quill, what's wrong?" She sits up, sensing the urgency in my voice.
The screams grow louder. I drop my spear and reach for my sword. "Wait here," I say, but Arlie rushes toward the tent's opening beside me.
Parts of the tall grass before us are scorched.
"Are we under siege?" She asks, running back to dress haphazardly.
"Please, Arlie, wait here?"
"I can help," she protests, puffing out her chest, her breasts bouncing up and down.
"Please, indulge me?"
Her mouth twists in consideration, and then she slinks back onto the mattress, her breasts now contained after she pulls her tunic over her head. "Please, do be careful."
"I always am," I lie, and she scoffs as I turn and run toward the source of the commotion.
I know Arlie is a better fighter; everyone knows it. I'm not too far behind her, but I was lucky enough to catch her attention in the first place, to be the one she chose to spend her years with, a half-elf. And gorgeous, and-
Fire blazes across the Valley, people scream, and tents are devoured by flames.
"Quill finally decided to show up!" Forges, the half-troll, yells to me. He's carrying a yolk with two pales of water on each end.
"That's all ale in there, isn't it?" I tease.
Forges chuckles and then goes straight-faced as Pietro, our self-proclaimed leader, scowls at us, his chestnut hair blowing in the breeze.
"The dragon is making its way back," Pietro shouts as a deep, guttural growl rumbles toward us.
His words, along with the growl, make my blood run cold. "A dragon?" I ask.
"Grab a bow and the larger arrows," Pietro orders, ignoring my question. There's no time to answer questions.
Brax, the final member of the Guardians, assembled to protect the Valley from danger, finally shows bow and arrow trained at the sky. He's always struggled with punctuality but manages to nail the timing.
A dark belly swoops down toward us, spraying saliva in a thick trail as it bellows a sickening sound at us.
Brax releases an arrow, which manages to pierce under the beast's right arm. The dragon screeches in pain and sinks lower to the ground.
A ringing echoes in my ears, a cry for help, for saving. Bile rises in my throat, a throbbing in my right shoulder.
Help. Help me, please.
A woman's voice meddled with heavy breaths and fear calls to me. I drop to my knees as pain shoots through my chest. The rest of the guardians make their way to the beast, swords drawn.
The beast tries to stand but staggers and crashes against a mighty oak.
I am here to warn you and tell you what's to come.
"Stop!" I holler, covering my ears. Her voice is so loud in my ears.
The three shoot confused looks to me. Do they not hear the voice?
Please, there's no time. You must leave. We must leave this place.
"Something's wrong," Is all I manage through gritted teeth. What could a dragon fear?
"Yes, a dragon is terrorizing our home," Forges says, rubbing his dark mustache.
Pietro ignores me now and draws closer to the panting beast. The dragon growls, warning him to stay away.
Staggering to my feet, I jog closer to the creature. Brax holds out his muscled arm to block me. I grab it and shove it down to his side, he's always ready to jump to support our leader, and it always causes me to wonder if something is going on between them.
"Go for the heart!" Forges shouts, swinging his ax in the air.
"No, cut off its head!" Brax counters.
I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I only meant to get your attention, your help.
"Pietro, wait." I rush past him, nearly knocking his weapon from his arms. Stretching out my hand, I watch as the beast's chest rises and falls with each breath.
"What the hell is he doing?" Forges shouts, which makes me cringe.
I won't hurt you, I promise.
And I believe her. "The dragon is our ally," I say, my hand reaching the dragon's scaled face. The touch diminishes all panic and fear from me.
"Don't make me hurt you too," Pietro threatens, raising his sword.
"Back away from them, you imbecile." Arlie's voice pulls me from the connection with the dragon as my hand jerks away from the creature. "Quill, you're a dragon whisperer? Why wouldn't you tell me?" She's not mad. Instead, she's in awe.
"I-I didn't know."
The other Guardians grumble, and Pietro mumbles, "Care to explain what's going on?"
"Stupid wizard in training," Arlie mumbles. She kneels on the ground beside the pinned animal, checking the wound. "Poor thing. What's your name?"
"Jara," I repeat.
"Meaning fierce," Arlie says, stroking the dark, blue-scaled monster.
"She said she's here to warn us of something sinister headed our way," I relay.
"Something more sinister than a dragon setting us all on fire?" Pietro asks behind us.
Yes, a darkness far fiercer than me.