Donner scratched his beard; it was his turn to frown. "And what would Mistress Amethyst want with all those gold coins and jewels and things?"
Skaran turned to Amethyst. "Don't you use these guys to collect your hoard of gold stuff together then missy?"
Amethyst laughed out loud before collapsing into a cloud of hissing black smoke. She took a moment to compose herself. "Oh my Goddess! You think I hoard golden trinkets?"
"Ain't that what all dragons hoard?"
"Oh mister Skaran. You absolute dear! That's like humans hoarding mattresses and pillows! I don't hoard gold! I hoard Dragon Slayers!"
Amethyst turned to the newcomer. "So... News mister Donner?"
"Nothing of muchness mistress dragon. Another pirate raid this last week, taken care of by the children. All were dispatched and their ship rendered into parts for the fishing fleet. That one was good for the town coffers."
Kralla, Telleric, Barnabas and Skaran looked at him. "Er, the litt'le kiddies took down a ship full of pirates?" Frowned Skaran.
"Aye! 'Tis a fun part of their training as dragon slayers mister rat."
"Trainin'? I'm er, gettin' real confused now. Don't missy dragon-draws ere get the gold from the ship then?"
As Amethyst finished her announcement, the boy collapsed like a matchstick tower into a pile of youthful, spindly, arms and legs.
"Well, he certainly had the fear of dragons put in him." Master Tellerick looked on as Albrecht picked up the boy.
"Some are meant to be slayers, and some are not." Replied Albrecht. "This one was not. His father had ideas above his station involving nobility; and sending his son to the guild was his way of getting on the ladder... So-to-speak." Albrecht looked down. "But he's a good lad, with a big heart. He'll learn quickly."
"I might have a suggestion there Dragon... Come here boy and stop cowering, this one's not going to kill you." Albrecht pulled his squire up. "Stand straight." Trying to control his terror, the page boy stood bolt straight as if he'd been turned to stone where he stood. "Gagh!" Exclaimed the slayer. "This one's father is a spirits smith. A distiller of renown, and terrible father having placed his boy in the guild."
Amethyst eyed the boy. "Is this true?"
He nodded. She sniffed. "We have a distiller amongst us! Well done Albrecht. Now I won't have to eat him."
A horse approached on the path to the village.
"Hail! Hail Dragon Amethyst!" Shouted the bearded man.
"I try and keep it informal around here." She winked.
"It is good to see you again Mistress of the Magma."
"And you too Siegmund. We have a new resident to our town. Do please ensure he has lodgings on the Bakers street."
Siegmund dismounted and looked at the others. "Ma'am?"
"Oh, these are just visitors." She sniffed and wiped her nose.
"You still have your cold Mistress?"
"Yes!" She grumbled. "If only the brewery could produce a half decent Whiskey." She sighed.
In the distance a small town snuggled down into a bay that formed a natural harbour. The hills dipped down towards the town, but also rose towards the sea forming tall cliffs that looked out over a cerulean blue ocean. On one end an imposing tower stood, its top clad in glass.
Amethyst cleared her throat and made a face before coughing again and spouting black smoke. "Welcome..." She said, wheezing. "To Hoardmouthe."
Tellerick looked down on the village. "Hoardmouthe? This isn't where you keep your hoard is it?!"
Amethyst nodded. "Don't go spreading it around alright? It's a secret."
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!"