“Hello, human. Are you taking a break from your hunt?” she asks.
You stare confusedly at her.
“Are you not a Hunter from the Adventurer’s Guild? You are following the trail of destruction left by the Scorchbearer, no?
You explain that you are not a member of the Guild and are trying to warn Castor of the Dragon after it destroyed your home. You give the elf a summarized version of your journey, from fighting your enemy-turned-ally, the Rooster, dealing with a mad wizard, discovering the Lake Nest Monster, stopping a horde of goblins in the mines, and brokering peace between two forest factions. You also tell her of your failure to reach Castor on time before its inevitable destruction.
She crouches down to your level, puts a hand on your shoulder, and smiles.
“The town is not destroyed yet, no? Scorchbearer – or Dragon, as your kind calls it – does not destroy mindlessly. It is an intelligent creature. It burns bridges, garrison towns, trade routes, and farms, preventing the largest population center in the region from receiving food, aid, and supplies. Even if it fails to destroy Castor and the Guild by fire, it will destroy Castor and the Guild through starvation and disease.”
You look at her in disbelief. How could that possibly be better news?
“While I speak of dark times, there is hope. Castor is a well-defended town and will survive the fire, but only if the Scorchbearer is stopped before it reaches the Great Bridge, the only remaining trade route connecting the city to other trade centers in the region. If trade flows into the city, it will survive.”
You ask her if she knows anyone who can stop the Dragon. With the only Hunters available at the Guild, you cannot think of anyone else who would be capable of stopping the creature.
The elf looks at you confusedly.
“Again I ask: are you not a Hunter? You are not a member of the Guild, but you have had more Guild experience than half of its members. Most Guild Hunters slay simple creatures like slimes and giant rats. However, what you lack in physical strength, you make up for in skill, intelligence, and survival skills.”
You laugh nervously, explaining you are not equipped to fight a world-ending monster.
She picks up your bag nearby and peers at the contents within. She pulls out some of the traveling supplies and tosses them out. As you are about to say something, she freezes. She stares at the remaining items in the bag, and her eyes widen. She closes the bag, tosses it back at you, and smiles.
“You are more than equipped, Hunter.”
She grabs your hood and yanks you up.
“Come. We have one day to get to the Great Bridge, and we have much to prepare. I am Serena, an apprentice artisan of the Corvus Elf Clan. They were destroyed decades ago by the Scorchbearer. I have honed my craft to prepare armor worthy of the Hunter who will defend these lands from the creature. You are that Hunter. May I accompany you on your quest?”
She holds her arm out in front of you.
If Castor is destroyed, the county will fall to raiders and disease. You will most likely not survive the coming winter. If you fight the Dragon, you will most likely not survive the coming sunrise.
You have a one percent chance of surviving tomorrow, but you have a zero percent chance of surviving at the end of this season. You have nothing to lose, so you decide that you may as well go down fighting.
You grab Serena’s forearm and agree to add her to your party. The words “Companion Unlocked” and “New Profession Unlocked: Novice Hunter” pop up in your brain, causing you to smile despite the concerning levels of word-based hallucinations you have been experiencing as of late.
“Excellent. We will gather the bare necessities from my wagon and leave it behind with any supplies we do not need for the journey. The magical locks will keep its contents from being stolen by bandits. Then, we shall take my horse and ride to the Great Bridge.”
She walks to the cabin door of her wagon and enters. You follow closely behind. The inside of the wagon has shelves packed with leather of different shapes and sizes. The small workbench is severely disorganized, with bits of cord, leather scraps, and tools strewn about.
The elf throws aside some pelts in the corner and pulls out a small chest from beneath.
“Pass me your bronze dagger, please.”
You hand her your dagger. She looks near the hilt and points at the underside of the crossguard. You see a small, winged serpent underneath. It is a dragon.
She looks at the chest, which has the same symbol near the lock.
“Long ago, four civilizations to the south lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when a fire drake attacked. Only a brave knight, lord of the four civilizations, could stop it. But when the nation needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed, and my master and I discovered the knight’s loot chest, which is packed with the equipment needed to remake his fireproof armor. Although my crafting skills are great, I have a lot to learn about locksmithing before I can open this for anyone. But I believe you can save the world…if you use that key.”
She points at the dagger.
You unsheathe the dagger and stick it in the keyhole at the front of the chest. It fits perfectly. You pull the dagger out, and the hole glows slightly. Serena grimaces.
“It seems the knight was a fan of using wealth-based magic to open his loot chests. Try inserting a gold coin inside of the keyhole now.”
You pull out a gold round from your pouch and insert it into the keyhole. The chest makes a strange sound, seeming to approve of our small transaction.
The elf opens the chest and rummages through it. She pulls out a scaled hide, similar in texture to a lizard. However, each scale seems to have the texture of a metal plate.
“Incredible! This is a drake hide! Light as cloth but tougher than any forged steel made by humans. What makes it even more unique will be to your advantage: it is fireproof.”
She pulls out some razor-sharp shears and other crafting equipment from inside the chest.
“These must be the only tools capable of preparing this leather. They are of dwarven design and are incredibly well-made. Please give me a moment.”
She turns to her workbench and gets to work. She cuts, hammers, and sews faster than any craftsman you have ever seen. In a few minutes, she creates a full set of drakeskin armor, which she hands to you.
You try it on. It fits you perfectly and does not hinder your movement. You feel significantly safer in the armor than you did in your old farmhand clothes.
She takes your cloak and lines the outside with some of the remaining drake hides. She gives it back to you, and you put it on. She beams proudly at her work.
“While this armor will not protect you from being eaten alive, it should save you from minor physical damage and give you complete fire protection. Your cloak is also fireproof, so you should be able to use it as a shield from the Scorchbearer’s flames.”
You ask her how she made such an amazing piece in such a short amount of time.
“I am but an apprentice and no older than yourself in elven years. I have lived for over 150 years, but I am not a master of my craft. What I made you is a passable piece that can be improved with more time. However, I will take this as a learning experience. My master, Edom Ande, always said such wise words about mistakes: ‘I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.’ “
You do not question the words of a wise crafter of hero armor and ask Serena what is next.
“Now, we are going to meet some of my friends near the Great Bridge. Every hero needs a monster-slaying weapon, and they are the greatest blacksmiths in the region. Quickly! Get on my horse!”
Your party mounts the great steed, and the elf removes the straps of leather connecting him to the wagon.
“Run, Lightmail! Show us the meaning of speed!”
The horse neighs and bolts down the path toward the Great Bridge. The end is coming. The Dragon awaits.