Chapter 1

"Are you sure there is no dragon?" Aurora stressed, turning around to look at her companion who went by the name Sam. She had a dark complexion, which was common in these parts but her movements hinted that she was not wholly human. Her hair was black, but in the light a red sheen was revealed. She wore ordinary enough looking clothes, but with their numerous hidden pockets, the way that they could be adjusted from skirt to pants, and from brown green camouflage to bright colors, considering them any less than part of her gear would be insulting. She carried her oversized bag with her all the time, along with her favorite weapons: numerous throwing daggers that she sometimes enhanced with poisons.

"There is no dragon. Dragons are not found this far north. Besides, with every story of a hidden ancient treasure someone adds the rumor that a dragon is guarding it. That doesn't really mean there is a dragon really guarding it," Sam emphasized. "How far are we, anyway? Shouldn't we find the entrance today?"

"I don't know, the scrolls are in the lost underground city, but we're in the general area. Just keep an eye out for ruins. There's bound to be at least a bit left of the entrance," Aurora instructed. She paid careful attention to their path, so focused on the ground before her she didn't notice the subtle sounds around her. They were being hunted once again, while the forest appeared peaceful it hid monsters twisted by magic that would attack humans on sight. Most adventurers would walk right by a small sign, such as pebble sized building stone, but with her eagle like sight they had a better chance of finding what was considered lost. They were traveling in a virtually unexplored valley, one among many in this area that she was sure contained the lost city of magic. The ancient trees blocked the hills on either side of them. This was a corner of the world usually avoided by travelers, although at first it was unclear why. Things had been boring today; they hadn't been attacked yet. That only made her nervous about what lay ahead. Luckily, the brush was thin and walking was easy. "Wait," she breathed to Sam. "Something the size of a cow is coming up behind us." Sam nodded and two medium sized daggers appeared in her hands. Aurora grabbed her bow from her back and in one fluid motion strung it in preparation for a fight.

It burst into sight then. Ugly, Aurora thought, and she let loose two arrows towards vital points meaning anything that could be head, neck, or chest. The shafts sunk into its flesh only halfway, spilling its blood and enraging it. Sam was gone, choosing to run. Aurora did the same. The beast caught up to her quickly, as she wasn't a fast runner. Reaching under her breastplate while still running from the horrid cries of the creature, she fished out a coil of rope and a weight. Without much time to aim she hurled it towards a choice branch. Using her momentum, she swung from a high branch to a different one that was within her reach. The tree shook with a jarring force as the creature hit it, but she held on tight.

"Sam, you coward! Don't leave me here to die or I swear I'm going to haunt you!" she shouted. The enraged monster circled the tree and Aurora scanned the area but could not spot Sam.

"Ready," she heard. Sacrificing her balance for a better position by standing up, she fired two more arrows at the monster. They were poorly aimed: one skidded its top and the other cut into its side and hung there. At the same time, Sam ran out and lodged her throwing daggers deep into the creature, one in the gut so far the hilt couldn't be seen and the other in the neck. The creature blundered as it swung its body to face the enemy on the ground. Sam tried to get some distance before it could charge, but so close to death the creature was mad; its pain would not prevent this final attempt for revenge.

Aurora jumped down with all her might. Her blade, the size of her forearm, headed the creature off cutting clean through the other side of the neck. Aurora felt the crack of the thing's spinal cord; then the spasm of pain from the fall. Blood flooded out of the creature and it's head fell to the ground with a thud as it became partial detached. The legs buckled a moment after sending the body down. Sam's gasping echoed her own, but she could hardly make it out over the roaring sound of her ears ringing.

"Do NOT" Aurora inhaled sharply "... make … me … the … BAIT!"

Sam laughed and gasped at the same time, choking down the mirth in exchange of oxygen. For all her strength her lungs were still weaker then they should have been, only human.

"Ew," Aurora exclaimed when she could talk. "I'm covered in this thing's blood. This is so disgusting and it reeks. You are so going to pay for this." She tried to wipe it away, but it was on her hands as well so she flung it at Sam, who dodged easily. "You have no idea how many diseases this thing could have had, and there's not a stream within a day's hike from here," she cried out. The creature might very well have been a stray cow at one point in it's life before turning into such a thing. It still walked on hooves and had a strange blotchy complexion on it's shaggy fur. The mouth had been twisted badly and was no more then a hole filled with razor sharp teeth. Anything from breeding or bad luck could have led it to eventually change, or it could have been established offspring from another new breed of beast in the wilds.

Sam laughed "That's what you get for not screaming in distress to distract the creature. What was it anyway?" Sam asked, yanking her dagger out of the neck, wiping it clean. She enraged Aurora with her attitude and by not even getting her hands dirty.

"I don't even know. Whatever it was, it was beaten with an ugly stick before we ever came along." If there was nothing to gain from such creatures most people didn't even bother to find names for them. Aurora clenched the hilt of her own sword and pulled hard on it. When it stuck, she got a bad feeling and pulled again. Slowly the blade came from the flesh but it was disfigured from the impact with a spinal cord.

"Damn it," Aurora shouted. "Damn it, Damn it, Damn it, Sam! This is my only close range weapon besides a dagger."

"Doesn't surprise me, it was thin and only meant to cut through skin," Sam replied, examining the spot where her other dagger had gone into the creature.

"How about you, want to dig out that throwing dagger? Because if you do I'm not helping. I've seen enough of the insides of this thing." Aurora dropped her battered knife it was no longer worth it's weight to carry.

"Usually I would, but it was worn and it's deep in there – I think it nicked the heart. Besides, I don't want to end up smelling like you." Sam said, baring her teeth in a smile.

"Let's go back and find the bags so I can clean up." Aurora fished a rag from her pocket and wiped her hands clean before unstringing her bow. Sam unwound the rope from the tree and retrieved it for her.

"Thanks," Aurora spoke softly. "I'd hate to lose this. Shall we get out of here before something even bigger shows up to eat this thing?"

"Yes, but let me lead this time. The wind is blowing our way," Sam joked. They started to move on once again. "Why hasn't that rope busted from all the use it's had over the years? Your brother gave it to you right?"

"Yeah, I thought I told you all about it, he worked some spells on it when we were young. I don't think anything can break it now. I still don't understand how he worked in so many useful spells into it and managed to make it last this long. It's a shame he's pushing papers in a cleric job now." Aurora spoke fondly of her family and Sam fidgeted picking up the pace. Sam never spoke about her family much so Aurora was quick to change the subject when Sam quieted. "It's a good thing no one is tracking us;" Aurora started, "we've left a clear path of blood from various creatures just about every day."

"I know, we're fine with anything small; we can make a good clean kill easy. If it is medium, usually it backs off, but anything large is a struggle. Now, I've seen you pull off some other close range stunts like today's flying out of a tree: why haven't you ever bought a sword that doesn't bust in a real fight?" Sam asked. One sure thing to get Sam talking after a fight was strategies, she loved a good fight.

"I never really intended to go adventuring, but I guess now that it's what I'm doing I should. Maybe we'll find something in the ruins that I can use or sell. I don't want to resort to close range combat unless I have to: too messy and I have to expose myself. It's dangerous enough with you using that strategy. Besides, I'm concentrating on my magic now and I can only hold so many weapons," Aurora replied. "How about you? Your daggers didn't make a killing shot this time or on any of the other large attackers we've faced."

"I figure anything that can take something that large out quick enough to make any difference will be too dangerous to work with, so poisoning is out of the question. I did hit vital areas, and that's hard when I can't even identify the thing's front from its back. I will think about it next time we're in town and see what they have. I've gotten by with daggers so far, but it doesn't hurt to have a backup."

"Anyway this baiting strategy always puts at least one of us in danger and eggs the creature on. Once we get underground I guess we won't need to worry, but we're going to go through this area again on the way back," Aurora pondered. It was easy to fall back into the planning and thought processes that they had learned and excelled at while going to school together.

"Wait I know that the land between roads is full of creatures but shouldn't underground be safe?" Sam asked with confusion.

"It would but with all the magic that's been worked in that place it's likely that there's some left. When magic is left for years it can go wild, big magic anyway and that place will be filled with it." Aurora tried to explain, it was only a theory she had read of but it was well supported. It was safer too assume the worse in this case.

"So it shouldn't be much different then it is when we cross wild lands?" Sam tried to confirmed

"Shouldn't be, just like there shouldn't be a dragon guarding it." Aurora said with a smile, a empty city was not going to be a challenge.