--Chapter Eleven: A New World Record for Dragonkind

The sun rose the next day, and heat set in early. The Desdon army arrived at noon. The Incria army arrived one hour later. These two opposing forces kept most of their fighting away from the village, but the residents and friars could hear all the sounds of battle from the hotel, their chosen place of shelter.

Isa sat in a corner of a room on the third (and highest) floor and hugged her knees. Her parents and Brother Waller were there, too, trying to make the best of the situation by playing a friendly card game.

“Won’t you come join us?” asked Waller. “Cards are much more fun with four people.”

Outside, one man screamed, “Charge!” while another just screamed in agony. Try as she might, Isa could not simply brush that aside.

“No thanks,” she said weakly. “You go ahead. Maybe I’ll get in the next game.”

All three adults looked at her with concern but, at the same time, understanding.

Waller tried to keep his expression as comforting as possible and said quietly, “We’ll start with ordinary rummy.”

“I don’t know that game,” said Harro.

“Oh, I’ll teach you, then,” Waller replied. “It starts like this...”

Meanwhile, soaring over the Aren Country and headed straight for The Windmill Road, Crispo called to the elf riding on his back.

“I tend to land a little rough,” said the dragon. “So sorry if it ends up bumpy back there.”

Diamo clung for dear life, his arms wrapped around Crispo’s neck. The elf was lying flat and keeping his eyes closed, since the last thing he wanted to think about right now was the drop down. Just hearing the dragon talk about a rough descent and landing was enough of an insult to injury, because from Diamo’s point of view, the entire ride had been rough from the start. Right at this minute, he was thumping violently and only by sheer grit could manage to stay aboard his ride. Elves, Diamo decided, were not good fliers...

At long last, Crispo said, “Okay, I see the battle and the road up ahead. I’m going to land at the east edge of the village so that I face both armies. Whoa... There are a lot of humans fighting... I don’t think I’ve ever charred this many before.”

“R-r-r-r-real-ll-y?” said Diamo, shaking and still not opening his eyes. “Wh-what’s-s-s your r-r-rec-c-c-ord?”

“Well, there was that time when a hunting party thought it could take me... That was, oh, I’d say about fifteen humans. Right now, though, I’d say there’s at least a couple thousand out there, plus some horses.”

“B-b-b-b-ut-t-t you’ll-l-l t-try?”

“Try? Well, of course! Hey, just because I don’t think any dragon in history has faced this many humans at once doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Besides, there’s gotta be a first time for everything, right?”

And with that, Crispo plummeted to the ground and, as always, assessed his enemies. There were many of them, but the majority were infantry fighting within a fairly tight space along the road. Cavalry rode around them for the most part, resulting in what Crispo could only amusedly call a target-and-bullseye setup. Some archers were farther away from the action on both sides, though; the dragon would have to watch out for these. He would compensate by landing between two of the village buildings and using those as his shields. Hopefully, if he could fry enough of both armies to make his presence known (he figured about fifty would have to die), he would scare the rest and make them run away in horror. He could feel the fire ready in his throat, but he churned up even more of it as quickly as he could. This would have to be the greatest flame of his life in order for him to succeed...

Crispo landed perfectly between a two-story house and what looked to be a hotel. Then he turned on a dime and saw that only a few of the warriors had noticed him; the rest were just too busy fighting to pay any attention to the newly arrived dragon. Subconsciously, Crispo realized that his own insides were about to burn up if he did not release the fire soon. He was starting to get light in the head. This had never happened to him before.

From the dragon’s neck, a nervous and still clinging Diamo yelled, “Well?”

Crispo violently threw his neck back, flinging the elf off. Fortunately for Diamo, the previous day’s rains made the road a soft, if very dirty, landing. Then, Crispo’s head went forward, and out from his mouth came a roar and flame so intense, it spewed for a full minute at white hot before finally cooling down and diminishing. The dragon’s roar was louder than every other sound of the war combined.

The hotel’s foundations shook, and for a brief moment, Isa thought the world was descending into chaos. She could see the creature outside the window, but she could not believe her eyes. What kind of horrible beast would be that loud and sprout fire from its mouth—and then it hit her, since there really was only one answer to that question.

“So dragons do exist!” she said softly but with all the appropriate amount of surprise for the situation. All the adults could do was to look on, terrified.

When Crispo’s fire finished, he was so dizzy that he could barely stand. The world was a smoky, hazy blur for a long time. Then, for an instant, he was able to see enough of the countryside in front of him to know that nobody was still standing to challenge him.

At this point, he let his weariness get the better of him, and he fainted.