And then, with a thump and a great gasp of smoke, it ended.
I saw almost nothing of the dragon’s actual death, to my chagrin: firstly because of the smoke, and secondly because one of its black fire bursts had caught me just above the knee and burned a divot of flesh and Dragoon armor clear away. That the armor had been seared as easily as mortal flesh disturbed me. If I had been any slower, no doubt I would have lost the entire leg. At the exact moment that either Zieg or Rose dispatched the monster—I believe it was Rose’s doing, because Z. would never have shut his mouth if it had been his own kill—I was on the ground, trying to staunch the bleeding, and getting crusty bits of my own burned flesh all over my hands. In retrospect, Shirley’s company would have been a blessing.
Z. glanced around to verify that I was alive. The spirit of the Dragoon faded from him, leaving him in his dusty red armor. Rose was flushed and breathing hard, but unharmed. I had been so proud of her when she upended her soup on Z.’s head; I was so proud now. There was nothing in all of Endiness that my beautiful one could not overcome.
She walked into the thickest part of the smoke. I did not hear what she said to the dead monster, but when she emerged, in her fist shone an ember light that hurt my eyes even after I shut them. I bit my lip to choke down an agony of triumph and longing. Z. must have done the same.
“Extinction or war,” she said—to Z., I think—and then the light grew brighter and the day darker, and all the hair on my arms and neck stood on end as if a ghost had breathed upon me. The air smelled of smoke and magic. Something reached into my chest and held my heart from beating for one moment, two, three. Then the world lurched; I gasped for air, Zieg grunted as if he’d been stabbed; and a Dark Dragoon stood where my Rose had been. She was sleek in ebony armor, plated like the dragon’s hide, and her wings glowed like old bones in the sunlight.
At that moment, when she turned her black eyes upon us like strangers, she made the mountains tremble.