One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, she made her way. Her chest heaved with exertion as she moved. With her left arm she moved low hanging branches out of the way. Her right arm held her sword, once shiny and sparkling now covered in blood and grime. Her muscles quivered as she moved. The grueling years of training were all that carried her this far. When the day had begun, her long amber locks had been tightly braided back out of the way. Now her hair hung loose, falling over her shoulders and whipping around her with the wind.

Much of her armor had been lost in battle. All that remained was her meager clothing, sword, and the shield currently on her back. Even her shoes were gone. She looked down at her legs, the lower halves of which were bare and streaked with dirt and blood. She no longer felt the pain of the brambles or twigs she stepped on. Her mind flashed back to when she was a young girl, streaked with dirt in the same pattern, running wildly through the alleys of the town searching for adventure. She had been an orphan, too bothersome to be closely supervised. There was both freedom and pain in remembering such things. There wasn’t time for that now.

There had been 10 of them at the beginning of this, sharing in one common goal. Make the crest of the mountain by dawn to battle the dragon. It was the one day of the year the dragon flew low enough in the air to be penetrable by man or beast on the earth. They had trained for months, knowing the days passed quickly. The town wouldn’t survive another fiery flyover. The menacing fiend had sent his soldiers ahead to clear the way. The battle between men and beasts had been ferocious.

Flesh had been torn and blood had been spilled. War cries had rung out in her ears as they battled the ground bound lizards. They were much smaller in size than the dragon himself and were without wings. Aside from that they looked much like he did. They were serpentine in the face and covered with thick scales. They had long sharp claws at their hands and feet and their teeth could tear through metal.

Her cohort fought gallantly, clearing the way for her to get through and go forward. She did not know precisely how she would defeat the dragon with only her sword and shield left, no armor to protect the rest of her from the fire he breathed that could take out cities. She knew only that she must go on, she must endure. She knew not if any of her brethren survived the battle. The drive to go quickly forward no matter what carried her on now.

At long last she breached the top. She paused, breathing heavily to gather herself. Ahead of her was a large, flat, circular clearing. Overhead was the dark sky with only a few twinkling stars remaining visible. The dawn was approaching from far off. She could see the black of the night sky as it faded in a gradient to navy blue and lighter off in the distance. At the edge of the circular clearing, the world dropped away. She would do well to not get too close.

She took quick stock of herself. She wiped her sword clean as best she could with the remainder of her pant legs. It did not bear jewels like the swords of the Great Knights. It was simple, with the exception of the name engraved into the hilt in elegantly scrolled letters that spelled out “Liza”. The leather cuff for her left arm was still intact. She rolled her shoulders in anticipation.

She heard his deafening screech before she saw him. He rode on the light of the dawn, ready to scatter his enemy like the sunlight scattered the night. Liza readied her shield in her left arm. The great beast rose up on the far side of the clearing. His wingspan was enormous, his green/gold scales shimmering out as wide as four houses lined up, side by side. He was terrible and beautiful in his intensity. His eyes held an intelligence that startled her. He made large circles around the clearing, surveying his enemy.

She would have been startled to know he viewed her much the same way she viewed him, terrible and beautiful. She looked fae, standing there with a simple shield and sword, glorious hair flying in the wind, determination in her eyes. He knew not to be deceived by the appearance of a lone woman. His soldiers were vicious and if she had survived that, she was indeed a formidable foe. He had not lived to be 975 years old by being stupid.

The woman circled slowly, gauging his flight patterns as he surveyed the ground. Four men crested the mountain just then, survivors from her party. She didn’t turn to look at them but breathed a sigh of relief at the backup. They flanked her, and two of the men readied bows. The battle would begin now. Arrows began to fly at the dragon. He breathed in and let loose his first fire stream at the party, while flying straight at them. The men scattered to the right, but the woman remained in place, her shield over her. He expected her to be annihilated as he flew over.

The dragon swooped low and then back up. When he flew a turn to look back, he was startled to see her still standing. Her shield must be magic then, to counter his fire. It was then he realized she had not only survived but managed to slice him shallow across his underbelly. The ice-cold wound was just starting to ache. Her sword was magic too.

Just then an arrow hit the end of his wing in an ice-cold blast. They all had magic weapons. He began to swoop low beneath the edge of the clearing where they couldn’t see him. He came up the other side behind them and breathed a blast at the man at the far end. His clothing caught fire and he screamed in agony. One man ran to aid him, and the others turned to attack him.

The fight intensified. On and on it went. The fighters gave all they had, but quickly lost another man in the dragon’s blaze. Liza realized they would have to do something different. This would only tire them out and sheer size would win in the end. She began to calculate, going through the motions while deciphering the maneuvers of the dragon. There was only one way. It might not work. It was the only chance. She looked back at the men who had made it to the top to aid her. 3 more had crested the mountain during the battle. They looked to her as the dragon swooped down below the edge of the mountain again.

“Keep the formation” she said to them, “We have one chance.” They nodded. She looked toward the southwest edge quickly and back to the men. “It has been my honor to fight with you” she said, holding her fist to her heart. They fought away tears as she handed Geb her shield.  She gave them one last look before she turned. Before she ran. Speed she had never known was hers as she lifted her sword in a two-handed hold. As she reached the edge of the circular clearing, she leapt.

Off the ledge she flew. She sailed in the sky only a moment before the dragon rose up right in front of her. He had only moment of surprise before her ice-cold sword plunged into his heart.

His life was ended before he had even realized it. He grabbed the woman in his terrible claw, though it was too late. They spiraled down through the air. Though they spun their eyes met. It happened at a rapid speed but felt to them both as though it happened in slow motion. Their eyes met, and in that split second one warrior acknowledged another. Then they plunged into the crystal sea below.

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