As we walk back from our meeting with the dragon, I cannot help but keep looking back, just in case. A blue, obviously. Evil. An illusionist, good enough to hide herself from Fai and Jelita. Vain enough to create an illusion of herself - if it was a she, and it was not just fooling with us? - but too careful to show. And my friends were never the definition of careful planning. They'd insulted her, hoping to draw her out through draconic pride, and all she did was laugh at us.
This does not bode well. No dragon forgets an insult. Ever.
And I'd rather face a dragon who would attack immediately than one whose revenge is best served cold.
As I look back, Jelita squints and says, "Hey, what's that up there?"
And truly, four forms - smaller than the dragon, far larger than any of us - have flown out of the forest and are making a beeline for us. They look like huge wolves, and yet winged. An intelligent formation - no line, and even a fireball would only get two.
Ah, I've read about those. Canisphinx.
Don't they hunt alone? And only in pairs when mating?
And do dragons not drive sphinx from their territories?
"A test." Cypher smirks grimly.
"Looks that way." I say quietly. "They can paralyze with their howl. Be on your guard."
"I've spent most of my power to remove such effects." Katarina replies. "We shall rely on healing."
What else can they do? Instill fear? Most unlikely, not with a paladin by our side. Ah, yes. They drain strength when howling. Good thing not all of us rely on strength, then.
And then their leader howls, a haunting dirge. I have only time to see Fai's face contort in fear, as the warlock leaps into the air - for then the howl rises to a crescendo and fills my own soul with terror.
I must get out of here!
Somehow I do not fumble the arcane gestures, and appear almost a mile from the fight. Not far enough! More gestures, more words, and I am quick to run, and dodge between the trees, only to get away from that place, faster, faster!..
And then I come to my senses. Where am I? Damn! I - what direction did I even jump in? I try to get my bearings, and rise above the trees in flight.
And then a huge paw slams me into the ground, face down. All I can see are blue scales and claws.
"Caught you." That same female voice says, no longer in Common, but in Draconic. "I should think I did well not to show myself to your group. Not that our little chat went well, but had you been running like the cowards you are, there would have been no chat to speak of."
And all I can think is: I've used up my power to jump dimensions. I'm dead.
"Do you even speak the true tongue, mageling? You had better, for if you do not, I shall tear you limb from limb here and now."
"A-as if thh-at is n-not your plan regardless." I answer in Draconic. My voice shakes, betraying my fear. Damn again, do I at least not get to die with dignity?!
"Possibly not, mageling. Possibly not." I can almost see her smirk. "Tell me, little one, do your friends value your life?"
"H-how did you know my profession?"
"Simple." She laughs. "I've had ample time to study you while you were making fools of yourselves. Your little bat - careful in its hiding, but not careful enough - is very much a giveaway."
I can feel Taali's shame from the extradimensional pocket he must have peered out of back then.
"Do not worry." I say to him. And then to the dragon: "Y-you had taken m-me bec-cause I'd split furthest from the group?"
"My cal-ling makes no difference, then."
"Correct again. Though I do believe I shall have a use for your familiar. And, little bat, though I've no time to waste catching flies, be foolish - and I shall crush your master."
"I am listening," Taali says. I translate.
"First, answer me, mageling - do your friends value your life? What would they do to preserve you?"
"I... You p-plan to.. To blackmail them?"
"Quite obvious, is it not?"
"It will not work, dragon." I say, and I think it can hear the resignation in my voice. "It simply will not work."
"You are so worthless, mageling?" Her claws squeeze tighter around me. "I can believe it, if you are so fearful. What is it you do for them, protect them from the sun and wind? Was there no one better to do it than you?"
"What I do is... Irrelevant. What is relevant is that they do not submit to blackmail. That is a matter of principle, dragon. No matter what kind of power they are faced with. They will die rather than submit."
The dragon laughs with almost-palpable glee. "They will not die, mageling. If they prove useless to me, you will die, and I shall fling your head to them, and fly off merrily. Comb the desert if you will!"
Here it would be appropriate to proudly spout something like, "And then we shall hunt you to the ends of the Earth," but that would make her even more eager to get to the good part of the game. So I say, "They will not do evil. Not for my sake. Not for anyone's sake."
"So they will not kill for you?" The dragon says condescendingly. "Lucky you are, then, that I do not require killing. Nor even a particularly evil act."
"What is it you want, then?"
"Ah, that I shall reveal to all of you. Batling, I see they have scared off the remaining canisphinx. Go and call them here. Tell them that they may heal themselves before coming. I do not want to get too hungry from smelling their blood."