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"Good morning," Matt yawned, stretching out his arms as he walked out of the cabin.
"Good morning," Vexa replied, her arrival being announced with her thunderous footsteps.
"You didn't by chance see where Kayla and Derek went when you flew over, did you?" Matt asked.
"I believe they and this…Brother Redbrick? Went into town," Vexa replied, her breath causing the grass at their feet to flatten from the breeze. "Gathering supplies and ensuring the well-being of the townsfolk."
"Incidentally, shouldn't you apologize for the hole 'stealing the villagers cattle'?" Matt asked with a raised eyebrow.
Vexa huffed, glaring down upon him for his impertinence. "Hardly. I am a dragon and our divine right to rule did not cease with the first age. I was merely collecting my taxes."
Matt slowly, ever so slowly, blinked. "I…see. Huh. Is the whole 'divine right to rule' for dragons recorded in any religious texts I can ask Kayla about?"
"Certainly," Vexa replied easily, laying her head and neck down on the earth. "She has a copy of the 'Divine Account of the First Age'. There it tells of our ascendency; fourth chapter, sixth verse."
"That's interesting," Matt replied, folding his arms. "What were the circumstances of this?"
"Put bluntly, humans wanted kings and queens so they could have vast kingdoms to rival the Orcs," Vexa replied flatly. "The gods had arranged them into tribes – appointing Dragons, because we live so long, was the compromise. Our divinely appointed privilege was never revoked."
"I was wondering if this world had Orc's," Matt replied with a smirk. "And it appears that mankind is alright with ruling itself."
"Against their god's wishes," Vexa said.
"Which God?" Matt asked with a raised eyebrow. "Or was it more of a consensus?"
"The god Kilwidar, the Supreme Judge, lord of Law and Order," Vexa proclaimed. "Creator of Dragons, and I'Leria's husband."
"Oh," Matt slowly nodded. "Okay, and he is still around and kicking, right?"
"Just barely," Vexa replied. "Defeating Makaboros has weakened him severely – his church is nearly nonexistent."
"Are these the type that need faith to live or are they the type for wide-spread belief being a side-effect of the deity's power?" Matt asked with narrowed eyes. "I need to make sure because the type I run into varies from world to world."
"The…second one," Vexa began, sounding confused. "Now enlighten me; what is it you mean by other worlds and deities? You've been consistently mentioning them all morning."
"Oh. Our lovable priestess and thief summoned me from my world per their goddess's orders," Matt replied, getting a dark look on his face. "Put a serious damper of what was supposed to be an eventless summer."
"This happens often?" Vexa asked.
"Yes," Matt replied.
The dragon hummed, bringing a claw up to her chin and scratching it. "You know, Deities of all kinds, if there are indeed other kinds, would not be able to summon you without something being done to enable them to pull you from world to world. That type of thing only happens when a soul is…shall we say, marked?"
"I wouldn't go there if I were you," Matt shook his head with a glare.
"Oh, but I merely wanted to ask a question," Vexa replied good naturedly. "What did you do?"
"I have killed Dragon's before," Matt replied. "Bigger ones than you. Drop it."
"Oh, very well," Vexa sighed. "You know, death-threats to one's allies are quite unethical. Almost enough to cause that ally to leave and cause an undue extension on one's mission, yes?"
Matt took in a furious breath and clenched his fists, yet said nothing.
"Anyway, we must begin our preparations to leave," Vexa said, turning her head. "I believe the wayward siblings should return at any moment. Have you made sure everyone's possessions are packed?"
"No," He shook his head. "I'm not touching anything that isn't mine. Hate to get charged with thievery when I leave and forfeiting my pay."
"I'Leria isn't dense," Vexa argued with a raised eyebrow.
"I know, and she didn't want to pay me initially," Matt explained, folding his arms. "She only agreed to save the lives of those two knuckleheads. Well, Derek's a knucklehead. Kayla's great."
"Well, thank you Matt," Kayla said, walking up the path with a smile on her face. "Everything in town is normal and the people are preparing to leave. The Shadow Spawn will remember their defeat here and they do not wish to remain here."
"Which means we need to get going too," Derek said, walking behind her with his hand on his belt. "Now."
"I agree," Brother Redbrick nodded. "I will be going with them. These are people of faith and they will need priestly power to ensure the land our lord gives us is free of the blight."
"It's been wonderful meeting you," Kayla told him, her smile growing wider. "Go with faith, brother."
"And may the ground be fertile before you," Redbrick returned and they embraced. "Brother Derek. Brother Matthew, may you both be safe. I'Leria will watch over you, protect you and guide you to victory if you allow her."
"She's definitely done some high-quality guiding, that's for sure," Matt replied wryly. As Brother Redbrick strode into his cabin, Matt turned to Vexa. "So, do you have a way to carry us or are we going to have to improvise?"
"I do not possess a carriage-saddle, if that is what you are asking," Vexa replied, the scales over her eyes rising. "Or even just a saddle. I'm afraid you will have to improvise something if you wish my services. I suppose if you're desperate I could swallow you whole…"
Matt snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "That's not a bad idea."
"Wait, what?" Derek asked in alarm. "You mean to have us travel in the Dragon's stomach?"
Matt took a second to think before responding. "Yeah. Less work than to keep everyone bound to her back or something."
"I was joking," Vexa replied, sounding surprised. "I was thinking you could merely shelter yourselves in one of those bubbles Matthew loves to make and I'd carry you in my claws. It would be no issue."
"Also a valid idea but neither of these two have flown before," Matt replied, pointing at the siblings. "I don't want them freaking out as the ground disappears beneath them. Much better to keep them blind to the terrors of flight."
"Oh, you fly like it's nothing," Derek replied with a glare. "It cannot be as horrible as you make it out to be."
"I think it would be wondrous!" Kayla said with bright, happy eyes. "Soar the skies, see the world as only might dragons do!"
Matt stopped to think for a minute. "I'm going to get overruled on this, aren't I?"
"It wouldn't be too much trouble, would it?" Kayla asked hopefully. "I would love to experience flight but I wouldn't want to cause you undo strain."
"Especially since you'd be the one keeping us safe in a bubble," Derek added with a raised eyebrow.
"It wouldn't be a problem," Matt answered with a sigh. "Alright. Vexa, do you want to put a guess on which one of them finds out that flying is terrifying?"
Vexa hummed. "I'll place that bet on the girl."
"Bet you it's Derek that's going to curl up into a ball when we take off," Matt replied with a flat expression. "Crying like a toddler that got scared."
"You're going to eat your words," Derek growled.
"We'll see," Matt replied with a smirk. "Is your stuff packed?"
"Yes, we packed everything up before we went to town," Kayla said, gesturing toward the bag on Derek's back.
"So, you did," Vexa replied. "Alright, Matt if you'll form your bubble?"
"Kayla, Derek, if you'll both stand here," Matt said, pointing at the ground.
When they both did so, Matt outstretched his hands and formed a glowing, translucent bubble around the group. They both felt the ground beneath their feet raise and they looked down to see that their heels had raised with the bubble beneath them.
"Pick it up, make sure you can carry it," Matt said, looking up at the dragon.
"Let's see," Vexa reached forward with her claws, massive fingers encircling the ball in a massive shadow. Kayla and Derek both stumbled and fell as the ball was lifted, but Matt was fine, his feet anchored to the floor. "The ball is fairly light, I should have no trouble carrying this."
"Good, I was worried," Matt replied. "I wanted to make sure it was thick enough to be adequate protection in case something flies into us at whatever speed you're hauling."
"We will be quite fast," Vexa said. "Please brace yourselves."
"Give us just a second," Matt said, stretching his hand out a bit further, and the sphere that they were in slowly seemed to fill in, from the back and below. Derek and Kayla watched as their feet leveled out. "Alright, let's sit down and get comfortable."
Matt sat down right in the center. Kayla sat to his left, Derek to his right. The sphere filled in further, filling in and bringing a belt over their waists. "Alright, you still ready?"
"Yes," Vexa replied, spreading out her wings. "We're lifting off."
Then the wings plunged downward, lifting the dragon straight up.
Kayla froze, taking a sharp breath through her nose as her heart slammed into her back with every surge of Vexa's wings, the blood rushing to follow. She looked to the left and could see the ground sinking further and further down, watched as the tree-line fell out of immediate sight. Her skin started to turn pale and her breathing slowly started to quicken. The bar across her waist seemed to grow more and more confining.
She looked down at something being placed on her hand. Matt had covered hers with his and gave it a light squeeze, giving her a comforting smile. It took a second, but eventually, her breathing started to slow and calm down.
Derek was feeling much the same way, his knuckles turning white as snow from how tightly he was grabbing onto the bar. Every beat of Vexa's wings was almost like a sledgehammer slamming against his entire body. He grit his teeth as tightly as they could.
Eventually, mercifully, the sphere leveled out as Vexa did and the view took the siblings breath away. In more ways then one.
The view was outstanding as they saw the mountains and valleys filled with trees, both green and black in the circular patches where the blight had spread. The landscape stretched out for miles in every direction, seeming to have no end. On the very edge, they could see the shore down the river they had so quickly and haphazardly rode down.
Kayla got a rock in her stomach as she looked down and saw that, for all intents and purposes, the only thing standing between her and falling to her certain death was a partially transparent wall kept in place by the pure will of the young man sitting beside her. She gripped his hand tighter.
Derek looked down, then out across the horizon. Then he threw his arms around Matt with a simple phrase. "I am not letting go."
Then Matt started laughing. "I mean, aside from the take-off, this is one of the smoother flights I've been on. But that's to be expected since it's solely wing-powered.
"Just shut up," Derek snapped. "And don't this blessed, holy sphere dissipate into nothing beneath us."
"I got you both, don't worry," Matt replied, still laughing and rolling his eyes. "Well, the dragon and I were both right, it seems. Neither of you really have the stomach for flight. At least not yet."
"I…no, I see why men were not made with wings," Kayla said, nodding rapidly, slowly wrapping her arms around Matt's for protection. "We were not meant to fly. We need the ground beneath our feet to bear us up."
Matt slightly shrugged. "Well, I go flying all the time."
"Well, you're more than a simple man," Kayla replied, still clutching tightly. "If ever there was doubt that you had divine blood in your veins, it is now dispelled."
"Well, I still doubt it," Matt argued thoughtfully.
"If it pleases you," Kayla said, burrowing her face into Matt's chest. "Now don't let me go."
The coast seemed to approach with increasing speed, the land below them slowly dissolved in the face of the Enervating sea. The great blue sea stretched out before them in an endless horizon, bringing a smile to Matt's face. Of course, that smile faded when he looked at the two siblings who were hiding in his chest and gluing their eyes shut, respectively. "You know, you both are missing the view."
"I think if I were to look, I would be sick," Derek retorted hotly.
"Well, alright," Matt replied with a sigh. Then he perked up and looked down and to the side. "…did either of you say something?"
"I said if I looked, I would be sick," Derek sounded even more irritated than before.
"After that," Matt said flatly. "I thought I heard someone whispering."
"I was whispering a prayer," Kayla offered, only looking up for a second.
"No, it wasn't you," Matt replied, unsure. "Huh. Maybe it was. It's stopped now, I guess."
They continued on like this for several hours. Eventually, Vexa's easy glide was enough to sooth both of the siblings that they eased their grips. Matt decided to move his arm and withdrew it from Kayla.
"Wait, what are you-?" Kayla asked quickly.
"Here," Matt said, wrapping his arm around her shoulder, only for her to take the offered arm and hold it close, wrapping the hand up to her shoulder, causing him to smile. "Better?"
"Actually, yes," Kayla quickly nodded, worming herself in closer. "Much better. Thank you."
"Do either of you think you can stand to look now?" Matt asked, looking at his two passengers.
Neither of them could answer immediately.
"No?" Derek replied, his toes clenching and twitching in his boots.
"You sure?" Matt asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Absolutely sure," Kayla nodded rapidly.
"Come on," Matt said with a gentle nudge to Kayla. "You're going to be kicking yourself for the rest of your days for not looking."
"I'm sure I'll be fine," Kayla said with a shake of her head.
"Live your life with no regrets…" Matt answered with a small, sing-song voice.
"I will have no regrets about not seeing the world from the clouds," Kayla replied firmly.
"You won't have any regrets about not seeing the world from the point of view of a bird, a dragon," Matt began with a raised eyebrow. "A demigod?"
Kayla groaned uncomfortably and simply shook her head.
"Alright," Matt replied with a shrug. "Whatever you say, Princess. How about you, Derek? You got some bravery in you?"
"I'm a thief," Derek replied flatly. "I don't have a brave bone in my body. Bravery is for idiots and people with more armor than sense."
Matt grunted in disappointment, shaking his head. "Well, we've got a whole week of this ahead of us so you'll have time. Oh, then the return trip's going to take another week so you'll still have time."
"Please, don't remind us," Kayla whispered back.
"Just let us get through today in some level of piece," Derek begged.
Matt sighed and didn't say anything further.
Eventually, the hours had passed and the sun began to set in the horizon behind them. Kayla had fallen asleep in her seat, her easy breathing in contrast to her panic from before. Derek had remained awake the whole time, his sense of danger keeping both his head and his heart running on overdrive. Soon, the rumbling voice of Vexa was heard shouting over the wind. "Your Goddess appears to have favored us; she has blessed us with an island."
"Hey, land-ho," Matt said with a smile, gently shaking both siblings. "Brace yourselves, we're making landfall."
"Huh, what?" Kayla asked, blearily blinking the world back into existence then yelped in surprise when she saw where she was. "Oh, dear!"
"Landing's going to be like take-off," Matt said with a smile. "Except, you know, in reverse."
"Oh joy," Derek said with a great deal of exasperated venom. "Joy of joys, we're about to crash into the beach and have our bloody, lifeless corpses scattered to the ocean."
"Derek!" Kayla half-sobbed. "Stop talking!"
"It's the truth!" Derek said.
"You guys are not going to die," Matt argued, shaking his head in bemusement. "Relax, we're going to be fine. Say, this island actually looks to be a fair size. I wonder if we can catch some…hey, Turtle! Neat! Have either of you had turtle soup before? It's really good!"
Vexa started the descent, the orb jostling as the flapping increased in frequency but decrease in intensity.
"We can try it if we survive the landing!" Kayla whimpered.
With a great splash of ocean water, Vexa's hind-paws landed on the shore. With that, the orb was laid down on the beach.
"There we go!" Matt said, still smiling as the orb dissipated around them. "Please remember to grab your carry-on packages and exit the flight in a single-file, orderly fashion. Thank you for choosing Matthew and Vexa airlines."
"Oh, stop your insane prattling!" Derek barked as he fell to the sand on his knees, making to kiss the ground.
Kayla yelped as the sphere disappeared and Matt grabbed her before she could fall in the water, carrying her bridal-style to the shore. "Here you go, Priestess. Dry land. I hope the island is to your liking."
"It is," She said, hand over her chest as she set foot on the sand. "It definitely is. Oh, thank the goddess we survived."
"We were both right, it appears," Vexa said, bemused, massive claws smashing into the ground as she stepped forward.
"Yeah, I couldn't get them to let go the entire trip," Matt replied cheerily. "…by the way, are you going to be fine as far as the 'eating' thing is concerned? I don't think I saw anything on this island that could serve as dragon food."
"Oh, I'm sure I can find something swimming around the island," Vexa said easily. "You'd be surprised at the size of some of the things in the ocean."
"No, I wouldn't," Matt shook his head.
"Really?" Vexa said with raised eye-scales.
"We should get to setting up camp," Kayla said happily, walking further into the island. "Matt, can you catch us one of those turtles? I'd like to try this stew you mentioned during our…trip."
Later that night, when the stars lit up the sky like field of diamonds glittering the moonlight, the fire was still burning. Vexa, her great dragon form had fallen asleep on the island, her great breaths nearly masked by the rush of the waves. Curled up in his bedroll, Derek slept in front of the roaring fire, nearly motionless.
Kayla and Matt, however, were still together, sitting in front of the fire, hunched over her book.
"Yeah, I can't read this," Matt shook his head, looking at the pages. "None of the letters look even remotely similar to what I'm used to."
"I suppose you can't hope for everything to be like your home," Kayla said with a sigh. "Well, here it is, the passage that Vexa was speaking of. I suppose the dragons are still pantomiming their divinely appointed role…if only the trappings that benefit them."
"It's really hard to rule a people that don't want to be ruled," Matt shrugged. "I'm guessing that since Kilwidar, that's his name, right? Since he's been severely weakened, so was his church which means that his creations, the Dragons, also have fallen out of favor with the people, huh?"
"That's more or less what I was thinking," Kayla replied, slowly closing her book. "I'll see if there's any official record of their calling being revoked, but I don't believe such revelation, if it happened, was ever recorded."
"So, were dragons created to rule men in this world?" Matt asked with a frown.
"That is the way it was recorded," Kayla nodded. "They ruled over men as Kilwidar ruled over them. I don't know much about the tenants of the brother faith, I've mostly been concerned with my own. He's concerned with Justice and Fairness and his followers are trained Paladins to a man – men of war and men of reason."
"Do they include women in their ranks?" Matt asked, his frown abating.
"Of course, though such disciples are rare, from what I've heard," Kayla replied.
"Why is that?" Matt pressed.
"They simply don't want too," Kayla answered with a shrug. "I've certainly never wanted to be a paladin – swinging a sword never appealed to me. I always thought it a nobler calling to heal the sick and injured, as well as ensuring the kingdom I was called too had a bountiful harvest."
"Makes sense, I guess," Matt agreed, laying back in the sand.
"Now may I ask you a question, Matthew?" Kayla asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Are you…" She paused for a moment to find the right words. "Spoken for?"
"As in do I have a girlfriend?" Matt looked up at her, asking for clarification.
"Yes," Kayla replied with a nod.
Matt simply shrugged. "I used too."
"Oh," Kayla said. "What happened?"
"I met her a few years ago, thought she was the prettiest thing ever," Matt began his tale, slowly standing back up. "After a few months and a couple of abductions, I finally got the nerve to ask her out to dinner. It worked out great, we were all happy until I got called in to stop a demonic invasion."
"Like with the Shadow Spawn?" Kayla asked with a frown.
"Kind of, except there were more of them and they were on fire," Matt replied with a middling-motion of his hand. "See, the problem is that, when I get Summoned I disappear. Usually for weeks at a time. First time it happened, my family got in front of National Tele-I mean, in front of the entire nation to ask for help finding me."
"Oh," Kayla said with a deeply regretful expression. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it, it's not your fault," Matt waved it off. "But at this time, I was gone for two weeks. It freaked her out really badly. She was worried sick. I came back, assured her everything was fine, didn't tell her anything. Got summoned again that year, had to help someone on a desert plane-er…stranded in the middle of the desert get home. She was distraught again, but I pulled the relationship back from the brink again."
"I…that sounds like your family and friends worry to death over you when you get…called," Kayla said, bringing her knuckle to her lips.
"That's putting it lightly. Anyway, things are fine until I get called. Again. This time to help efforts to cure a plague. I was gone for over a month," Matt shook his head and let out a sigh. "This time, I talked to her, told her everything. Showed her the force fields, explained in truth where I get pulled. I felt like I needed to be honest with her after not telling her anything since I'm not really public about what I do back home."
"Why not?" Kayla asked with furrowed eyebrows.
"I like the quiet life," Matt replied. "I get enough excitement in my life as it is at random. But after I told her everything, we haven't spoken since."
Kayla didn't respond immediately, instead looking into the campfire. "Matt, I'm very, very sorry about having contributed to your problem as I have."
"As I said, don't worry about it," Matt waved it off with a frown. "You had no way of knowing and now I'm getting paid. That's all that matters, in the end."
"But even if it didn't work out at home," Kayla started with a look. "Surely you've saved more than your fair share of maiden's that wind up falling in love with?"
"Some," Matt agreed with a nod. "Some. But it doesn't matter. Because when my contract is up, I go home and I never see them again."
Kayla looked up. "Oh."
"That's part of why I'm so insistent on getting paid and honoring my contracts," Matt said with a shrug. "It keeps the number of times I get summoned per year down. Way down."
"That is definitely a necessity," Kayla replied with a nod.
Author's Note: Alright, we're caught up. Unlike last chapter, which was mostly just a scene and a half of rewrite, this was rebuilt from the ground up, seeing as how the central conflict from last chapter was replaced, so was this. I know I lost some of the difficulty and challenged cause by Derek's decision last go around, but I hope to obtain some more of that difficulty next chapter.
Shout out to PostLifeSyndrome, our newest Super Patron. You're awesome, thank you so much for your support, I hope to keep writing for you and all the rest of my patrons for years to come and you're helping make that a reality!
Shout also out goes out too Melden V, Anders Kronquist, Ray Tony Song, makopaulo, Volkogluk, Aaron Bjornson, iolande, Martin Auguado, Julio, Jiopaba, Hackerham, Tim Collins-Squire, Maben00, Devil's Bite and Sultan Saltlick.
Until the next time!