Albrecht's horse galloped, screeching, at full speed out of the black cloud. Dust, debris and huge chunks of masonry rained down in the field. The barns' cornerstone landed with a wet thud, throwing up dirt and clods of grass.
Albrecht staggered from the cloud, covered in a layer of thick black dust. Coughing, he managed to open his eyes as Barnabas's fist met his jaw with everything the fox had. Albrecht span, and landed heavily on the floor.
"St.. stop! I... " He cried, pushing himself up, as the giant black silhouette of Amethyst rose up. Coughing and spluttering herself.
"So, Albrecht. I hear you make a mean pastry." Amethyst smacked her lips.
"Ooh. I always enjoy a good sweet. We should be able to accommodate your talent for baking."
She rose and towered over Albrecht. "Fortunately, this is a wand spell. I have a cold if you hadn't noticed." She rummaged around in a pocket and brought out a gnarly stick before drawing a door on the wall of the barn. "Give the others a shout, would you?" She coughed, and then sneezed blowing the end off of the barn in a giant gout of blue fire.
Albrecht dismounted and led his horse inside the barn.
"The lady Amethyst I believe. It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Hrmph!" Amethyst rolled her eyes. "So... You are aware of the retirement plan?"
"Yes milady. It is a closely guarded secret within the guild's senior slayers."
"Damn right it needs to be a secret. Can't go around letting the management know I've been skimming the cream off the top of their precious slayers."
"Do we need to make a scene Ma'am? There are people outside."
"No. They're fine. They'll need to know at sometime. Might as well be now."
"Come out Dragon!" Shouted Albrecht. He, and his horse, stood outside the barn door.
"You can come in!" Replied Amethyst, loudly.
Albrecht paused. It hadn't been the response he usually got from a dragon. So this was it. He looked around and sighed, lowering his sword. Behind him, someway up the hill towards the forest, the others watched expectantly. At least he had an audience.
"Can I bring my horse?"
"Of course you can!" She said, a little lower this time. "Get your aging fat butt in here Albrecht. There's no need to make a scene out there. Tch! Honestly!"
They heard the clank of full plate on horseback before they saw the dragon slayer. Albrecht came around the corner and into full view; resplendent in his polished and dragon-fire proof armour.
"Where is the dragon!?" He bellowed.
Kralla put a firm paw on Barnabas's shoulder as he started snarling. "Don't make me do something you'll regret Barnabas. Amethyst is ready for him remember."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it." He growled under his breath.
"I don't either, but you'd best heed the warning of a dragon."
Tellerick got up from the table and pointed to the barn.
"When he arrives, send him in. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon." Amethyst turned to go.
"Oh, I organised the things on your list by the way." Piped Tellerick. "There'll be some barrels arriving the day after tomorrow."
"Many thanks Master Tellerick. My cold won't appreciate it, but I certainly will." She looked over her shoulder at Barnabas. "Don't interfere fox. I mean it! I've got this covered. If you want to do something, kindly ask the Abbot not to do it again or there will be consequences. Understood?"
Barnabas nodded. "I'll have a talk with him about it shortly."
"Achoo!" Suddenly the table was engulfed in thick, black, smoke. "Sorry!" Rumbled Amethyst, before coughing some more and sniffing loudly.
The others coughed and looked up.
"So... That idiot of an Abbot sent for a dragon slayer. I'm trying not to laugh because my chest is aching like buggery." Amethyst sniggered loudly.
"Aren't you worried?!"
Amethyst looked weary. "Nope. I've been dealing with these guys for centuries. Got a, er, little trick for dealing with them." She winked at Barnabas.
"Trick? They're dragon slayers! We can stop them before they get to you!"
"Fox. Stay put. And watch a pro."
"What do you mean? She's probably right?!" Asked Barnabas as he approached the table holding a pitcher of wine. Tellerick turned to him.
"Barnabas, sit down. I think that we need to have a chat."
"What? About someone coming here with the express purpose of slaying Amethyst? Don't be ridiculous! We have to stop them!" He slammed the pitcher down on the table, wine sloshed violently inside.
"Barnabas, Amethyst is an old dragon!"
Tellerick sighed heavily. "She old because she's probably seen most of the slayer guild die. They're not just known for their victories, but their mortality rate!"
Tellerick sighed. "It's like we're just stumbling from one disaster to another. What is it now?"
"The Abbot sent for a dragon slayer to kill Amethyst. I believe that there may be one in town." Kralla growled, before taking a bite out of the Turkey leg she was holding. Most of it disappeared.
"Well it's only a day's ride from here. When did the messenger leave?"
"Not long after you did."
"That means he'll be here soon."
"I know. Barnabas wants to fight them. I've said no, let the dragon deal with them."
"She's an old dragon. You're probably right."
Tellerick sat down; and grabbing a plate, started to fill it with food from the table.
"William isn't with you Master Tellerick?" Asked Kralla.
"No. I thought it best to leave him with his father. He needs his family right now more than he needs us. He needs to be grounded by them."
"He has a lot of power, doesn't he."
Tellerick nodded. "I understand now why we've been drafted by fate to be at his side. He has yet to come into his own. We need to prepare him for whatever is coming..."
"About that... There's a problem brewing..."
Kralla waved from the bench, a leg of turkey in her other hand as Tellerick came around the bend in the road.
"Hail!" She shouted, before turning to Skaran. "Best go get Barnabas."
"He was headed for more wine, so he's probably in the cellar." Skaran got up from the bench and headed towards the main building.
Tellerick approached the table and sat down. "And how is everyone?"
"Well as can be. The dragon still has her cold. You should hear her snoring at night!" Kralla rolled her eyes. "We set up camp over towards the woods, she is... loud."
Albrecht mounted his horse. Behind them, a mule carried his plate armour and other gear. His page boy mounted his pony and brought it alongside Sir Albrecht's massive shire horse. He beckoned to the boy.
"Boy. You cannot come with me."
"But sire! I must!"
"Not this one Fred." He patted the boy's shoulder. "This one is a wily beast, and very old. It's bested so many before me, and I won't underestimate it. The last thing I want is for you to get in the way."
"I want you to return to the guild. Let them know."
Albrecht wiped his greying beard on his sleeve. "Gods dammit! The Mother of Dragons!" He coughed again. "Boy. Prepare our gear, we must leave as soon as possible."
"Sire? The 'Mother of Dragons'?"
"I recognise the description. This is an elder dragon that the guild has been trying to slay for centuries. It is a duty reserved for the experienced members of the guild."
"Like yourself sire?"
"Aye lad. Now run along and prepare. We must move quickly. This one is rarely down from its mountain in the North. Although I must wonder, boy, why is it so far south?"
"Sir Albrecht! Sire! A message from the Order!"
Albrecht rolled his eyes and sighed. He put down the polishing cloth and the pauldron he'd been working on.
"What is it now, boy?" He lifted a nearby goblet of wine.
"A dragon! A dragon has roosted in a monastery in the foothills. A messenger from the Order of Masterful Sepulchre arrived this morning."
Albrecht rolled his eyes again. "Probably another lizard and not a dragon."
"The messenger described it. Huge he said, black as night with enormous purple wings."
Wine sprayed across the boys face as Albrecht coughed and spluttered loudly.
"She could always throw-up on him."
Kralla looked sharply at Skaran and they both shuddered simultaneously.
"Aye. Maybe not. That would not be a nice way to go."
"Skaran, keep thoughts like that to yourself please. Lest I have to tie your mouth shut."
"Sorry big cat. My mouth gets away from me sometimes."
"Hmmm... I had noticed." She smirked, and then looked across to Barnabas helping the monks load the animals. "I think we might have to hold Barnabas back initially. He's likely to get himself hurt if we don't."
"Aye lass. I've got rope at the ready."
"I'll give the slayer a few more seconds than that. They do have flame-proof armour, and the guild's tactics are renowned. But like you said, Amethyst is a wily old lady. I don't know. She might just blast him into ash the moment he goes through the door." Said Kralla thoughtfully.
"She's not very well though. There might be a lot o'smoke and no fire."
Kralla put down her sword and slid it into its sheath. "Good point. She's not well." Kralla pulled her other sword from its sheath and started sharpening it. "We might have to step in."
"I suspect you might very well learn some new swear words rat."
"Oh, I don't know about that missy." He grinned. "But maybe I can loan master Tamryn some new ones!"
"So... If you were a betting rat... Fast or slow?"
Skaran scratched his chin and looked thoughtful. "Dunno. I'm all for the big showy stuff, but she's a wily old lizard. She won't let'im go, that's fer certain. He'd likely bring back reinforcements..."
"... I think there'll be a bit o'bluster, a big flash'n it'll be all over in a few seconds."
"So quick then?"
Barnabas got up and started walking back towards the monastery.
"Oh!" Shouted Skaran after him. "If they're not taking it with them, can you check to see if they've got any loo roll and soap they don't mind letting us have? We're running low and things are gonna get real smoky and ashy round here soon."
Barnabas rolled his eyes, and shouted back over his shoulder. "I'll ask!"
Skaran sniggered and Kralla glanced across at him. "What's amused you rat?"
"Heh, just thinkin' about what you said about what master Tamryn's gonna say when he gets back to baked ruins."
Barnabas sat down on the far end of the log Kralla was sitting on. "Do you really think that we should just stand by?"
Kralla huffed. "We'd only get in the way. If you really want to do something useful you'd better go help the monks pack up." She pointed at the side of the monastery where some horses and pack lizards were being gathered. "That idiot abbot of yours brought this on himself and your brethren. The least you could do is rub it in his nose. I can't wait till Tamryn gets back. He's gonna be so pissed!"
Kralla went back to sharpening her sword, as Skaran went over to Barnabas and patted him on the chest. "Sit down fox, relax. We're going to need to be able to move around quickly when the show starts."
"Yeah! Should be a good one too. Old scaly looks like she's got the nadgers to take care of a slayer quickly, but it still might get a little toasty."
Barnabas looked down at the rat. "Have you seen a dragon battle then?"
Skaran laughed out loud. "O'Course not! I should imagine not many have and lived to tell the tale!"