It’s the morning of Sophies 21st birthday and she couldn’t be more excited. She lives in a village named Tresnia in the land of Barense and on a persons 21st birthday to be truly named an adult they must set out on a quest to obtain emeralds from the dragons cave in the foggy mountains. She’s been longing for this day since she was 13 and so she was frenetically getting ready. In Sophies excitement she nearly forgot to say bye to her parents before leaving the house. The only reason her parents got to say goodbye was they anticipated Sophies haste in leaving so were waiting right outside the door for her. Kyra and Rowne took turns hugging her tightly “You be careful and vigilant” Rowne said with a mixture of worry and pride in his eyes. ‘I’ll be fine dad.”
“You should have invited Charles along” Kyra added. “I can do this on my own. I don’t need him for everything.”
“It’s not too late to invite him. So many people die on this journey Sophie.” Her mother urged. “It is, I’m sure he’s sleeping. Besides, I’m confident in my own magic. I will come back alive, well and an adult.” They had a group hug then Sophie walked to town to gather the rest of the supplies she would need for the journey. Excitement tingled in her stomach while her mind raced with the items she needed. Sophie checked and double checked that she had everything on the list her father made for her. Sophies parents gave her half of all the money they had to ensure she could buy more than enough to keep her safe on the journey. The small sack was tied to her belt and jingled as she walked. She actually liked the noise even though normally the constant jingling would have bothered her.
She felt so proud to be finally going on this journey that even taking it with Kaji wouldn’t annoy her. He had become a better man but still could be ridiculously annoying. Sophies eyes rested on the words Mana Potions, widening subtly at the idea that she might have to kill the dragon. Doubt in her magic started to creep in but she quickly shook it off. She couldn’t afford not to be confident in herself while on this journey. If she stopped to doubt herself for a moment a demon or monster might take advantage of the distraction and kill her. She was her parents only child and it would devastate them if she didn’t return. She also had so many friends that loved her. She didn’t want to hurt any of them with her death so she had to keep confident.
She did however wonder if magic was the right choice. She could still buy a sword even though she wasn’t trained in it. At thirteen children get to decide if they want to be a mage or a warrior and she chose mage. Charles was so impressive with his blade and she wondered if she was anywhere near that impressive with her magic. It had been put to the test multiple times growing up since danger seemed to be her best friend but now that she was facing the perils of her coming of age journey a lot of things were tugging at her mind. Sophie walked over to the fountain and sat down to get her thoughts calmed and straight. As Sophie sat she contemplated if she should buy the sword and decided against it before standing.
Her magic was more than enough and since she wasn’t used to carrying a sword it would slow her down and wear her out. Just as she was about to walk away her best friend Charles jumped down from a tree. “you ok Sophie? You look conflicted. Are you nervous about your journey today?” Charles was 22 and had already been on his journey. She blushed, feeling embarrassed by her struggle with self doubt since she never doubted herself before. “I’m fine, I just have a lot to think about. I don’t want to forget any supplies I need”
“didn’t Rowne give you a list?”
“he and I worked on it together so I know you’ll have everything you need. On that note, can I come with you?” Sophie paused to consider it. Her parents vehemently wanted her to take Charles anyway and they had spent nearly every day of their childhood together so she didn’t see how this journey should be any different. “Only if you don’t slow me down. You eat every five minuets and I don’t have time for that.” Sophie finally answered. Charles smirked “this journey isn’t a race you know”
“I know” said Sophie as she playfully shoved him. She looked at her list then said “I only need potions to regenerate my magic.”
“I’ll need to sharpen my sword too before we head out” Charles gave his sword to the smith while Sophie bought as many potions as could fit in her bag. Charles kept up with his sword so by the time Sophie was done Charles was ready aswell. They walked side by side until the woods were before them “You know soph, I have done this before. It’s not all fun and games. You have to take everything you do seriously once we enter these woods.”
“I know Charles. You and I have faced enough danger in our lives for me to know that well. I’m an adult now, atleast I’m about to be. Don’t have so little faith in me”
“I have faith in you..I just care about you so much and I don’t want to lose you on this journey”
“Nobody can beat us when we’re together Charles” Sophie said assuredly then hugged her best friend. “Come on worry wart” she coaxed before stepping into the woods. His stomach growled just as she had done this and he grabbed her arm “I’m hungry”
“already?!” She asked “can we go back and eat somthing real quick? We shouldn’t be stopping to eat in here” Sophei sighed “I guess, though i think you’re stalling the start of my journey”
“Would I ever?’
“Thats not even a question” She said with a smile though she was impatient to get going. They walked the short way back into Tresnia then bought pie and lemonade. They took it to a great oak tree, sitting side by side as they ate. Sophie practically inhaled her food then told Charles to hurry because she wanted to make some progress before they ran out of day. He smiled and said “You’re too cute Sophie. I’ll walk and eat so we can get going ok?”
“thanks” she said as she stood. They were soon at the entrance to the woods again. Even at midday the woods were dark and ominous. Staring into the trees had her head racing with all the possibilities of this journey. Charles had told her everything about his adventure but each one was different. Nobody knew what trials a person may face on their coming of age journey. She stepped inside, her finger gripping the strap of her bag so hard her knuckles turned white. The cool air enveloped her, sending a shiver up her spine. Moss covered tree trunks, a pale white from lack of sun. The ground was littered with debris, twigs snapped under their boots. It became harder to see, the light seeping in from the edge of the wood barely reaching them. She raised her free hand, snapping her fingers so a small apple sized orb of light appeared next to her. She directed it forward watching as it moved gracefully ahead of them to light the way.
Charles moved closer to her with one hand on his blade. When he traveled through here during his journey a silver pelt wolf attacked him in these woods so Charles was on edge, not wanting any such beast near the woman he loved. It didn’t help his thundering heart or his worried mind that there was much more to fear in these woods than just wolves. Monsters and demons of many kinds loved the darkness of these woods. It was easy to hide and surprise unaware victims.
Sophie had permitted him to hold her hand a few times while they were growing up so he was bold and took it when his worry was about to overwhelm him. He picked up the pace, Sophie adjusting her own pace to keep up with her best friend. She kept the orb of light burning bright with her free hand while the other was nearly crushed by Charles grip. “Charles” she said when it hurt too badly to keep letting him hold her like that “yes?” She took her hand away. “you were squeezing the life from my hand”
“Sorry it’s just” Before Charles finished what he was saying Sophie felt intense pain in her leg then fell forward as her leg was jerked from the ground. The orb she had created instantly went out and she began to scream, having no idea what had her. Thorns and rocks marred Sophies skin as she was steadily pulled across the ground. Charles ran rapidly despite not being able to see very well without her orb of light. He didn’t care what he ran into or what tried to grab him, all that mattered was saving Sophie.
Sophie remembered what she had been taught. Using fire would probably be most effective but casting flames in a place like this would cause an out of control wildfire so she used all her magical strength to summon electricity. Sophie surged it into the vine that was wrapped around her leg. It let out a loud growl and collapsed, freeing her leg. She quickly stood up and began running in the direction she came from. It was painful to run but she had to find Charles before something else attacked her. Charles was quick from his training so she didn’t have to run long before she was wrapped in the safety of his arms.
Charles swept Sophie off her feet then ran as fast as he could to escape the woods. When they were finally on the the path lined with cherry blossom trees Charles loosened his tight hold on Sophie. She thought to herself “how could such a horrific place be followed be somewhere so beautiful.” Her mother had told her this was her favorite part of her journey and Sophie could see why. These were the most gorgeous trees she had ever laid eyes upon, even better than the trees Charles had guided her to when they’d go for the tournaments. Charles was exhausted, the fear had taken a toll on him and he wanted to rest and tend to Sophies bloody leg. “Lets relax under one of these stunning trees for the remainder of the day” he suggested and Sophie agreed. “can you use a cureing spell?” Charles asked as he sat with her. “I used too much energy summoning the thunder” she said with a look of shame.
Charles tilted her head up “you should never be ashamed with me Sophie. It would be wise to try and be more sparing with your magic though” Sophie gave him a smile and a look of love danced in his eyes. Charles opened up the bag and grabbed what he needed to bandage her wound. “it’s not bad so lets save any healing vials. I’m sure you can fix this in the morning”
“Yeah, thank you”
“I’m always here for you, you know that.” They ate granola bars from Sophies bag then laid down together in the pink petals of the trees. They were soft and cool against their hot skin from running. It relaxed them both into a restful sleep. Sophie woke at sunrise and used her magic to heal her leg. With no wound left to cover she took the bandages off and burned them until their was nothing left. She then knelled by Charles and shook him lightly “get up sleepy head!” He smiled and said “glad you’re feeling better”
“Thanks to you.” His eyes lit up, the grey orbs turning a bright silver. She rolled her eyes, feeling embarrassed again about yesterday but loving how happy he looked. “What was that thing anyway?”
“Vine reaper, nasty creatures. They blend in spectacularly to dark wooded areas. Their bite is venomous.” He replied as he stood, stretching his cramped muscles. To start them off today they ate the apples she had in her bag. They were sweet and served as drink too with how juicy they were. Sophie hated to admit it but she was now grateful Charles had come along with her. Who knows what else may have happened if he hadn’t ran at full speed out of there like that. She couldn’t run nearly as fast as Charles so it probably would have taken her alone double the time to get out and away from that ominous darkness. A slight breeze danced around them, kicking up cherry blossom petals and filling the air with a sweet smell. It was like walking through a fairy tale.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” He asked and tossed his apple core.
“Gorgeous.” She smiled up at him.
“If you see any purple flowers don’t touch them. They belong to the pixies. Pick one, and those little monsters will turn you into a toad.”
“Thanks for the warning. I like my human body.” He chuckled though he was tense. Charles mind was consumed with yesterday and how much his heart raced. He had always loved Sophie. She was the one he talked about everything to and who he had the most fun with. He wanted to be more than her friend but was always banishing the thought out of fear of making her uncomfortable. He’d rather have her in his life as a best friend than nothing atall. He was glad to be in such a peaceful place for now. This part of the journey took him two days to get through but that was mainly because he had touched a purple flower last time. The fairies controlled an ice dragon but Charles didn’t want to alarm Sophie which is why he said they just turned people into toads. He had a scar on his back from the encounter. He had barely escaped with his life and would make sure he didn’t have to face it again. Especially not with Sophie.
It was past noon when the sound of water reached their ears. A river rushed infront of them, cutting them off from the path. Charles didn’t remember a river being here. It appeared the fairies had manipulated nature to keep people away. Charles sighed, “Is there anything you can do with your magic to get us across?” He asked. Sophie studied the river, racking her brain.”It’s moving to fast to turn it into ice and there is too much water to use fire to turn it into steam.” Charles walked along the bank, his eyes searching the water for any way across. The tip of a large boulder broke the surface. The water was moving too fast to jump across. They would be swept away and smashed against anything that was hidden in the cold depths. An idea came to him and he rushed back to Sophie.
“I need you to uproot a tree.” She stared up at him, confusion flitting through her eyes. “It’s for a bridge.” They found a large tree with thick branches. She touched the old wood, apologizing for what she was about to do. She pushed energy in it, moving it down to the roots. She heard the tree groan in protest as the roots burst from the ground and the tree toppled over, falling across the raging river. Her knees shook and her head spun. She felt hands grip her shoulders, steadying her.
“Are you alright?” Charles asked, his voice so full of concern it warmed her heart.
“With you here, I will always be alright.” She placed a hand reassuringly over his. They carefully walked across. They made it across and both sighed with relief. She wrapped Charles in a tight hug and said “You are always so smart! What would I do without you! I’m glad you came. In fact i was kind of hoping you’d show up even though i kept telling myself I needed to do this alone. My mom and dad went on this journey together. When they’d tell me about it I’d always think what fun it would be for us to go together” Charles couldn’t help but blush as much as he tried not to.
He hugged her back just enjoying the moment. When Sophie let go she said “I still can’t see the end of all these trees. We need to get going.” The fairies were watching this exchange. They remembered Charles and were not pleased to see him again. As the sun began to fall they stepped out into a clearing. The grass was a vibrant green, like strands of emeralds. The remaining light glinted off a crystal clear pool, causing it to shimmer brightly. Peeking over the trees they could see the dragon’s mountain. It was intimidating and at least half a day away.
Sophie sighed, exhaustion creeping up on her. Charles could only imagine the toll it took on Sophie to generate the energy to use her magic. She looked heartbreakingly tired. She was always so vibrant and upbeat, but right now she looked like she’d ran an entire day without rest.
“We’ll make camp here, Sophie.” He said, taking her hand and leading her to the beautiful pool.
“We have to keep going.” Her voice was a weak whisper, so quiet he almost didn’t hear her.
“You are drained, we’ll stay here.”
His voice was so warm, so gentle yet she heard the command in it. She knew he was right, he was always right. He had done this before. She dropped her pack on the ground and flopped down on the blanket of cool grass. She scooped up some water in her hands and took a sip. The water felt amazing as it slid down her throat. She relaxed while Charles cleared away some grass and collected wood. She giggled as he struggled with making a fire.
“Brand.” She said as she pointed a finger at the pile of wood and it sprang to life with fire.
“Warm me next time, you nearly singed my eyebrows.” Charles smiled. He rummaged in the pack and pulled out two pieces of jerky. “Eat then we sleep.” Late in the night the sound of singing woke Sophie. Sophie’s eyes snapped open, her heart giving a leap of fear. She sat up and cocked her head, listening. Singing, high pitched and beautiful. Small lights caught her attention, enticing, lovely. She pushed herself to her feet, curiously following them into the woods.
She was so curious and amazed she didn’t notice she was far from Charles and only going further away. It was just so beautiful, like nothing she had heard before.The fairies were leading her into harms way. They thought they’d pay back Charles for setting foot in their land again by hurting who they could tell he loved. Deeper and deeper they took her until they finally quit singing. Sophie was instantly out of the trance and noticed the pack of wolves around her.
Back where they laid asleep Charles woke up with this odd feeling when he noticed Sophie wasn’t there. “SOPHIE!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. The fairies that were still there giggled. He then yelled “where’s Sophie?!” they pointed into the deep dark woods that were at the side of the mountain. They said together “when you get there it will be too late” They all flew away giggling.
He started running as fast as he could. He was panicked and his heart was pounding. All he could think about was getting to her and hoping she was ok.
Sophie was tired from going so long without resting but she was casting as much as she could. In her weakened state her magic wasn’t nearly enough against such a large pack. One pounced on her back and she fell. Sharp pains ran down her back. She knew it would be dangerous to cast a spell at herself but she had to do somthing. With everything she had she cast a water spell. She meant it to be thunder but she couldn’t think straight. It still made the wolf jump off but the cost was enraging the beast further.
She ran for a tree and started trying to climb. It was her only hope of surviving. Her muscles didn’t want to cooperate but she forced them and soon she was far above the snarling pack. They circled, growling and chomping their teeth. She was in so much pain but couldn’t cast a spell. The wounds on her back were bleeding so her clothes were slowly being matted with blood. She feared loseing too much and never seeing Charles again because of her stupidity. She hated herself for following that beautiful music.
Charles raced through the dark wood, sword drawn, heart pounding. He could taste his fear and rage as the scenery flew by. He turned in circles, lost in the dark. Charles heard the fairies giggle, heard their wings buzzing as they flew circles around him in the dark. They were trying to distract him, hoping he’d follow them in a rage. He felt himself shaking with anger. He took a deep breath, centering himself. Ignoring the fairies Charles heard growls, but in the dark they seemed to be coming from every direction.
“Sophie,” he screamed, “light now.”
Sophie heard Charles’ voice. It was muffled, as if the night had swallowed him, but it was there. He screamed again and she caught the word light. Sophies vision had begun to blur, but she managed to lift her hand and snap her fingers before toppling out of the tree and landing in the midst of the pack. Sophie was out cold from loss of blood and the over use of her magic. The wolves started running at her but were cut short when Charles swooped in and cut down two at once. He effectively executed all but the ones that retreated. Charles picked up Sophie, a few tears running down his face. He felt like he failed her. He kept thinking maybe if he had let her go a bit further or he had been more aware of her as they rested. He was incredibly worried and decided he needed to get her out of the woods before anything else attacked.
Charles ran until he saw where they had rested before. He set her down then carefully removed her tattered shirt. Charles then dipped his hand in the water to rinse off the wounds on Sophies back. They were freshly bleeding so he couldn’t clean her fully but he wanted to clean her off as best he could. When that was done he wrapped bandage around her torso then laid Sophie on her stomach. He grabbed a vial of healing medicine and poured it over Sophies back, relieved slightly when the wounds shut a little. He could see the blood spots were much smaller. The only thing he could do now was wait and hope she woke up.
Charles stayed awake all night wracked with worry as he watched over her and made sure not a single creature came even remotely near his Sophie. Sunrise came and his eyes were heavy, almost too heavy to keep open. He couldn’t fall asleep though. He couldn’t risk anything else happening to her. Suddenly he felt her move and she said somthing he couldn’t understand. “what?” he said wanting to cry but didn’t want to infront of her. Charles grabbed more healing potion and some herbs to numb the pain.
Sophie downed it, she looked dazed but in a few moments she leaped at him and gave him the tightest hug her weak body could muster. ” Oh thank you Charles. I’m sorry i was so stupid” Charles just hugged her, grateful she was alive and he hadn’t lost the love of his life. Sophie kissed him on the cheek and his face turned bright red. She lingered a few moments before returning to the simply hugging him. This moment more than ever he was struggling wanting to tell her how much he loved her.
When they broke from the hug they ate a quick breakfast of jerky and bread before Charles turned around so Sophie could remove her bandages and rinse in the water. She drank one more healing potion then put on the clean shirt she brought with her. With all this done she walked hand in hand with Charles, unwilling to be separated from him again. The fairies followed silently, their devious minds working out another plan to rid themselves of these two humans.
Charles couldn’t help but wonder what those horrible winged creatures had in store for them next. He knew they commanded the dragon at the top of the mountain, but he was their last resort. It cost much to wake him. He had barely escaped the beast himself. The crystalline beast was a force to be reckoned with, so absolutely terrifying that the very earth had shook with his rage.
“Do you know what we’ll see next?” Sophie asked.
“A swampy area. It horse shoes three sides of the wood. The Hvid live there. Deceitful creatures, beautiful at first. They have very sharp teeth.” He frowned.
“Did you figure that out?”
He stopped and lifted up his shirt to chest level. A curved line of scars marred the skin over his heart. She inwardly winced and blushed at the same time. When she finally managed to look him in the face he was grinning. She smacked him in the abdomen and he feigned hurt.
“Oh how you’ve hurt me.” He said dramatically. “I don’t think I could go on.”
“You’re lucky I’m feeling generous or I’d set you aflame.” She said with false indignation.
He regained possession of her hand, placing a kiss on her knuckles before they moved on.
They walked on and on, Sophie was having a hard time due to her encounter with the wolves. “would you like me to carry you?” Charles asked, noticing Sophies fatigue. Him thinking how great it would be to hold her again. She responded with “Thank you” He swiftly lifted her off her feet and held her close. She laid her head on his shoulder and smirked when she heard his heart start beating faster. ” I hear your heart race. Maybe It’s more of a strain to carry me then you say tough guy”He felt a bit embarrassed since he obviously couldn’t say the real reason why his heart was beating so fast. He just enjoyed everything about her. Her smell, her smile, her beautiful eyes, and especially her laugh.
When Charles could see the swamp in the distance he suggested “we should rest before we get there. You’ll need your full strength. I’m sure if we just relax here by morning you’ll be able to heal yourself”. Sophie felt guilty he was still carrying her so just agreed. Sophie asked to be put down and Charles complied. She walked over to a patch of flowers and laid in the midst of them. They smelled so nice and sweet. Much better than the sweat and blood she had been smelling. He sat down next to her and said “going to sleep already?”
“no just enjoying these flowers. They are like the ones your mother grows.” They talked and laughed until night fell. When the sun was gone what seemed like hundreds of fireflys filled the sky. Sophie couldn’t believe her eyes. She said “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful Charles!”
“you” slipped out of his mouth but the he started coughing. Sophie didn’t hear it and just said “don’t choke on air over there!”
Choking? He thought to himself, no he was suffocating. She lay there, her eyes reflecting the starry sky. They were deep shimmering pools of joy and amazement. He wanted that look to stay forever. He could do that, he knew he could.
“You’ve been wanting to kiss me this whole time. So why don’t you do it, or are you chicken?” Her eyes turned to him, piercing to his very soul. “Excuse me.” He swallowed nervously.
Sophie sat up, crossing her legs, a small smile playing across her face. She wasn’t a fool, she knew how he felt the moment he’s laid eyes on her. It had been love at first sight. He had fallen all over himself. She had to admit she loved him too. He had gone from closest friend and confidant to the one person she relied on the most. He had been her rock in this turbulent storm.
“You heard me you fool.” She said softly.
What he had wanted more than anything was right before him. He was so nervous and worried it was just a dream. He grabbed her face softly and kissed her passionately. Her kiss was greater than he had ever imagined. It was a long kiss, one they savored. When Sophie pulled back Charles laid down and she wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest. He was exultant that this was happening, what he had waited on so many years. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. ” I love you so much Sophie. I always have. Does this mean you’re my girlfriend?” she smiled and said “of course it does silly. I love you too” They soon drifted off to sleep. They both had never slept so well. Sophie woke up and admired Charles for a bit. She then rubbed his face and slowly went down his neck to his chest. He woke up with a smile. “Thank god it wasn’t a dream” he wrapped her in a hug and added “good morning beautiful”
She grinned and he smiled back. Sophie laughed at the look he was giving her, the sound light and musical. He had never known such joy. He stretched, inhaling the sweet scent of the flowers around him. A chill creeped up his spine and he suddenly felt very uncomfortable. They were being watched. He rolled to his feet in one graceful movement and pulled her up, placing himself between her and whatever lurked close by. His eyes scanned the swamp. There was something waiting.
“We need to get moving.” He lifted her pack and slung it over his shoulder.
“The fairies don’t like you for some reason. What did you do?” Sophie’s eyes darted around nervously.
“I killed one of their guardians, a wolf. They don’t tend to let those things go.”
“They’ve been holding a grudge for over a year?”
He nodded and she rolled her eyes. The fairy folk were constantly on winding road of emotion. Charles raked his fingers through his hair, tussling it. He hadn’t thought of what would happen once he chose to follow Sophie on her journey. Don’t you dare blame yourself for all this.” She said as if reading his mind. “If they want a fight they shall have it. I won’t turn back and neither will you.”
“You have no idea how truly brave and beautiful you are.” He grabbed her chin gently between his thumb and forefinger, tilting her head up to kiss her. His lips moved over hers reverently, loving the warmth of her skin. He pulled back, both of them breathless. “Now, lets get through this swamp and up that mountain.”
They took off to the swamp, the smell gagging them when they reached it. “The fairies won’t come in here. The stench is too much for them” Charles said. They were going through it fairly quickly when Sophie saw a beautiful looking creature. She exclaimed “look Charles!” he yelled “That’s a Hvid!”Sophie backed up and pointed at the creature setting it a blaze. Charles then swung his blade and sliced it in two. “What a good team we are” she said in a flirty tone. He smiled so big it hurt. He really couldn’t believe Sophie cared about him too. He wished he had, had the courage to tell her sooner but it didn’t diminish how happy he was they were together now.
“The best team. Remember to keep them at sword length.” He added extra emphasis to sword length.
Sophie took a good look at the creature it was tall and gangly and had stood semi hunched over. For such a skinny creature it was incredibly muscular. Since Charles had been bit by one, she suspected it was also very strong. It had to be to over power someone his size. It’s skin was a horrible greenish grey and shiny. She reached down and ran a finger over the flesh. It was slimy. Large, black eyes stared lifelessly up at them, its mouth was full of razor sharp teeth. The swamp had to be crawling with these.
“Come on Sophie.” Charles grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the now horrid, previously beautiful creature.The mud came up to their ankles and made a sickening sucking sound when they pulled their boots free. Charles had to help Sophie multiple times when she stood still for to long to catch her breath and she sank to her thighs. A loud screech broke the silence. His eyes widened when he saw a large group of Hvid crawl out of the mud. There had to be at least twenty of the beasts.
“We have to get out of here now.” He said.
“How, there are so many.” Sophie stared in horror, pointing her finger and setting one of the creatures on fire.
“The ground is grassier here, we can run on top of the mud.” He pulled himself out of the grey brown goop then turned and lifted Sophie out of the muck. Long fingers wrapped around her ankle from the swamp. She kicked out, landing a hard blow on the monster’s wrist so it released her. They ran, Charles cutting down Hvid after Hvid and Sophie burning them. She snapped her fingers and sent a ball of light at one of the creatures. It as well as those closest to it became instantly distracted. They burst through the line of slime covered trees, unable to stop as they went over a small ledge and tumbled down. They were back on their feet in an instant, relieved when they didn’t see the foul creatures following them.
“Lets not do that again.” Sophie said with a smile.
“Agreed.” Charles smiled back and sheathed his sword.
They got through the rest of the swamp peacefully. Now they were at the bottom of the mountain. The most dangerous part of the journey was now just before them. They were grateful to see the fog was barely there and easy to see through. Charles remembered how may skeletons he saw here. It seems most people that don’t come back die on the mountain. Aside from being the hardest part of the journey it’s the longest. They had traveled without stop through the swamp because it smelled so bad and they didn’t want to see any more Hvids so both were worn out.
Charles said “There’s some fruit trees a little bit west of here Sophie. Lets go to them, eat and rest before we try to get up the mountain.” He didn’t want to admit the reason he knew is because a beast on the mountain had shoved him off on his journey and he slid all the way down to the bottom. He could barely move when he finally stopped sliding so he hobbled to any nice place he could find to rest before hiking up again. Sophie thought it was a great idea and grabbed his hand. “Lead the way” she said smiling.
They walked about an hour more until she saw the fruit trees. She was amazed by all the different ones there seemed to be. She was starving so she let go of his hand and ran. For once in their life she was hungrier than him. When he caught up he teased her for it.
“Oh shush, I can’t help it. Where did these come from anyway?”
“The Fairy Queen grew them a long time ago. This is neutral ground because the fairies never dared to attack me here.” He reached up and plucked a large red apple off the closest tree and handed it to her. Sophie took a very big, very unladylike bite out of the apple. Then wiped it’s sweet juices from her lips. “It’s love that make them taste this way.” She said, mouth full.
“Love?” He arched an eyebrow at her.
“My mom’s pie makes me feel the same way, happy, energized. Obviously the Fairy Queen was far kinder than whatever has driven the fairies to such anger.”
Charles mulled it over. There had been stories that the wood had not always been so inviting. The swamp had not always been full of slimy, bug eyed monsters. That was centuries ago when people said the mountain suddenly spewed fire and the earth shook with rage as a thunderous roar filled the skies.
“It’s the dragon. He did something that made the fairies malicious.” He quickly finished his apple. “We have to get climbing.” He rummaged through Sophie’s pack, pulling out a long length of rope. He tied one end around his waist and the other tightly around hers. “So if one of us loses our footing.” The began climbing upward. Sophie as curious as ever looking around at everything. She looked down and regretted it right away. “How are we so high already?!” Charles laughed. They soon were on flat mountain and undid the rope for this part. We can walk up this path over here. It takes a bit longer but is safer and you’re less likely to fall. I took this route on my third try up.
“Third try up?” she asked. “I wanted to keep scaling up to be faster but it’s easy for monsters to knock you down that way. This path goes a day before we need to climb up the side again.” she retorted “maybe it took YOU a day because you are so slow. I bet it will take no more than half the day with me guiding us!” She jogged ahead and Charles gave chase. They ran faster and faster, laughing all the way up the path.
“Come on big boy, I thought you were a warrior.” She yelled.
Charles tried grabbing her, but she slipped away. A slight wind hit him in the face and it wasn’t long before he realized she was using it to her advantage. “You cheater. You can’t use the elements.” He swiped at her again, missing. “You ran three miles a day and I learned to use magic.”
Sophie giggled at his failed attempts at catching her. She finally slowed down, allowing him to grab her and pull her back. “I knew I’d catch you and it’s about time. I’m out of breath.” He flopped to the ground and she sat next to him.
They caught their breath and took a sip of water. They were back on their feet, this time going at a slower pace. Sophie’s muscles ached and she was sure she was bruised from head to toe. “Can I have a piggy back ride?” She asked, her eyes pleading.
“As long as you promise to stop looking at me like that. You must have practiced that look for years, your poor parents.” He came to a halt and let her jump on his back. “How much longer till we’re at the cave?” Her eyelids became heavy and she yawned.
“Not long, go ahead and sleep. When you wake we’ll be there.”
She pillowed her head on his back and it wasn’t long before she was sleeping, her warm breath tickling the back of his neck. He felt a knot forming in his throat. He had never felt so right, so complete in his life. He would never stop loving her, never give up no matter what obstacles were thrown in front of him. He would kill a thousand dragons before he let anything happen to his Sophie. Charles was in bad shape himself. His arms were sore from fighting all the monsters on their way there and carrying Sophie so much. He kept on though, all the joy he felt gave him strength. Years of wanting to be with her and she was finally his.
As much as he loved having Sophie so close he sighed with relief when he saw the cave they coudl rest in before scaling the mountain again. Charles spoke in a gentle voice “we’re here Sophie wake up.” She lifted her head and rubbed her eyes. “I didn’t expect to sleep all the way here. I’m so sorry!” “Don’t worry about it. I stopped for a lot of naps on my journey. I’m just tougher than I was then. Charles had been feeling hungry for at least an hour so now that they were in the shelter of the cave he pulled fruit out of the bag that they had stashed from the trees at the bottom of the mountain. He gave one to Sophie and they began eating and chatting about the celebration when they returned to the village.
Upon finishing their food Sophie laid her head on Charles shoulder. “Thank you for coming” He smiled and said “I would’ve came even if you said no”
“oh please I could’ve just electrocuted you and you would’ve been going nowhere. Remember that time you snuck up on me while I was practicing?”
“That’s impossible to forget. That kind of pain can never be forgotten. You have some very strong magic” Sophie smiled coyly and said “well atleast now I’m able to make you feel better.”
She kissed his arms and all over his chest and then slowly moved in to kiss him. He smiled, grabbing her face in his hands and kissing her deeply, his fingers sliding into her hair. She tasted like honey and sunshine.
The earth gave a lurch beneath them and for a moment he thought it was his imagination, that the world was shaking because of how excited and happy he was. It gave another shake, bouncing them of the ground so he landed on top of Sophie. “Holy crap, what was that?” She said, pushing him back so she could get off the ground.
“He knows we’re here. He’s issued a challenge.” Charles pushed himself to his feet, his sword out if its sheath. If the dragon came out he was going to shove Sophie down the side of the mountain. She would slide safely down and be out of harms way. It truly didn’t matter to him how angry that would make her, he needed Sophie to be safe. The ground began to heat up and sweat beaded on their skin. They moved slowly toward the entrance, barely making a sound. The neat coming from the mouth of the cave was nearly overwhelming. She directed a cool breeze into the darkness, making it more comfortable and easy to breathe. She snapped her fingers, sending a bright orb ahead of them. It was safer that way. Torches would give away their exact position, where the orb would not. They stepped inside, their breathing ragged. Sophie had to force one foot in front of the other. It was like walking through quicksand. Her brain kept screaming at her to run, her body wanted desperately to obey, but she refused to give in to fear.
They looked out to see the dragon looking down. Angry and fierce it gazed at them. A moment later it roared and flew into his home. The dragon may be gone but it awoke a bunch of giants who were not pleased to be at this hour. Three of them started running at Charles and Sophie. She started collecting her power to unleash a huge wave of ice to freeze them in their tracks. They were almost right on them when she unleashed the ice. It covered two completely but one was barely touched. It shook the ice off and groaned angrily.
Charles ran at it with his blade. He wasn’t used to giants being fierce. Near where they hunted they were nice and sometimes even helpful. He swung and it cut off one of the giants legs. It fell in pain but then uprooted a tree and threw it at Charles. He was pinned down and couldn’t get it off. Charles struggled angrily, not wanting Sophie alone to face this mountain giant.
Sophie quickly summoned thunder with all of her power. She wouldn’t have energy after this but was terrified for Charles. As soon as it hit the massive creature it fell dead. She ran to Charles and helped him get from under the tree.
After he was up without warning Sophie passed out. One of her wounds from the wolves opened again and she began pouring blood. Charles picked her up, his arms trembling in pain. He laid her down under a great oak and tended her wound. There was only one potion left. He opened it and poured it down her throat. She regained consciousness an hour later but was barely there. Just as Charles was truly starting to panic a wise wizard who lived in the mountains came up to them. “what’s wrong with the girl?”
“an old wound opend up after our fight with the giants. She used too much energy.” The elderly man touched her back, causing Sophie to cringe with pain. Charles was shocked when all signs of the wound vanished. “Thank you.” Sophie said, moving slowly into a sitting position.
“Who the hell are you?” Charles asked, his fingers sliding over the hilt of his sword.
“Come now boy this is my mountain, I believe I should be asking the questions here.” The old man’s eyes twinkled like stars.
Sophie rolled her eyes and punched Charles in the arm. “You’ll have to forgive him sir, he’s a man all bark and only bites when he’s backed into a corner.” The old man let out a loud bear of a laugh. Tears shimmered in his eyes and he fought to catch his breath. “I have never heard a woman talk to anyone like that, least of all a big muscular sword wielding fellow like you.” He slapped Charles on the back, a gesture of friendship. Charles couldn’t help but like this man. His smile was contagious, his sense of humor infectious. He helped Sophie to her feet, tucking her protectively under is arm. “I am Charles and this is Sophie. We are here because she has come of age.”
“You seek to steal an emerald from the fire breathing lizard. I see. One moment.” The old man dug around in his robe pocket and pulled out a shiny gold necklace. He helped it out to Sophie who took it, a bit confused. “Dragons love shiny things. When he tries to eat you toss this at him. He will have no choice but to catch it. Once he is distracted, you can defeat him.” “Thank you, sir. Why are you helping us?” Sophie looped the necklace around her neck.
“Because that beast trapped the Fairy Queen in that cave. He loved her shiny, silver wings. Since then the land has become uneasy and I have been unable to travel down the mountain. He’s a greedy, selfish tyrant. Kill him, release the Queen, and take as many emeralds and gold coins as you wish.”
Charles and Sophie exchanged glances. Killing a dragon was serious business. Swords could not piece their armor. Their weak point was at the base of their skull and getting that close was suicide. They both knew they had no choice. If Sophie didn’t collect what she came for she would forever be a child in the eyes of the village. She would not gain their respect and Charles would be seen as a coward and a failure if he turned back. Sophie wouldn’t allow the bravest man she knew to be frowned upon.
“Yes,” she said with renewed vigor, “we will kill the dragon or will die trying.”
” Good to hear young ones. I have my faith in you. Please come rest at my home here in the mountains. You need to be at your best. You’ve almost reached the beasts lair. That’s why he sent those giants after you.” Charles needed a good rest, all this worry & stress had worn him down. It was a short trek to where the old man lived. Sophie put down the bag in the old mans home near the doorway but Charles still held his sword. He didn’t want to be unprepared if something happened.”My dear boy you can relax. Fiends can not see my home. I have a magic spell around it. It will only fail to protect my house when I die. Feel free to lay it with the ladies bag.” He still wouldn’t and Sophie just laughed saying “you’ve already won my affections so there’s no need to be all macho” It embarrassed Charles a bit and he blushed. The old man laughed loudly. “That little girl sure has you wrapped around her finger. I can feel your love and I barely know the two of you. Calm down and rest.”
He opened a creaky old door where there was a bed. Sophie exclaimed “A BED! Oh I haven’t seen one in so long!” she ran to the old man and hugged him “THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!” Sophie swaying in the hug due to her excitement. The old man laughed as Sophie went in and Charles followed with his sword “I’ll just keep it by the bed” Charles set the sword down and then started to take off his shoes. The old man went to his own room, leaving the young couple alone. She crawled on the bed, basically having to lay on top of Charles. He wrapped his big arms around her and sighed with relief. Sophie felt completely safe and relaxed so drifted off quickly.
Charles nerves were racked about tomorrow. He inwardly laughed at himself thinking how glad he was the bed was so small since it caused her to lay on him. He rubbed her head and back for awhile before kissing her forehead and allowing himself to drift to sleep. “Charles, wake up.” Sophie shook him, but he just groaned and turned onto his side facing the wall. “Oh really now.” She jabbed her finger into his back, sending a small shock of electricity through him. He very nearly jumped out of bed.
“What the hell. My heart is beating so fast.”
“Good, now you have to get up.”
She sent him her biggest smile, it was incredibly heartwarming. So much so that he wasn’t even angry about such a rude awakening. He stretched, feeling better than he had in days. “Where’s the old man?” He asked, hopping to his feet. “He was gone when I got up, but he made us breakfast. Apple pie and fresh milk.” She grabbed his hand, tugging him out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. Charles ate three pieces of pie and drank a big mug of milk. It was wonderful to have a full belly. Sophie was covering her mouth, trying very hard to suppress her laughter. He pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly to him then kissed the top of her head, just savoring the moment.
“If we make it out alive, we’re getting married you understand.” Charles said softly.
“I agree. We’ve been through so much together. Spending the rest of my life with you would make me the happiest person in the world.” Sophie whispered, her fingers clutching his shirt.
He leaned back, kissing her softly and hoping with all his heart that this would not be their last day together. “We have to go. If we don’t do this now we never will.”
They left their nearly empty sack in the wizard’s house. They knew it would be there when they got back. The old man was still nowhere to be seen, but they knew he was close by. They could feel it as they stepped out into the early morning air. It was foggy and cold. The dragon’s lair was not far.
It was straight up to the dragon now. They tied rope to eachother again and climbed up and up. It was a long climb and Sophie started thinking about what happened this morning. It really sunk in now what he had said about getting married. She was so happy and honestly wondered why he was so afraid to say how much he loved her. He was so handsome, strong and smart. She felt lucky he loved her. Before she knew it they were on flat land again. A few miles down the road was the dragons home. Sophie had every bit of confidence they could beat it together, she felt they could do anything together. Sophie grabbed his hand and said cheerfully “let’s go my love.” Charles just smiled, a small hint of his fear lingering on his face.
About a mile down the road she looked up at Charles and said ” So we need a plan don’t we? We’re actually going to try and kill it. I think when we get in there I should run in. When he sees me I’ll throw the necklace and you can run up his back to his head and slay him” To Charles this seemed like a logical plan but it worried him. In a second the beast could kill her with even just a swipe of it’s claws. He’d rather himself die than her. Now that he had her he couldn’t live without her. All he could think about this morning was their life together once he got her safely home. Sophie grew impatient for Charles reply as he stood there staring with worried eyes.
“Stop worrying. I’m a grown women and I’ll be fine. You have fussed over me since we were children and you have to stop. We need to work together to get this done.” The mouth of the cave was intimidatingly large. The walls were covered in soot so thick it would take years to scrape it all away. Sophie could feel the heat rolling out and over her. The dragon kept his lair excruciatingly hot. She sent a ball of light into the darkness, gripping Charles hand as they moved inside. They slowed their pace as the tunnel opened up into a large cave. There lying in the middle, sound asleep was the dragon. His scales were a shiny crystal blue. Large black horns curved over his wedge shaped head then up into sharp points. She swallowed, her heart nearly leaping out of her chest.
Charles wouldn’t let her do this. He was unwilling to take that risk. She was ready, her muscles wound tight when Charles grabbed her then pulled Sophie into a kiss. His fingers wrapped around the necklace, gripping it tightly. “Forgive me.” He whispered as he jerked the necklace from around her neck and rushed into the cave. He whistled sharply, the dragon’s eyes snapping open to reveal bright green orbs. “That’s right you hideous snake, I’m back.”
Sophie stood in shock at first but soon that shock turned to anger about what he had just done. The dragon swung it’s large talons at Charles. He ducked then swung his blade up so fast she could barely see it. It dug into the dragons arm. The dragon was about to grab him with the other claw when she summoned thunder and shocked it. The beast roared in pain as it flung Charles. He hit the wall then threw the necklace.
The dragon turned away to go after it so Charles seized the opportunity to jumped on it’s back. The dragon was immensely huge so it took a bit to run up all the way to the neck. The dragon was almost to the necklace and Sophie knew he wouldn’t reach the point he could kill it in that time. She used wind to bring it back to her. The dragon whipped it’s head and roared at her. Charles made it to the back of it’s head and drove his sword in.
The dragon hit the ground instantly. Sophie walked over to the pile of treasures and grabbed some emeralds. She was a bit startled when the fairy queen flew out “Thank you kind dears. I’ve been trapped with that beast so long. What is your names and I’ll let all of nature know of what you’ve done for me.” They both told her and she smiled. “What town are you from?” “Tresnia.” Sophie said with pride for her little village. She flew off and Charles ran over to Sophie scooping her up in his arms. Despite her anger the feeling of triumph made her actually hug him back. She was so proud they had beaten it. He carried her out of the cave and set her down because he could tell she was upset.
“Are you mad at me Sophie? I just couldn’t bare the thought of loseing you”
“yes, this was my journey to become an adult. You shouldn’t have tried to do it for me.”
“I’m sorry, as i said I just really was afraid of losing you to the dragon” He spoke with sadness filling his face. It was hard for him to take when Sophie was cross with him. She felt bad thinking “well he did only do it out of love” She said “It’s ok, but you need to let me be a grown women. You can’t protect me from everything” They hugged then set off for the elderly mans house. He still wasn’t there which was odd to them but they collected their things anyway so they could get back to Tresnia.
The journey back home was uneventful. The swamp already began to look and smell better. A land bridge had been made across the sticky mud, allowing them to pass easily. No fairies followed them, nor hindered them. The Queen, upon her release had called them back. More than likely many would be executed for their transgressions against humanity and nature. They were met at the village with cheers and a banquet that was made all the more sweet when they announced their engagement. Sophie’s father actually cried. His little girl was now a woman.
“Are you happy?” Charles asked as they danced in the torch light to Sophie’s father’s violin.
“You have no idea how happy. My heart, my soul is complete.” Sophie smiled up at him, the stars in her eyes. He kissed her, pouring his love and joy into it. It was the beginning of their new life together and they were ready for anything.
~ The End ~