In a blaze of light, they were suddenly engulfed in an offshore wind. The sweet smell of the ocean flooded out of the new gateway.
"Come along. And don't forget your page Albrecht. He was your charge before, but now your responsibility for him is profoundly serious. This is a secret that has been kept for generations of slayers over a thousand years."
She turned to the others. "Don't discuss this with anyone on pain of a brief, but very fiery, death." They all nodded.
"Good. Please go through. It will be nice to get some sea air for'a bit."
Kralla gently put Barnabas down, where he promptly collapsed to the floor gasping for air. "What, exactly, is going on here Amethyst?" She asked.
"It's probably better that I show you, than try and explain." She started rummaging in the rubble. "Ah! There you are!" She pulled a worn looking branch of a tree from beneath the remains of the barn.
"Yes Master Tellerick. It's a gateway wand." She stood, a little unsteadily, and proceeded to draw a door on the side of the nearby chapel, before tapping lightly at the four corners and bringing it to life.
Amethyst rolled over and vomited noisily into an empty sheep pen, before slowly sitting up.
The eyes of Albrecht's page widened in terror as Amethyst brought her head around to scowl at the group.
"What's going on?" She squinted at Barnabas. "I told you to stay out of this fox. It's my business."
Barnabas's ears flattened and he hung limp in Kralla's vice-like grip as Albrecht stood between them. "Please Ma'am. His intentions were obviously noble. Plus he has a fairly decent right hook." He sniffed. "Nearly broke my nose!" He turned to Kralla. "Put him down madam Tigress."
Albrecht's page boy vaulted the short wall and ran to him. "Sire, please, let me help you."
Albrecht stood and wiped the blood from his face, before sighing heavily. "Boy, you will have to come with me now."
Everyone looked quizzically at Albrecht. "Sire?"
"I did not come here to slay the Dragon. I came here to retire."
"Sire? I. I don't understand! Did you mean to let the Dragon kill you?"
"Hah!" Bellowed Albrecht. "No. There is an 'arrangement' that the elder slayers have with this Dragon."
Behind him there was a groan, followed by the scraping of masonry.
"Oh... No... Shouldn't have done that!" Amethyst's eyes rolled up, her wings pulled in and she collapsed onto the ruined masonry of the barn beneath her.
"Sir Albrecht! Sir Albrecht! You have slain the dragon! Oh, praises be!" Came a shout from behind the short-wall bordering the monastery. Albrecht looked round, as did Kralla, Tellerick and Skaran. Barnabas struggled uselessly in the tigresses vice-like grip, huffing loudy through his nose as he struggled to breath.
"Boy! No! What have you done? I told you to return to the guild. You cannot follow me to where I am going!"
"DROP HIM NOW!" Roared Amethyst. Her huge wings outstretched blacked out the sun behind her as she towered over the remains of the barn.
Barnabas's Jaw dropped, as the enormity of having a dragon close by rammed itself home. Amethyst had shifted from friend to dangerous entity in a matter of seconds. It was something none of them were prepared for. Friend or foe, Amethyst was a force to be reckoned with.
Suddenly his mouth was clamped shut by a huge white paw as Kralla's arm wrapped around his chest and he was hoisted into the air by the tigress.
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.