Kat turns back towards Captain Fryte and sees him smirking in a way that she just knows means something bad is going to happen.
“You’ve handled my crew quite well. That, however, was not my whole crew,” he explains.
He snaps his fingers. The entire room shakes. The room shakes again. And again.
It sounds and feels like the footfalls of some huge monster.
“Oh dear,” says Kat.
She feels Dunstana tugging on her vest to get her attention.
She looks down to see Captain Kid pointing somewhere behind her and looking absolutely terrified. Kat turns towards where Dunstana is pointing.
There is another skeleton staring straight at her — a Dragon skeleton.
Where was he hiding a Dragon?
She looks up at Captain Fryte, who is still standing atop the mountain of gold.
“You have a Dragon? Why do you have a Dragon?”
The Captain nods and smiles. “He’s a Sea Dragon, technically, an entirely different species from proper Dragons. But that is neither here nor there.”
He points to the skeleton Dragon.
“This is Sparky. I found him when he was but a hatchling. He grew to a rather impressive size over the years. They don’t stop growing, actually, for as long as they live.” Captain Fryte calls down to his skeletal pet. “It’s playtime, Sparky.”
Kat is too terrified out of her wits to notice that Sparky is a terrible name for a Dragon.
The skeletal Dragon lumbers forward, causing the room to shake with each step. It rears its head back and roars, but no sound comes out — since it is made up only of bones, it lacks the lungs it needs to roar properly.
But it doesn’t need to roar. It’s still huge and terrifying and intent on eating Kat and Dunstana.
“What do we do, Kat?” Dunstana asks, cowering behind her sister.
“Run. Fast,” Kat suggests.
They start running and Sparky the Skeletal Sea Dragon lumbers after them, always close enough behind to bite at them, but thankfully never close enough that it can catch them with the knives it has for teeth.
As Kat makes lap after lap around the room, she starts to realise that running isn’t going to work. She and Dunstana will get tired and stop running eventually. And then the Dragon will eat them.
Somehow, Kat has always known that today would end with getting eaten by a Dragon. But maybe she can still escape that fate.
“I have an idea,” she tells Dunstana. “I’m going to try to lead it the other way. While it’s following me, try to find a way to hurt it.”
Captain Kid begins to protest, “But—”
Kat cuts her off, “Just keep running. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m not worried about you,” Dunstana mumbles in answer.
Kat lets Dunstana pull away from her before turning back towards the Dragon. She goes out of her way to make sure she has its attention. To make sure it’s focusing on her, she lets a couple of arrows loose in its direction — probably the single stupidest decision she has ever made in her life.
She has to jump to avoid its jaws, but at least she has diverted its attention from Dunstana. As she runs, she looks over her shoulder every now and then, trying to scan the Dragon for any sign of weakness.
“Hey, Captain Kid?” Kat calls as she continues running from the Dragon. Her lungs are screaming for air, her legs are screaming for rest, and she’s sweating like nobody’s business.
“Yeah?” Dunstana calls from the other side of the Dragon.
“Find anything yet?” Kat asks, running out of breath.
“No,” Dunstana answers, causing Kat’s heart to sink. She really doesn’t want to get eaten by a Dragon. Especially not one with a name as stupid as Sparky.
“Look harder!” Kat urges, pushing herself to run faster as the Dragon’s jaws almost close in on her again.
After another lap and a half around the room, Dunstana speaks up once again. She sounds even more out of breath than Kat.
“Kat!” she calls. “I found something!”
“Yeah?” Kat replies breathlessly but hopefully.
“He’s got a thing on his forehead,” Dunstana explains. “It’s like a jewel, or something. It looks magic and important.”
Kat risks taking a look over her shoulder, searching the Dragon’s head for what Captain Kid has described. Sure enough, there’s a big glowing crystal embedded in Sparky the Sea Dragon’s forehead.
“I’m going after it,” Kat informs her sister. “But I need your help.”
“Okay,” Dunstana answers cautiously. “What do I do?”
“I need you to get its attention,” Kat explains. She’s telling her ten-year-old sister to fight a Dragon.
This just might be even worse than tossing her across a pit of spikes.
Kat really wants this day to end.
And once it does, she’d like to forget it ever happened.
“Keep it busy until I can get a good shot. Okay?”
Dunstana falls silent for a moment.
“Okay,” she answers, sounding both out of breath and absolutely terrified. Kat can hardly blame her.
“And don’t tell the Admiral,” Kat adds.
“Hey, Dragon!” Dunstana calls. “Yeah, you! You’re a…” she pauses as she searches for the right word to finish her scathing insult “…stupid Dragon! And you smell!”
Kat looks over her shoulder and watches as the Dragon turns around to face Dunstana.
Apparently even long-dead Sea Dragons have feelings to hurt. The huge skeleton begins to lumber after Dunstana. Captain Kid’s eyes widen with fear when she realises just what exactly she’s gotten herself into.
She starts running really, really fast leading the Dragon away from Kat. Kat needs to make her shot soon or her little sister is going to get eaten by a Dragon.
No pressure, then.
Kat keeps a few special arrows in her quiver, as the solutions to very specific problems.
The one she has in mind was spell-forged at the Magological Academy and cost Kat three months’ worth of odd jobs around Porthaven. The arrowhead looks like glass and glows with a faint blue-green light.
It’s designed to disrupt any magical energy it encounters, like, say, the magic compelling a skeleton Dragon to eat her and her sister. At least, that’s what the guy selling it had said.
It only occurs to her now that he could have been lying just to make a sale. She really hopes that’s not the case.
As she readies the magic arrow, Kat says a desperate prayer and gets ready to shoot the Dragon.
From the other side of the pile of gold, she can hear the rumbling of the Dragon’s bony feet getting closer. She takes a knee, pulls back the bowstring, and holds her breath. She can hear her heart pounding in her ears. From the corner of her eye, she can see Captain Fryte looking on in anticipation.
Dunstana comes into view.
Half a heartbeat later, the Dragon comes into view hot on her heels.
For the first time, Kat gets a good look at the crystal that Dunstana mentioned. She doesn’t take any time to contemplate it, though. Magic isn’t really something she has ever spent much time studying.
She only takes as much time as she needs to aim.
Kat doesn’t think it’s possible to hold her breath any more than she is already doing, but it turns out she’s wrong about that. Time seems to slow to a painful, horrible eternity as the magic arrow sails through the air.
Just as the Dragon’s teeth seem ready to chomp down on Dunstana, Kat’s arrow collides with the crystal in the Dragon’s head. There’s a flash of light inside the crystal, and a sound like a high-pitched whine.
The crystal, magic arrow along with it, shatters into a rain of small, glistening crystalline pieces.
“Yes!” Kat exclaims, pumping a triumphant fist. “Woo!”
That arrow is probably the most expensive thing Kat has ever bought, but as of right now, it is also the best purchase she’s ever made.
“Yeah! You lose!” She’s too exhilarated by victory to care. “Take that, Sparky!”
The good news is that Sparky the Sea Dragon immediately remembers that he’s dead and crumples to the ground.
The bad news is that the momentum it built up trying to eat Dunstana keeps it going even after it falls to the ground.
The skeleton slides along the ground and right towards Dunstana, who gets swept off her feet and ends up stuck upside down between two of its ribs as her hat tumbles to the ground.
“Help, please!” she calls.
Still awash with victory, Kat makes her way over to the skeleton and pries her sister from the Dragon’s rib cage.
“Nice work, Captain Kid,” she says, reaching between the Dragon’s ribs to reclaim Dunstana’s lost hat.
“Did you see that?” Dunstana asks excitedly as she returns her hat to her head:
She’s out of breath and talking so fast that every word blends together:
“And this is the best day ever!”
“I know,” Kat assures her sister. “I was right here.”
“This is so cool! This is so awesome!” Dunstana continues. “I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad!”
“NO!” Kat exclaims fiercely.
Hearing that Kat used Dunstana as bait for a Dragon would probably make the Admiral explode.
Of course, if he did explode, he wouldn’t be able to go after Kat…
Captain Fryte reminds the sisters of his presence by calling down from his perch on the mountain of gold. “You have no small skill, that much is certain,” he says, twirling his moustache.
He snaps his fingers again.
Kat is really starting to hate that sound.